The familiar cast members return with only Sean Bean's Boromir having fallen and Ian Holm's Bilbo Baggins still safe in Rivendell. They are joined this time by great new additions in the form of Bernard Hill as King Théoden of Rohan, Brad Dourif as his evil and wily adviser Wormtongue and the beautiful Miranda Otto as Éowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan, niece of Théoden and along with Frodo (Wood) and Arwen (Liv Tyler), one of the emotional centerpieces of the film. These characters, along with Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and the Wizard Gandalf (McKellen) are at the root of the most action-packed sequences of the film, when exciting battle after exciting battle dots the landscape until they culminate into the Battle of Helm's Deep, a fascinating face-off between armies both bent on the annihilation of the enemy, on pure survival and on the quest for Middle-earth's most valuable treasure: Sauron's Ring of Power.
While the parallel stories evolving at the same time are somewhat slower-paced, they nevertheless deliver important and well-presented new elements. Sam and Frodo encounter the CG-driven character of Gollum, voiced by Andy Serkis. Serkis donned the blue suit for this and also lent the character his movements, which were then replicated by computer to form an extremely realistic creature, retaining the flow of movements of a human being with the emaciated, tortured look Tolkien gave him in his novel. This pivotal character could have meant the crushing defeat of this entire franchise had it been done improperly, but thanks to a great mix of acting and effects, the creation of the character became invisible and the creature itself was all that was left. Another technical tour-de-force was the birth of the Ents, an ancient tree-like people living in the forest as shepherds of the trees. While the sequences revolving around them seemed to always come at exciting times and slow them down, it remains that they were extremely well made. For reasons of storytelling, the events of the film are told in a different sequence than in the book where they are completely separate. Director Jackson had to walk a fine line between keeping the pace of his movie and preserving its drama. One could argue that the one flaw with this film is the way that the Ents were handled.
The other filmmaking elements are as successful as the rest in creating Middle-earth. As he did with FELLOWSHIP, cinematographer Andrew Lesnie captured awesome sweeping shots of breathtaking landscapes and got the action right in our faces when the time was right. Composer Howard Shore also contributed greatly with a truly grandiose score perfectly tailored to the movie. Overall, this film had the difficult task of joining a beginning and an end while still providing stand-alone entertainment and while it was clearly more difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with the books, it was a great link nonetheless between one spectacular movie and one with high expectations from millions of devoted fans.
On the Set - "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (15 minutes): All the stars comments on both the film and the shoot. Wood, Astin, Mortensen, Tyler and others share their thoughts and some of their memories on the magnitude of both the film, and the locations, which are also scoped out. It's a studio-produced featurette so there's not much in there that hasn't been said already on the talk-show circuit and such and they only go into as much detail as you can in 15 minutes. While the only satisfaction hardcore fans will get is to see their favorite stars again, the milder aficionados will get a decent briefing of what took place while this film was being made.
Return to Middle-earth: A WB Special (45 minutes): Taking much of the information that was shared in the first featurette and running with it much further, this second documentary goes into much more details regarding the shoot. It's well known by now that all three films in the series were shot concurrently over a span of almost two years in New-Zealand, but we can now get a glimpse for ourselves of the impact that shoot had on the lives of those involved. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan among others walk us through a few days of their lives on and off the set, away from their families and seemingly becoming a family of sorts with their co-workers and the townsfolk around them. The filmmaking aspect of the film is also displayed, with discussion regarding the adaptation from book to film, the set locations and the gargantuan scale of the production, from the massive sets to the torturous time in makeup, from the innovative technology to the unforeseen events and more.
"The Long and Short of It" - A Short Film Directed by Sean Astin (6 minutes): During a day off in the shooting schedule, Sean Astin recruited some volunteers from the crew to help him make a short film based on a little story he and Dominic Monaghan had come up with on the set. It has nothing to do with THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but according to Astin's brief intro, it has everything to do with the camaraderie that developed on set during filming. The story is of a distraught poster hanger who gets help from unexpected sources.
The Making of "The Long and Short of It" (8 minutes): Almost twice the length of the short film itself, this looks into the volunteer effort featuring many of the people you know from The Lord of the Rings in different roles: Elijah Wood is the film's assistant director, Andy Serkis is a runner and even Peter Jackson, gets into the mix with an actor's cameo as a bus driver. Sean Astin usually appears to be quite a personable guy and an all-around nice fellow, and it's that nice-guy image that comes through his little film that makes it all the more pleasant.
lordoftherings.net Featurettes (35 minutes): These featurettes were created for the film's official website and therefore will have been seen by many who follow the film closely. They last roughly five minutes each and give a bit of story and shoot-related information on seven different topics:
Forces of Darkness: Discussed are the evil powers of The Two Towers, including the wizard Saruman, Théoden's twisted advisor Grima Wormtongue and the Lord of Darkness Sauron himself.
Edoras: The Rohan Capital: Exploring the spectacular set that serves as the capital of the Rohirrim, this bit will be appreciated by those who consider the horse warriors to be some of the most exciting characters of the tale.
Creatures of Middle-earth: Focusing mainly on the new creature introductions that make up the gruesome armies of Sauron and Saruman, fans are treated to brief discussions of a variety of orcs, including the mighty Uruk-hai, the Wargs and the terrifying Fell Beasts from upon which the Black-cad wring wraiths now shriek their terror.
Gandalf the White: Ian McKellen discusses his character and the transformation he undergoes from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White.
Arms and Armor: This not only retells the painstaking effort the filmmakers went through to create authentic and unique armory for each type of character, but the inspiration for it as well.
The Battle of Helm's Deep: For many, the Battle of Helm's Deep stands out as the film's culminating moment and a high point of the two installments to date (JoBlo.com's readers also chose it as the Best Action Sequence in our 2nd Annual Golden Schmoes). Those involved in making it reality discuss the difficulties and the grueling four-month long night shooting sequence that led to the creation of a uniquely violent and brutal battle right here.
Bringing Gollum to Life: Andy Serkis' work on this project as both the voice and driving force behind the pivotal character of Gollum had been tremendously well documented and well-earned appreciation from fans has been heaped high and low on a man whose own face never once appears on screen. A bit of insight is shared here with viewers on what he, and all those acting with him, went through in order to make his character as real as possible. The techniques have been used in other films prior to this one, but most will be hard-pressed to remember one in which they were used to that degree of success.
Trailers and TV Spots (12 minutes): Included in these sections are the Teaser, which will go a long way in introducing the film to those who have no prior knowledge of the story, sixteen different TV Spots and a fantastic Theatrical Trailer.
"Gollum's Song" Music Video by Emiliana Torrini (4 minutes): This song, which plays during the end credits doesn't pack as much emotional punch as Enya's work in FELLOWSHIP on its first pass, but the lyrics are a perfect fit for the character of Gollum, whose slow decay from Sméagol into Gollum is marked by the loss of his humanity and by his increasing obsession with the Sauron's Ring of Power. As haunting as the creature its named for, the song seems to grow on you if you listen to it a few times.
An Inside Look at the Special Extended Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (5 minutes): While no DVD fan appreciates double-dipping when it comes to studios releasing several versions of the same film to DVD, you have to at least hand it to New Line for not concealing the contents of their different editions and therefore giving everyone choice of their own course as far as purchasing goes. This little feature gives us a glimpse at a scene from the extended version as well as a few more things to look forward to.
Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Preview of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (10 minutes): In what has been a bad year for cinema, this is sure to be the single most anticipated film since... well... since THE TWO TOWERS. In this featurette, we join Peter Jackson in the cutting room as he assembles the last part of this three-piece puzzle. A series of short clips from the film also accompany his preview of the story and to those who felt THE TWO TOWERS ended one chapter too soon, he promises that we will finally see Frodo and Samwise face Shelob.
The disc also contains a preview of EA's video game The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The only major disappointment, aside from the absence of a commentary track as I mentioned above is the lack of any featurettes discussing Howard Shore's mind-blowing score, which is as valuable to the enjoyment of this film as anything else.