Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Music Video-Emilliana Torrini - Gollum's Song
Menu Animation & Audio
|Year Of Production||2002|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (86:59)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Peter Jackson|
Roadshow Home Entertainment
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.40:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
During 2003, I found my way onto an online forum in which The Two Towers as a film was discussed (amongst millions of other things both related and unrelated). There, I was able to find people willing to discuss issues surrounding the films and their respective DVD-Videos without letting their egos get into it, which made for a refreshing change from those who want to silence objectors, even when those objectors are in fact the core audience without which this film trilogy would have never received so much as an amber light.
The consensus view around such forums regarding The Fellowship Of The Ring is pretty much unchallenged in that it is a remarkably faithful adaptation of one of the greatest literary works of all time, but The Two Towers has people firmly divided. When I first saw the film theatrically, I was spellbound by the majesty and power that was given to what parts of Tolkien's novel were presented on the silver screen, but endless discussions and deeper thought has seen this give way to mild disappointment. More on this in a moment, and please do not read below this paragraph if you have yet to see or read the story contained in both films and don't want any surprises ruined.
The Fellowship Of The Ring ended with the state of affairs for the Free Peoples of Middle Earth looking bleak - the heir to the Stewardship of Gondor, Boromir (Sean Bean), was slain by the Uruk-Hai. Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) had fallen into an abyss with a Balrog, while Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) had been abducted by the previously-mentioned Uruk-Hai. In spite of all this, the Fellowship's mission to aid the Ringbearer, a young Hobbit by the name of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), had so far been successful, and this is the one bright spot in their fortunes.
The Two Towers starts with a recount of Gandalf's heroic battle with the Balrog, only from Gandalf's perspective this time instead of that of the other members of the Fellowship. As Frodo, haunted by dreams about this, wanders aimlessly around Mordor with Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) in tow, they are tracked down by Gollum (Andy Serkis), the Hobbit-like creature who had the One Ring before Frodo's uncle, Bilbo. Gollum/Sméagol is the ultimate expression of the One Ring's corrupting and draining influence, and serves as a reminder of the urgency of Frodo's mission while guiding him towards the boundaries of Mordor.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Fellowship, namely Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Legolas (Orlando Bloom), are in pursuit of the Uruk-Hai that have the other two Hobbits. This pursuit takes them into the land of Rohan, where Éomer (Karl Urban) and Éowyn (Miranda Otto) are struggling to free their uncle, King Théoden (Bernard Hill), from the treacherous influence of his own advisor, Gríma Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Gríma's true allegiance is to Saruman (Christopher Lee), the fallen Istari who rules the neighbouring land that happens to be Isengard. But if Saruman is preparing for war in the fortress that is Isengard, then what is this white-robed figure that is roaming the area around Fangorn forest?
Unfortunately, this is where things go awry for adapting The Lord Of The Rings, as opposed to just reciting John Tolkien's greatest hits. One IMDB user comment that was posted fairly early in the theatrical run had the headline "Take out 5 chapters, put some made up rubbish in and you have Peter Jackson's The Two Towers" (the grammar errors have been left intact). Unfortunately, after repeated re-readings of the novel and repeated viewings of the theatrical release, even the inability to spell character's names correctly in this comment couldn't suppress the feeling I had that the author was right. All the careful work that was done to make the story easier to follow while still properly representing the novel has been tossed aside here with editing that makes it clear, especially in light of some things that were said during the audio commentary for the extended Fellowship Of The Ring, that we are not going to get a true cinematic version of the novel after all.
As it currently stands, The Two Towers is nothing more than a great action film that is slightly reminiscent of Seven Samurai or The Alamo in several places. This is not good enough - it should have stood as an example of what happens when you treat a literate audience respectfully, and its predecessor stands as an example that this is in fact possible, even with material as fantastic in scope as a Tolkien novel. On top of this, one glaring factual error mars the script - the other races of Middle Earth did not believe Dwarves sprang up out of holes in the ground (that's Orcs), it was believed that they grew out of stone (consistent with their build and temperament). It is with a heart heavier than Bilbo's at the beginning of the Battle Of Five Armies that I can only award this film four stars for plot on the basis of a Ralph Bakshi-like bait-and-switch. (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Shame, Peter Jackson, shame.
Like The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers was shot using Arri cameras onto a Super 35 negative that was heavily digitally graded, and then later printed for projection in theatres using anamorphic equipment.
The proper aspect ratio of The Two Towers is 2.39:1, and that is almost what we get here - a 2.35:1, 16x9 Enhanced video transfer using what appears to be a very pristine source. It is also slightly windowboxed on the left and right of the image.
For this review, JohnL and I actually sat down and watched the transfer on his projector, using a matte screen that was approximately two and a half meters from corner to corner. This revealed the usual problems one must expect from compressing a three-hour film into a single RSDL disc, but aside from that, this is pretty much a flawless video transfer, something John and I are wholly in agreement about. The sharpness of foreground objects is excellent, and the blurriness of things in the background that was often remarked upon with The Fellowship Of The Ring is far less obvious here. The shadow detail is excellent, with not a trace of low level noise.
The colour saturation of the transfer is very good, although the tampering with the colours in film sources from different units had a lot to do with this. When we first see Gollum, one can tell that the scene was shot in daylight through a blue lens, but that is the only complaint with regard to colour.
MPEG artefacts were mildly present in the form of accentuated grain or loss of detail, but considering the length of the film and the space available, this is more than acceptable. The sequence with the Balrog that opens the film would present a nightmare to any compression system, and it is truly a credit to the people who compressed it that it looks as good as it does. The first example of a shot where the heavy compression does show up is when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are running across Rohan in a heat-haze, although this was more disputed between us because of the haze and photography. The second is when we zoom in on Frodo's hand at 70:40, where it gets slightly grainy. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some minor wobble that could have been camera-related, but aliasing was pretty much non-existent. Film artefacts were also non-existent, reflecting the age of the source material.
John and I watched the entire film with the English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles turned on. Neither of us are really hearing impaired, especially not enough to need them, but we were agreed upon the point that they were amazingly accurate to the dialogue.
This disc is presented in the RSDL format (as one would expect). The layer change takes place as Aragorn and the Warg go over the cliff at 86:59. It is a conspicuous layer change, but not one worth complaining about, given how disruptive it would have been a few minutes on either side of this point.
Two soundtracks are present on this DVD, both in English: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, surround-encoded. Applause to Roadshow for providing a separate down-mixed soundtrack rather than optimising the 5.1 version aside, John and I listened exclusively to the 5.1 effort.
The dialogue in all of its forms, English, Elvish, Entish, and Orc, is very clear as well as easy to understand at all times. This is an incredible achievement given how much is going on in the rest of the soundtrack. There are times, such as when the Ringwraith comes to Osgiliath, when the sound is deliberately altered so that dialogue is more or less impossible to make out, but this is an artistic choice and one of the few good ones associated with this part of the film. There were no real issues with audio sync except that it consistently wandered ahead of the video from time to time.
The music in this film consists of a score by Howard Shore, with vocal contributions from many artists, Emilliana Torrini being the most famous example. Unlike the music in The Fellowship Of The Ring, I was not struck by an overriding feeling that 75% of it could have been done far better by such contemporary artists as Isengard, Storm, Satyricon, or Mordor. The opening theme, Foundations Of Stone, is one of the most striking and powerful pieces of score music in cinema history, standing shoulder to shoulder with such immortal classics as The Imperial March or the Superman theme. The choir vocals in particular during this theme and another called The Ents are particularly interesting, as they tell the story in a language exclusively understood by the heroic characters. Lyrics like "'awake Olórin, servant of fire" in Foundations Of Stone or "feel the power of living things, the trees have gone to war" during Isengard Unleashed, even in Khazdul or Sindarin, have a resonance that the Top 40 rubbish in most other films I have seen this year will never match.
The surround channels are used aggressively to support the on-screen action, in ways that one can be floored by simply because they are not expected. When Gollum argues with Sméagol about Frodo's intentions at 70:40, the manner in which Gollum's voice resonates through five speakers at once to different degrees caught me so far off guard it's amazing. Legolas' arrows also get a good firing through the surrounds at 84:37, while director Peter Jackson's throwing of a spear (yes, it is a spear) at 144:14 also gives the surrounds something interesting to do. All five of your main speakers will get a Herculean workout from this disc.
The subwoofer was sporadically, but aggressively, used to support such sounds as the marching Uruk-Hai at 124:43, and when these same Uruk-Hai pound their pikes against the ground in an effort to intimidate the Rohirrim at 124:43. I found that while I noticed when the subwoofer was in use due to its frequent silences, it was extremely well-integrated with the on-screen action. A definite ten out of ten for knowing how to avoid overemphasis.
The release of Fellowship Of The Ring on DVD in Region 4 was quickly followed by a storm about the processing applied to the DVD's soundtrack (there is a lot of detailed info in our review of this title). The soundtrack had been processed so that when played back, it would sound at the same pitch as it did when the movie was shown theatrically. Typically, Region 4 movie DVDs play back 4% faster and thus 4% higher-pitched than the theatrical release of the movie (more detail here). Unfortunately, a less-than-perfect job was done of this processing, with clearly audible defects to a minority of listeners (although most people thought it sounded just fine).
Therefore, we felt it was important that more than one set of ears listened to The Two Towers in order to form a view about whether the same problem afflicted this release.
Firstly, there is one specific point to make, based on a comparison of Gollum's song during the end credits on the Region 4 DVD and on the CD soundtrack (and now confirmed by direct comparison with the Region 1 DVD). The DVD has definitely been pitch corrected (or time compressed for the pedants out there, but we'll use the term pitch correction for simplicity). On this there is consensus.
One of the problems of a specific listening session like the one convened for The Two Towers is that the whole purpose of such a session is to look for faults, in hardly double blind placebo controlled conditions. Almost by definition, these conditions are conducive to the reporting of potentially non-existent faults, something of which I was acutely aware during this session. Given these limitations, which aren't easily circumvented, what did I think of The Two Towers soundtrack?
Well, essentially, it sounded pretty good to me, with one possible quite subtle caveat.
The soundtrack has definitely been pitch corrected. Fortunately, I could not detect any of the artefacts which plagued the Fellowship Of The Ring soundtrack in terms of frequent, subtle momentary drop-outs in audio scattered throughout the soundtrack.
What I did hear, and which was generally confirmed when many of the noted sections were replayed (at least to my ears), were an excess of pops and crackles in the soundtrack, very much like you would hear from a static-laden LP. These oddly seemed to all occur on the first layer of this DVD, with the latter half of the movie essentially unaffected. They also seemed to occur in clusters. I hasten to add that these are all very subtle noises which I suspect would mostly pass me by if I wasn't specifically looking for audio faults. Some of these could be explained away as being subtle Foley effects, particularly that of crackling fire, but I just got the impression that there were too many of these pops too often to explain all of them away in this fashion. In the end, I cannot definitely say whether these are inherent in the soundtrack either deliberately or accidentally, or whether these are faults of the audio processing. Some specific time codes for you to consider are; the word "speed" at 13:31, and pops at 39:29, 54:06, and 67:45. Only comparison with the R1 version (which was unfortunately not yet available for us to compare with) at the same places in the movie will tell us whether these are faults specific to the R4 release or inherent in the soundtrack. In other words, "watch this space".
Regardless of this possible subtle issue, this is a fabulous soundtrack.
Michael D: Addendum 26th September 2003. We have now had the opportunity to directly compare the Region 1 and the Region 4 versions of this DVD, both aurally and visually. Aurally they are indistinguishable. The pops referred to above are present in the equivalent places on both DVDs. Whilst I wondered about faults in the master used to create the soundtracks, in the end I concluded that these pops were all subtle Foley effects given the context of the areas in which they were heard. More importantly, both soundtracks were equally coherent in the soundfields that they created and equally well defined and integrated with regards to bass. Even the 4% tempo increase inherent in the PAL version went unnoticed in the absence of the usual pitch shift which accompanies this. To my ears, I could tell no difference between the two DVDs aurally. Visually, they are different, but see the R4 vs R1 section for more on that.
I have fairly good hearing, but nothing like Michael's. I'd like to think of my reactions as being that of a "normal consumer". And I gotta say — I heard nothing to complain about. Oh, I heard some faint sounds when Michael pointed them out, but I could rationalise most of them away: "That's the sound of gravel under their shoes as one of them shifts position slightly", "That's crackling of the fire", and so on. There were a couple of barely audible sounds that I couldn't explain, but I'd never have heard them without hearing the ten second passage repeated over and over. I heard nothing unusual on the first time through every passage.
As far as I am concerned, this soundtrack is essentially perfect. And while I'm commenting on it, I'd like to say that I enjoyed the music on this one more than the music on the previous film — more variation of styles, and including some styles I like a lot.
I consider this a masterful and superbly engineered soundtrack. I listened to this originally in Dolby Digital 5.1, with Dean, then subsequently carefully re-appraised it in Dolby Digital 6.1 EX, with the rear centre enabled.
The nature of this soundtrack is different from FotR in that it is mostly utilised as an accompaniment to action, rather than in character development. The Two Towers is a film full of grim events and the soundtrack conveys this sense of foreboding without the lighter touches of The Shire or Rivendell or the ethereal beauty of Lothlorien.
This is a very heavily centre-orientated soundtrack with much focus on the front and rear centres - so much so that I'd rename the Front Mains to Front Surrounds for this movie! In general I'm not a great fan of the rear centre (sometimes called Surround Back) channel, but it was used to great effect in this production. I was impressed by its usage in the underwater scene of Frodo falling into the Dead Marshes (from 35:29 to 35:55) with ghostly wraith emanations arising in glorious circle surround or in the creaking tree-talk in Fangorn Forest at 40:20. Suffice to say I could make no criticism of the surround mix or delicious subwoofer integration of LFE into the soundtrack.
As far as the alleged pitch-correction artefacts were concerned, these I could hear not. The problem is that they are very subtle and one tends to get distracted by the screen visual action and pay less attention to the fine detail of the sound. I could hear these in FOTR, especially in the DTS track of the extended version - as highlighted by Dean. In this soundtrack however, even in the few delicate horn sequences, such as the meeting of Aragorn with the Rohirrim, I could hear no repetition of this problem. Without the curse of perfect pitch hearing or R1 or CD comparison material, I could make no comment on whether there was pitch-correction applied to this PAL version.
In summary I would rate this soundtrack as 5 stars in all its aspects.
I disagree entirely with all three of the other reviewers, even Michael. I do not say this merely to be antagonistic - I viewed this film at the theatre a good half-dozen times with friends and family, not to mention that I am intimately familiar with the score music, particularly the opening theme called Foundations Of Stone. The first thing that hits the listener upon viewing the DVD is that the pitch has unmistakably been corrected in this transfer. It is also apparent that the frequency-limiting which was performed upon the theatrical DVD release of The Fellowship Of The Ring has not been applied so heavily here - in fact, the audio on this disc is ridiculously loud compared to other transfers (I had to turn the volume down on John's main receiver quite a way in order to get it at a comfortable listening level). The pitch-correction, however, is less conspicuous than the Extended DVD edition of its predecessor, while more conspicuous compared to the theatrical edition.
I just wish someone would wake up and realise that this process is causing more problems than it solves. Sure, the tone is "the same" as it sounds in the theatre, but the tempo and speed of movement in the transfer remain four percent too fast. And then there's those bothersome pitch-correction artefacts, which are there in spite of what others might tell you. Hiccups can be heard when we first hear the approaching Fellbeast, or as Théoden says "I know your face" at 59:14. While John, and apparently Michael and Tony to boot, did not seem to notice it as much as I did (Ed. We did not notice it at all.), I felt the effect was like listening to an analogue cassette that had been played at the wrong speed for too long. In a digital medium, this simply isn't on, and those pops and crackles were definitely not present in the theatrical exhibition, either.
|Surround Channel Use|
The menu is themed around the film, and the One Ring in particular. It is accompanied by Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.
A wide selection of extras is presented. Unless otherwise noted, they are presented in the aspect ratios of 1.33:1 and 1.78:1 with 192 kilobit per second Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
The menu is themed around Frodo's encounter with the Ringwraith on the Fellbeast, accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and 16x9 Enhanced. Navigation is very simple and straightforward.
This fourteen minute and four second featurette makes me wonder whether the extensive amount of time spent making the film was because of the rigour of the shoot or because the cast and crew were so busy making documentaries about themselves.
This forty-three minute made-for-television special starts out well, but soon the narrator describes Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli as entering the "kingdom of the Rohans". The correct word is Rohirrim. Don't they even bother to research this properly anymore? Not only is this mistake made repeatedly throughout the featurette, it also recycles quite a substantial amount from the previous one.
At seven minutes and eight seconds, this is quite the short film indeed. Directed by Sean Astin, and utilising the talent of volunteers from the cast and crew of the feature, it is worth taking a look just for curiosity's sake.
At eight minutes and ten seconds, this just plain self-indulgent, although I do blame the people at New Line more than Astin for this.
A total of thirty minutes worth of featurettes are present in this sub-menu. As is the case with all the featurettes up to this point, they recycle untold amounts of footage from one another and contain a couple of moments when it becomes clear that the research of Middle-Earth facts was only done by portions of the cast and crew. In order, these are:
The Forces Of Darkness
Edoras: The Rohan Capital (sic)
Creatures Of Middle Earth
Gandalf The White
Arms and Armor
The Battle Of Helm's Deep
Bringing Gollum To Life
Of this lot, Bringing Gollum To Life is the most interesting. This is faint praise, however, as four and a quarter minutes is far too little time to cover this complex character.
Here, the standard of extras begins to improve. This theatrical trailer, running for two minutes and fifty-five seconds, is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and 16x9 Enhancement. If only the theatrical presentation had been as good as this trailer had led us to believe it would be.
This trailer runs for a minute and fifty-three seconds. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and 16x9 Enhancement.
Unfortunately, the standard falls again with these TV Spots. Some of them, you could show the first five seconds of to major fans and they'd be hard-pressed to tell which was which. There are a total of sixteen TV Spots, all running for thirty-two seconds (a total of eight minutes and thirty-two seconds). They are presented in the same manner as most of the other extras.
"And you will weep when you face the end alone; you are lost, you can never go home..." It really sums up how much better the music is this time around. Sadly, this music video is also hit hard with the knife of an editor who was obviously never told that when you read half the sentence, you lose all of the meaning.
I've said it before, and I will say it again - restricting these films to a mere three-hour limit is doing them a grave disservice, and the 45 or so minutes that have been promised in this Extended Edition will serve to prove it. I can only hope that they will be just as judicious with removing things or replacing footage as they were in the Hobbiton sequence of The Fellowship Of The Ring, because this is one film that needs to be recut quite severely (maybe George Lucas should offer his services). This featurette runs five minutes and twenty-two seconds in the aspect ratios of 1.78:1 and 2.35:1, 16x9 Enhanced, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
Also presented in the aspect ratios of 1.78:1 and 2.35:1, 16x9 Enhanced, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, this twelve-minute and thirty second preview tries to dazzle the viewer with a lot of pieces about battle sequences and the proverbial "money moments", but it does nothing to alleviate the fear that we will see Tolkien's Greatest Hits, Part Two rather than The Return Of The King.
This 1.78:1, 16x9 Enhanced three-minute preview with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio actually makes the game look quite interesting.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Michael D: Image-wise, both the R1 and the R4 versions of this DVD are superlative, reference quality transfers. However, when critically viewed, the Region 4 PAL version is clearly superior to the Region 1 NTSC version. The R1 version is harsher in appearance than the R4. The R4 version is simply smoother and more film-like. Careful comparison of images showed no clear additional detail in the Region 4 version over the Region 1 version, but the R4 version is simply the more pleasant transfer to watch. Aurally, the two versions are indistinguishable.
Extras-wise, the R1 version has some additional DVD-ROM content which links to a specific DVD-only web site. I was not able to examine this content in detail as the appalling InterActual DVD player refused to co-operate beyond a certain point on the web site.
The bottom line: You would be very happy with either version of this DVD, but the Region 4 version looks just that little bit better than the Region 1 version, and they both sound the same. Buy locally.
Tony R: The differences between the R1 and R4 are only slight, but I prefer the look of the R4: the R1 seems just a little bit harsh by comparison (which is only noticeable when you A-B the discs). I cannot really identify the difference - it could just be a visible manifestation of the slightly lower resolution of NTSC vs PAL, or it might be that the R1 has had a little bit of contrast enhancement applied to it. Either way, I'm glad I bought the R4.
Sadly, The Two Towers is another film that must be put in the "what the hell happened?" file. Director Peter Jackson appears to have forgotten that it was respect, not revision, of Tolkien's novel that originally set him apart. As a result of this, I cannot recommend this theatrical version to anyone, but unfortunately, the buying public will make any protest of this disrespectful behaviour seem futile. And they wonder why the overall quality of cinema has been in a decline of mass-production for the past fifteen to twenty years.
The video transfer is of near-reference quality.
The audio transfer is very good.
The extras? Well, take one documentary, cut it into pieces, string the pieces together using the same footage multiple times, and you pretty much have all the documentaries on the second disc. At least there is some good stuff in there, however.
|DVD||EAD 8000 Pro, using Component output|
|Display||Panasonic PT-AE300E Projector onto 250cm screen. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Theta Digital Intrepid|
|Speakers||ML Aeon front. B&W LRC6 Centre. ML Script rear. REL Strata III SW.|