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Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES: Discs One And Two: Four audio commentaries by the director and writers, the design team, the production team and the cast.
Disc Three: Adapting the book into a screenplay and planning the film. Designing and inspiration for locations in Middle-earth. Storyboards to pre-visualisation. Weta Workshop visit – the weapons, armor, creatures and miniatures. Atlas of Middle-earth: tracing the journey of the Fellowship. Interactive map of New Zealand highlighting the location scouting process. Galleries of art and slideshows with commentaries by the artists. And much more.
Disc Four: Sending actors to battle – preparation for sword fighting. Principal photography: stories from the set. Digital effects including motion capture and "Massive" (a program to create armies of Orcs). Bigatures – a close-up look at detailed miniatures used in the film. Galleries of behind-the-scenes photographs and personal cast photos. Post-production – editing it all together. Sound design demonstration. And much more.

JUST 12 months ago, Lord of the Rings-mania swept the world as Peter Jackson’s eagerly anticipated first chapter in JRR Tolkien’s sprawling trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, opened to almost universal acclaim and quickly became one of the highest grossing films of all time.

The Fellowship was rightly lauded as a modern masterpiece, cleaning up at the BAFTAs and being nominated for 13 Oscars (although, ultimately, it only took four).

Well, brace yourself, for one of the smallest heroes in cinema history is back in chapter two, The Two Towers, which continues the saga on an even grander scale.

When last we parted company with Frodo and co, the Fellowship had been forced to divide, following the death of Boromir (Sean Bean) and Gandalf’s plunge into the pit at Khazad-dum.

As the Two Towers picks up, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and loyal friend, Sam (Sean Astin), are forced to enlist the support of the mysterious Gollum, a mercurial creature who has previously been warped by the power of the Ring, in their path to Mordor, while Aragon (Viggo Mortensen) and co encounter the besieged Rohan kingdom, whose once great King Theoden (Bernard Hill) has fallen under the evil Saruman’s spell.

The other two hobbits who made up the Fellowship - Dominic Monaghan’s Merry and Billy Boyd’s Pippin - escape from their captors, meanwhile, and flee into the mystical Fangorn Forest, where they discover an unexpected ally among the ancient trees.

The ensuing stories unfold as the forces of the Dark Lord Sauron continue to grow stronger, sweeping Middle Earth and destroying all before them on their way to the climactic battle of Helm’s Deep.

Given that the Two Towers is so plot heavy, it is tribute to Jackson that proceedings seldom sag or become too confusing, while the darker tone never feels too overbearing. This is, after all, a film which takes the business of war and genocide as its central themes, but which manages to punctuate events with some much-needed light relief.

The wow factor which was ever-present during the Fellowship is also surpassed here, with several jaw-dropping moments to savour - not least the barnstorming finale which has to rate among the finest movie spectacles of recent years.

At a time when audiences have begun to take special effects for granted, it is all the more satisfying to be gobsmacked and there are several sequences here that can truly be described as groundbreaking - the character of Gollum, for instance, is undoubtedly the greatest CGI-creation to date.

Yet in spite of being a special effects tour-de-force, Jackson’s film never loses sight of the human conflicts involved, allowing its actors the chance to shine throughout. The likes of Sir Ian McKellen (returning as Gandalf the White) and Christopher Lee (as Saruman) obviously steal the show, but few of the performers are found wanting.

Astin, especially, lends the film its emotional edge as Frodo’s fiercely loyal companion (even if Wood comes across as a little one-dimensional), while Mortensen exudes charisma as the heroic Aragon, as does Orlando Bloom’s swashbuckling Elf archer, Legolas (a personal favourite). The ever-excellent John Rhys-Davies also injects some much-needed humour, as Gimli the Dwarf, and provides one of the great visual gags of the film.

Of the new cast members, Brad Dourif is deliciously slimy as the duplicitous Wormtongue, while David Wenham, as the Gondorian brother of the slain Boromir, also stand out.

All in all, though, this is hugely impressive stuff - a classic story, well-told, on an epic scale. Jackson has once again excelled, providing audiences with a cinematic feast upon which to savour.

It is a towering achievement and we await, with baited breath, the arrival of the third and final part of the trilogy.

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