Past the Popcorn: Waterland Home Video Feature

The Two Towers, Extended Edition review by Greg Wright

I must confess that I did not eagerly await the release of the extended version of The Two Towers. While the extended Fellowship is an epic worthy of being called a classic—taking what was already a fine, effective film and improving it by tweaks and bounds—I did not see much hope for a similar treatment of Towers. Why? Because the source material for this extended cut was so much weaker to begin with. While the theatrical Towers proved excellent grist for fanboys, I nonetheless found it tedious at times and oppressive as a whole. Without Jackson’s stunning realization of Gollum, the film would have seemed to me a nearly complete loss.

Fortunately for the studio—and the audience—Peter Jackson and crew were at the helm of this effort and not me! For the most part, the extended Towers wisely employs the tactics which worked so effectively for the first extended installment. Indulge me as I share my impressions of the more significant changes.

two-towers-extended-insetThéodred, Éomer and Éowyn

One of the earliest added segments—brief though it be—surveys the slaughter at the fords of Isen: the scene of Théodred’s mortal wounding. Éomer and his eored come upon the aftermath of the battle and find precious few survivors. Indeed, King Théoden’s son, Théodred, seems to be the only Rider left clinging to life.

This short segment is typical of the difficult cuts restored in the extended version. On its own, its presence in the theatrical version would have added little but precious minutes to the running time; when combined with other similar snippets of the action in Rohan, however, it does wonders in establishing Éomer as a sympathetic character, and explaining his banishment; in grounding the valorous pessimism of Éomer and his sister, Éowyn; and in “selling” Théoden’s grief, later, alongside his son’s burial mound at Meduseld. All in all, Rohan’s leading characters benefit greatly from the extended treatment.

Merry, Pippin, Ents—and Huorns!

The elements of the story line related to Treebeard and Fangorn Forest also benefit—probably even more so than Rohan’s leading characters. In the theatrical version, literally days go by while Merry and Pippin’s story line is dropped. For me, this was terribly maddening. Rather gratifyingly, a great deal of the “missing” days are restored. For instance, Merry and Pippin learn about “Ent draughts” and their effect on diminutive folk like Hobbits; and they also have the chance to discover barrels of Southfarthing pipe weed in the flotsam and jetsam of Isengard.

But the real bonus in the extended cut is the fashion in which Jackson and Boyens make up for the tragic story line losses of the theatrical Towers and both versions of Fellowship. Tolkien’s creative and engaging development of Treebeard’s character—including his charming manner of speech, his preoccupation with hastiness, his songs and references to the Ent-wives—is not only resurrected, it’s interwoven with freshets lifted from Tom Bombadil. The sneakiest moment in this respect may come when Treebeard tells the sleepy Hobbits, “Heed no nightly noise.” The investment in Treebeard pays off heavily when it’s time for Treebeard (and, yes, the Huorns!) to confront Saruman and his forces.

Saruman, His Minions—and Sauron’s

The balance sheet with respect to Saruman, however, is rather mixed. The most pleasant surprise of the early scenes in the extended Towers is probably the extra moments we get to spend on the trek across Rohan with Merry, Pippin and their captors. These additions not only aid character development, they plug what was a key plot-hole of the theatrical version: the reason that the raiding party consists of orcs from both Isengard and Mordor. The extended version makes it quite clear that a rendezvous between Saruman’s orcs of the White Hand and Sauron’s forces had been pre-arranged—and that Sauron’s troops were not expecting a westward course across Rohan, much less rough treatment from their larger and hardier counterparts.

The downside is that this tension goes nowhere—in fact, the extended version only reinforces what is arguably one of the most tragic simplifications of Jackson’s Towers: the idea that Saruman really thinks he can be an ally to Sauron, when all he can truly hope for is to be either a lackey or a usurper. The outcome of the War of the Ring shall be “the union of the two towers. Together,” Saruman explains, “we shall rule.” Fat chance, that. It’s sad that Jackson’s Saruman doesn’t understand that the Ring is his only chance for survival—and not merely by gaining it, but by using it against Sauron, not in league with him.

Aragorn, the Dúnedain and the Elves at Helm’s Deep

The additional time spent developing Aragorn’s character has a likewise mixed payoff. To Jackson’s credit, Aragorn now really has a history—and one that other key characters, like Éowyn, discover. We find out quite a lot more about the Dúnedain, to whom Aragorn belongs, and about his long struggle to fulfill his destiny as the heir of Elendil. While Aragorn’s character is still, for Jackson, a hero-in-the-making rather than a hero-born-to-be, Aragorn’s development now takes place in the context of his identity as Tolkien created it. The strongest element in this regard is the time devoted to a discussion of one of Aragorn’s heirlooms, the Ring of Barahir: a First-Age gift from the Elvish king Finrod, and a sign of descent from Barahir’s son Beren. A nice touch, indeed.

But this only exacerbates what is already an inexplicable tension between Aragorn and Elrond, who in Tolkien’s tale is also descended from Beren and his Elven bride, Luthien. Further, the arrival of Haldir’s Elves at Helm’s Deep now becomes a grudging concession to alliances of the past—in spite of “knowledge” that the cause is lost. For all the mental powers which Jackson and Boyens have invented for Elrond and Galadriel, their vision is spectacularly shortsighted, and incorrect. One can only guess that some lost footage somewhere justifies the inexplicable relationship of Jackson’s Aragorn and Elrond.

The Steward, His Sons and The Ring

And it’s truly odd that added scenes related to Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, aid one of the story’s principal minor characters—Faramir—while seriously weakening one who doesn’t even have a line of dialog in Tolkien’s The Two Towers. It’s refreshing, certainly, to get some feeling for the significance of Osgiliath in the story of Gondor. Likewise, the flashback relating its recapture—some months prior, from the forces of Sauron—is an efficient way of providing weight to the dilemma which Faramir faces: what can the younger brother of a favored and highly popular older brother, sent on an odd quest to Rivendell amidst the heat of battle, do to impress his father? The scene provides badly needed justification for Jackson’s Faramir to haul Frodo to the White City of Gondor, considering that the incident does not appear in Tolkien’s novel.

The Problem of Boromir, the Problem of Evil

But the flashback in Osgiliath also does something which must be almost obscene for many Tolkien fans: it completely alters the motivation for Boromir—a character who has already died in another movie! Boromir’s actions need to make sense within the context of The Fellowship of the Ring—and they do!—not within the context of The Two Towers. Having thought we’d already made sense of Boromir—that he’d fallen victim to the Ring’s power to work upon his own temptation to power—we’re now told that he really wanted to bring the Ring to Gondor only because Daddy wanted him to. It was no fault of his own; he was just trying to be a good son. The bigger explanation seems to be, for Jackson, that the problem of evil is purely external, not internal: and that’s an idea which is not in the spirit of Tolkien.

All in all, though, the extended version proves very satisfying to fans of The Two Towers. If you haven’t seen the short version, the extended version is also the better bet of the two. But if you didn’t much care for the theatrical release, the extended version may or may not float your boat.

One thing is for sure: the pace is much slower, so lay in a good supply of snacks and caffeinated beverages—and enjoy!

Greg Wright is the author of Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings (2004).

The Two Towers Extended Edition is available to stream at Amazon.

Check it out tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!

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