The Two Towers: Extended, Enhanced, Redeemed

I finally got to see the extended edition of The Two Towers a couple nights ago. Who knew 43 minutes of new footage could make such a difference? Well, anyone who saw the deluxe DVD of Fellowship, for starters. But for the sequel the burden of those extra minutes was all the greater, because Two Towers had more to make up for. It was an excellent movie with some glaring weaknesses, but not only does the extended cut address many of these, it introduces other unlooked-for delights. Watching it doesn’t feel like seeing the same movie with some added bits. It’s like watching the real movie for the first time.

Many of the additions are small: a scene extended by a line or two, or even just a reaction shot. Then you have short but lovely moments like our new first scene with Frodo and Sam, bringing in the powers of the elven rope. There’s a new scene between Frodo and Gollum cementing the fact that Frodo must hope that Gollum can be redeemed because he himself is going down that same path. When you see it, you can hardly believe that such a crucial moment wasn’t in the movie before. The same goes for another scene later on, full of great lines from the book, where Gandalf explains to Aragorn the fear that Sauron has for Isildur’s heir.

I’m happiest about all the new Merry and Pippin material. Once they get into Fangorn, the short shrift they get in the theatrical release is a travesty; now they finally get the screen time they deserve. And it comes in delightful ways: we get to see them drinking the ent-draughts, followed up by a lovely transplantation of Old Man Willow from the Old Forest to Fangorn. Treebeard even gets some of Tom Bombadil’s lines. Later on he recites poetry, and pines for the Entwives. All of that would have been more than enough to quell my criticisms, but then, toward the movie’s end, we even get to see the hobbits discover the pipeweed trove in the ruins of Isengard. Now my hopes are renewed that somewhere in the beginning of Return of the King we’ll get to see one of my favorite moments from the trilogy: Merry and Pippin smoking their pipes atop the rubble as Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas ride up.

The other big addition comes in the form of new Faramir material, especially an extended flashback to the retaking of Osgiliath. Faramir’s changed role in the film was something that many hated but that I never minded, and even liked. The new stuff confirms my reasons for liking it and gives those who thought he came off as too dark some glimpses at his motivations and his more redeeming qualities. Denethor looks good, too, though he’s much more of a bad egg than he is in the books. This is in keeping with a trend in all of the characters in the film: the screenwriters take Tolkien’s key theme of corruption and push it, across the board. All-too-human weakness comes to fore in figures like Aragorn, Faramir, Treebeard, and Elrond—characters who are all relatively unblemished in the book—and those who were already weak are made more so. They’re changes that are, in a sense, more Tolkienian than Tolkien himself.

Frodo and Sam’s climactic scene in Osgiliath also gets fleshed out, especially its aftermath. Between that and some of the beats added to their scenes earlier on, Frodo’s arc of conflict in this film makes much more sense. I always appreciated the strucutural reasons for diverting from Tolkien and having the scene in Osgiliath, but now it’s is not only necessary, but it actually works, too.

The subtlest and most important improvements wrought by the added footage come in the form of pacing. It’s not that the original movie is badly paced, though it feels choppy at moments. I was constantly amazed at how many things could be fixed simply by improving the rhythm that flows from scene to scene. Best example: In the theatrical release, Sam has two monologues very close together toward the end. One is a voiceover while we see the victories at Helm’s Deep and Isengard, the other comes as he, Frodo and Gollum make their way from Osgiliath and he wonders whether their story will ever be told. Neither is bad in its own right, but both push the envelope of the melodramatic, and having the two of them so close together is too much. But in the extended cut, there is considerable space between them, and once they’re uncrowded, each monologue works much, much better.

I’m skipping past any number of other key additions, like the introduction of the trees to their rightful place at the battle of Helm’s Deep. The upshot, when all is said and done, is that I am both delighted and angry. Delighted for obvious reasons, but angry because it is one hundred percent clear that this is the movie that Peter Jackson made: the complete aesthetic product as it was intended. When you see how much more smoothly the movie flows, and how many key explanations and character details are in it, there can be no doubt. The theatrical release was a compromised version, a lesser affair, and it’s a travesty that Jackson was made to do damage to his creation before they’d put it in theatres.

Sadly, there is every indication that Return of the King will follow a similar pattern. Part of me wants to skip the premiere and just wait and get the whole package in November 2004—though I know I’ll never manage it.

Suanna and I have only started delving into the documentaries and the commentary tracks, and all the other extras, but so far it looks to match the quality of the Fellowship DVD. After watching the segment about the art department, all we could do was stare at the screen with our jaws wide open, in awe of all the work and loving detail that went into the film. Still a bargain at three times the price.