Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Expanded Platinum Edition) (2002)
Directed by Peter Jackson

Coming hot on the heels of the splendid four-disc expanded Fellowship of the Rings, this daring six-disc set ups the ante considerably, but not always to the best effect.

The foremost gripe that fans will have of the set is that, because it is being released while the film is still doing huge numbers at the box office, the DVD version does not include all the scenes you get to see in theaters. As a trade-off, though, you get an entirely different cut of the film that is full of surprises and unseen footage. Although it contains none of the climactic battle scene at Helm's Deep, it does contain some interesting new song sequences, mostly sung by Gollum (Andy Serkis), but some also sung by Merry and Pippin shortly before they are eaten by Treebeard.

Probably the most significant difference between this version of the film and the one in theaters is that, due to contractual limitations, the character of Aragorn (Viggo Morgenstern) had to be edited out and has been replaced by a "time warrior" named Dagger Jones (played by Ving Rhames). Opinion will undoubtedly be sharply divided. Already I have heard from many longtime Tolkien fans who think this development is an abomination; yet many viewers (particularly younger ones) are fascinated by Dagger Jones and want to see more of his tough-talking, laser-wielding, ass-kicking ways. I am on the fence as to whether I ultimately like his presence in the movie, since it seems so clearly calculated to spin off into a new franchise, but even I will admit that the scene where Dagger storms into Mordor, bitch-slaps Sauron into submission, and throws Wormtongue across the bar, is a thrilling sequence.

I am also ambivalent about the new narrative structure the producers have bestowed on this DVD. Instead of having dialogue and sound effects, they have chosen to present the story silently, with storybook-like narration from Susan Sarandon and light-jazz piano accompaniment by (of all people) Jeff Goldblum. Fortunately Goldblum does not provide any voices (though he is featured on one of the commentary tracks, where he mainly calls out the chord changes in the songs he plays on the soundtrack). Sarandon is a gifted performer, but I for one did not appreciate her campy, tongue-in-cheek take on the story, nor did I particularly enjoy many of her character voices, most notably her Samwise Gamgee, who sounds like he is suffering from cerebral palsy, and not in a good way. Is she making fun of this classic tale? Is she under the influence of rumored paramour "Weird" Al Yankovic?

Another scene that left me confused was the one where Gandalf (John Hurt) returns as the White Wizard, and for the first three months of his newfound persona, decides to use his virtually unassailable powers to succeed as a professional basketball player. I don't even mind the anachronism of this so much as the fact that it comes off as a blatant promotion for the Washington White Wizards (who have been renamed specifically for this promotion). I didn't need to see Michael Jordan shamelessly hamming it up, and the uncredited appearance of the "Space Jam" cartoon crew was downright jarring. Admittedly, I did think that Yosemite Sam looked funny as a hobbit, but other scenes, such as the one where Petunia Pig and Galadriel braid each other's hair and talk about boys they like, were simply embarrassing.

The supplemental discs feature plenty of interesting tidbits, including a rough cut of The Return of the King that offers a preview of what is to come. And frankly I am not sure what to expect. Perhaps this preview is just a joke, because I can't see how they can possibly incorporate Vin Diesel's xXx character into the third movie, nor why there would be so many spaceships firing lasers down on Middle Earth (perhaps this was actually a preview of the upcoming Dagger Jones solo film).

There is also a "making of" featurette where you get to see how some of the special effects were done, including the one where Frodo (Elijah Wood) cries. My favorite supplemental feature, besides the audio commentary by funnyman Eddie Izzard, was the "Two Towers Virtual Paper Dolls" interactive game, wherein you can select your favorite characters and dress them up however you like, THEN watch the movie again with them in that costume. For one viewing, I had Frodo wearing basically the same outfit as the lead characters from Men in Black, and Samwise dressed like a hippie, and Gollum dressed like a stewardess. It was hilarious. They looked like the Village People.

Overall, I think that this DVD set has plenty to offer, but it falls short of the mark where it really counts. Hopefully they will remedy the situation with a more coherent DVD release later in the year, when both Return of the King and Dagger Jones, the Time Warrior come to theaters.

Review by Topps Doggerman