Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers continues to mesmerize with spectacular visuals of battle and an engaging story that is faithful to Tolkiens' central theme, offering the perfect recipe of escapism. Journeying across the lands of Ultra HD Blu-ray, the second installment arrives with an exceptional 4K video presentation, a demo-worthy Dolby Atmos track but lacking in special features. Nevertheless, the overall UHD package comes Highly Recommended while we wait for the eventual bonus-riddled special edition.
After the success and surprisingly satisfying first movie, I was more than eager and enthusiastically excited for Peter Jackson's direct follow-up, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Almost twenty years later, I still remember standing in line and talking with friends in giddy anticipation, curious of what Gollum (an amazing memorable Andy Serkis) was going to look like and of all the media hype surrounding the state-of-the-art CGI effects done for The Battle of the Hornburg. Needless to say, I was left rather speechless by the breathtaking spectacle of not only witnessing the hour-long battle unfold on the big screen but of also seeing the wonderful Treebeard and the Ents' siege of Isengard and of Gollum coming to life as a well-rounded, amazingly lifelike character that only ever existed in my imagination.
Going bigger and bolder, Jackson undoubtedly outdid himself in the sequel and again, managed to surpass all expectations while also remaining faithful to Tolkien's central theme of the second volume. As the title so eloquently suggests, this plot where we keep inching closer to the volcanic plains of Mordor is, at its heart, a battle of duality, of life's opposing forces pulling and tugging at us to go in one direction or another and of the conflict between good versus evil, doing right versus wrong. And Gollum is pivotal for bringing this to the forefront, as he struggles internally with his desire for the One Ring but also wishing to be rid of it. This is also demonstrated in Saruman's industrialization and exploitation of nature and its resources versus the Ents fighting to preserve it.
All the while, we watch as Frodo painfully wrestles to retain some semblance of his former self and not be seduced by the One Ring, to be transformed by the temptation of pursuing power and material wealth, literally caught between his past connection to home (Sam) and what he could become (Gollum). And so, it goes without saying that I love and admire Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's books, and The Two Towers comes with one of my favorites scenes of the film trilogy, which is of Gollum arguing with himself as Frodo and Sam sleep nearby.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our review of the 2012 Blu-ray edition.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Warner Bros. Home Video brings The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy to Ultra HD as a nine-disc package with a Digital Copy code. When redeeming said code via wb.com/redeemmovie or MoviesAnywhere, users are granted access to the 4K digital version in Dolby Vision with Dolby Atmos audio. All nine UHD100 discs, three of which contain the theatrical cuts of each film while the extended editions are spread across a pair of UHDs, sit comfortably on either side of four center spindles. They are housed in a thicker than normal black keepcase with a side-sliding slipcover. At startup, each disc goes directly to the standard menu screen with full-motion clips and the usual selection of options along the bottom while the iconic music plays in the background.
2012 Extended Blu-ray Edition:
4K Ultra HD Disc:
As mentioned in my review of The Fellowship that compared to the Blu-ray extended editions, The Lord of the Rings trilogy has never looked better on any home video format as they do on Ultra HD. And although The Two Towers ultimately falls short of perfection, the end result is nonetheless a massive upgrade from its 1080p HD brethren, offering enough demo-worthy positives to become the definite way for enjoying the Middle-earth saga.
Also like the first movie, the filmmakers reportedly made this HEVC H.265 encode from a recent restoration of the original elements and remastered it for a fresh 4K digital intermediate, and one of the biggest changes is a new color timing that removes the greenish-blue tint seen in the extended cut. Not long into the movie, the increase in resolution becomes apparent as the fine stitching and threading in the costumes are discrete to the point of even being able to make out the tiniest fibers in the fabric. The individual hairs and whiskers of the entire cast are razor-sharp, and facial complexions are incredibly revealing with lifelike textures that expose every pore, wrinkle and negligible blemish, especially during close-ups. When running in the open fields, the New Zealand landscapes are stunning and picturesque where the small pits and holes in the rock formations are plainly visible, and every blade of grass is distinct. We can also see the thin wood grain in the architecture of Rohan and the pockmarks and cracks in the masonry of Helm's Deep.
Unfortunately, the 2160p picture is not as consistent as hoped and not without a few minor issues and concerns worth mentioning, bringing the overall score down. Some scenes dip in resolution, looking a bit blurrier than others though thankfully, not enough to ruin the film's overall enjoyment. On the other hand, although the CG visuals have aged well and still look incredibly sharp, they sadly stand out more in some places while also remaining nicely integrated with others, such as those with the Ents, the fellbeast and the Oliphaunts. The daylight scenes with Gollum are perhaps the most noteworthy as he sometimes does not blend well with the environment and looks very much animated, yet in other scenes, he is strikingly lifelike, which to be fair, has always been an issue in previous formats as well. This is also true when the Warg-riding Orcs ambush the Rohan refugees and the ensuing battle is a mix of looking distractingly cartoonish and excellent.
There are other times where the use of a green-screen is made all the more obvious, such as when the camera pulls back to show Frodo and Sam surrounded by Faramir's men inside the cave. Or, the most glaring example is when Aragon and Théoden discuss how to protect Helm's Deep with Legolas and Gimli at the entrance of the fortress. In fact, this moment in particular also stands out for showing some signs of digital sharpening and mild noise reduction, which only makes clearer the use of a green-screen while also looking scrubbed of any grain. There is evidence of very mild, easy-to-miss ringing along the edges of some mountains, hills and other structures in a few extreme wide shots. The faces of Legolas and Théoden while looking over the cliff where Aragon fell also appear noticeably waxy and terribly sickly. Thankfully, this is not an egregious or constant problem and can be overlooked in favor of how beautifully stunning the film looks for a majority of the runtime.
The most impressive improvement in this fresh transfer is the better contrast and brightness balance throughout, boasting pitch-perfect, splendidly brilliant whites that make the action pop with sometimes eye-squinting brilliance. A case in point is the dramatic entrance of Gandalf the White where the white light behind him glows with intense radiance and excellent peak luminosity. Specular highlights are likewise extraordinary, supplying a more true-to-life splendor to the clouds in the sky, a narrower sparkle in the jewelry and accessories, and adds more realistic metallic polish to the swords and armor, most notably during The Battle of the Hornburg as the elvish helmets and suits glisten from the glow of the moon and rain. Speaking of which, the 4K video is consistently bathed in silky, raven blacks and remarkable shadow details in the darkest, blackest segments, providing the 2.40:1 image with a gorgeous cinematic quality. The best examples of this are the halls of Rohan and Wormtongue's entire appearance where we see excellent gradational differences between the various shades and still plainly make out the finer aspects of the building or Wormtongue's velvety, furry coat.
The Dolby Vision HDR presentation continues to impress with notably improved colors as well, showing better variation and vividness than its HD SDR counterpart as well as the first movie on UHD. Most immediate is the more full-bodied and dynamic primaries, like the reds ranging from candy-rose in some articles of clothing to the splashes of deep lipstick ruby in the halls of Helm's Deep at night. Or from the lovely cerulean of the daylight skies and Gollum's intensely arctic blue eyes to the indigo and navy in some of the costumes as well as the many other tints of blue and teal washing over the battle at Helm's Deep. The greens really stand out with the journey through the Dead Marshes serving as a highlight, looking lively and accurate in the foliage while a ghostly blend of chartreuse, lime and neon emerald make up the corpse-infested waters. Those same scenes also come with an outstanding assortment of sepia, tans and earthy browns that can be seen in other areas while other secondary hues, like hot pinks, magentas and the fiery-yellow orange of fire, brighten the screen. The golden medallion color of Gimli's helmet and Théoden's crown are also worth mentioning as impressive stand outs. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 94/100)
2012 Extended Blu-ray Edition:
4K Ultra HD Disc:
The fantasy-adventure sequel charges into home theaters with another stupendously thrilling and immersive Dolby Atmos soundtrack, ruling over its DTS-HD counterpart as the clear winner. Almost immediately, Howard Shore's iconic score, once again, smoothly bleeds into the side and height channels to surround the listener while still displaying wonderful definition and warmth, maintaining extraordinary separation and fidelity in the orchestration from start to finish. In fact, imaging overall is just spectacular, constantly feeling broad and expansive as a variety of background activity fluidly moves across the fronts and into the top heights for a half-dome soundstage that's terrifically engaging. A splendidly detailed and dynamic mid-range exhibits incredible distinction and clarity at all time, from the loudest, action-packed segments with the clinking and clanging of metal to the ear-piercing screeching of the Nazgûl.
As always, the design delivers precise and very well-prioritized vocals amid the chaos and rowdy clashes while quieter, more dramatic character interactions display clear, intelligible tonality in the performances. Surprisingly, the low-end isn't quite as impressive or commanding as its lossless brethren, which is not to suggest that it fails or is lacking because it certainly does not. Rather, comparatively speaking, it doesn't quite deliver the same authoritative, earth-shaking wallop heard on the Blu-ray. The scene with Faramir's Rangers attacking the Haradrim is great, but the stomping of the runaway Oliphaunts feels oddly weaker than before. The same can be said at the moment when the walls of Helm's Deep are breached, and what should be a robust, room-energizing explosion sadly feels more like a booming thump that quickly falls flat. Nevertheless, the lower frequencies are still plentiful enough to give Treebeard and the other Ents some palpable weight in the voices and footsteps while also providing Shore's music with appreciable presence.
Overlooking that one mild insufficiency, which brings it down a couple notches, the design's saving grace is how well sound engineers employed and utilized all the channels for creating an awesome 360° environ. As would be expected, the battle scenes at Helm's Deep and Isengard offer, of course, some of the best demo-worthy moments, as arrows fly across the ceiling, debris rains down from all directions and the cries of soldiers from either side are distinctly heard in the distance. My favorite scenes, however, are the quieter ones with the local wildlife of Middle-earth filling the entire room or while traveling through the Dead Marshes, a Black Rider on his fellbeast discretely fly overhead, panning between the channels flawlessly. And then, there are a couple brief moments when Éomer and the Rohirrim are plainly heard riding from behind the listening area.
But my favorite scenes are those with the Ents and Fangorn Forest as each crackling branch and tree movement comes through plainly from all around and directly above the listener, generating a marvelously satisfying and immersive hemispheric soundfield. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 96/100)
2012 Extended Blu-ray Edition:
4K Ultra HD Disc:
A year after The Fellowship, Peter Jackson surprised and exceeded expectations once more with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, littering the screen with stunning, breathtaking spectacle that effectively brings fantasy characters to life. In spite of some minor alterations and changes from the original Tolkien stories, Jackson's adaptation is amazingly faithful overall and is the definitive watch of the battle for Middle-earth. Journeying across the lands of 4K Ultra HD, the second installment in the trilogy arrives with an exceptional Dolby Vision HDR presentation and a demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack, providing a notable improvement and satisfying upgrade over its Blu-ray predecessors. Although lacking in special features, the overall UHD package makes for a highly recommended purchase to hold devoted fans over until the next bonus-riddled edition come along.