Review: The Two Towers Extended Edition - Better, worse, or just plain silly?
As Ted and I saw the film followed by ALL the extra features (6+ hours worth) in one sitting, I still find myself dealing with overload, trying to mentally separate all the new features. Overall, the film itself is better realized, especially as a translation of book to screen. Within the 45 minutes of extra footage, we get to see Sam and Frodo climb down elvish rope, we see a less hasty Treebeard explaining a bit of the entwives to the hobbits, we see Merry and Pippin drinking Ent draught, we see Theodreds funeral, and-best of all-we see the huorns make their move to Helm's Deep. Throughout the film, there are dozens of places that an extra line or two was added, or an extra shot was edited in, and it serves to create a much better picture of the story.
Effectively, this shows us that Faramir is a man looking for his Father's approval. With the ring in his grasp, he could gain that in one quick stroke. I appreciated this addition, though still disagree with the notion that Faramir must be made a dynamic character in TTT (more on this in a bit).
I liked the film in December 2002, and now I definitely like it more. Is it the jump in quality the Extended FOTR was from the theatrical FOTR? No, clearly not. But it is a great way to REALLY bring a greater realization to Tolkien's story and world, and take joy in those things we'd all really hoped had made it into the original release (in particular, look for the homage to Tom Bombadil).
The DVD comes with 2 discs of bonus content with 6+ hours of behind the scenes footage that is really quite enjoyable--as we saw with the FOTR extended edition, everyone clearly had a good time making these movies, forging fellowships that will last a lifetime. In short, if you have the time, definitely sit down to watch ALL the extras on the DVDs!
That being said...
The first Appendix, "J.R.R. Tolkien - Origins of Middle-earth" takes an odd approach to describing Tolkien and his life as he created LOTR. They mention him as a devout Roman Catholic who was dear friends with the athiest C.S. Lewis. Of course, they fail to mention the fact that Lewis became a Christian early in his relationship with Tolkien, a change which became perhaps the biggest knot in their tie of friendship.
The interviewees, particularly Jude Fisher (author of the FOTR Visual Companion), Brian Sibley (author of the FOTR Insider's Guide), and Phillipa Boyens (one of the screenwriters), tell us that Tolkien was an "amateur" writer, one who did not know the proper constructs of writing a novel. They tell us that he didn't know that he shouldn't have such a long expository chapter as The Council of Elrond, that he never should have halved the books into completely separate tales... but that somehow, in some amazing way, he made it work.
Tolkien was far from "amateur". Perhaps he wasn't a professional novelist, but to cast him in the light of a man doing something unfamiliar is ignorant and silly. He was a man who daily breathed myth and story. He loved words and the stories behind them; as a philologer he dealt with words and the often long stories behind them. But to say there are things he shouldn't have done and did them only because he was an amateur is disingenuous. He KNEW myth and story, and wrote on to a resounding success because he had studied that his entire life. He was no blind squirrel finding an acorn. He was a practiced, extremely dedicated philologer and professor, who spent nearly 15 years working on one book, writing rewriting and reworking until he saw it fit to leave his own desk. His dedication to his one work is something "professional" writers can learn from.
I was quite disappointed with their approach and conclusion. It came across as silly, unstudied, and altogether arrogant... and in some ways a circumspect justification for the changes in the films.
The next Appendix is titled "From Book to Script - Finding the Story". This is essentially a report on all the reasons for the decided departures from the book: focusing rather particularly on Faramir's character changes, and Arwen's entrance into the film.
Regarding Faramir much is said about why the changes were made. Amazingly it looks like it boils down to the idea that the screenwriters couldn't believe Faramir would have so much honour and self-control to not take the ring from Frodo, and that they needed him to became a dynamic character on a personal journey of understanding. Essentially, "Faramir is such a big character that we know he needs to be dynamic!" Sorry, I don't buy it. Let's look at Sam. He's one of the central characters. Does he go on a journey? Well, a physical one. Does he go on a personal journey of understanding that changes him dramatically? Dear Lord no! He is the SAME hobbit who loves the Shire throughout the whole book. He is loyal to Frodo at the outset, and he is loyal at the last. It can be said he matures into better understanding of the world, but does he change? Not in the least. And do we fans love him any less? No! If anything, we love him MORE!
I think what we see here is the normal human trouble with coming to understand that which is better than us. We can understand and accept all those things "beneath" us: pride, envy, hatred. But when we are looking at one above us, one who has Faramir's self-control, or Aragorn's patience and grace (which was also largely moved out of the tale), we find it hard to believe. Peter Jackson, it seems, could not believe Tolkien's honourable and altogether good Faramir, and I think it an utter loss to the quality of the film.
Now on to the best part of all: XenArwen.
Yep. There she was in all her glory. Fighting on the walls of Helm's Deep, sword in hand and Aragorn at her side.
Jackson and Producer Barrie Osbourne explained their original decision to include Arwen in Helm's Deep as one of necessity considering her relationship with Aragorn. They simply couldn't leave her out of the film, right? Folks would forget about her and remembery only Eowyn... So, toss her in with the Uruks on the Deeping Wall!
As we all know, that didn't fly with the fans. Osbourne and Jackson gave a nod to the fan community, noting that there was a huge outcry against Arwen at Helm's Deep that influenced them to reconsider their decision. They decided, ultimately, that Arwen at Helm's Deep was a bad decision, and that they needed to include her into the film in another way. Forcing a woman to be "strong" by giving her a sword wasn't necessary. Liv Tyler made that argument. Yep. Liv. Liv Tyler.
They admitted Tolkien's approach to womanly strength (strength of purpose, strength of love, strength of will) was much better than their own. And I think, my friends, our clamor against "XenArwen" had a good bit to do with that realization.
So, instead they added in that flashback scene with Aragorn and Arwen at Rivendell (remember? The one that ends with Brego "the wonder horse"). Ultimately, I'll take this scene exchange any day!
The rest of the Appendices were enjoyable, funny, and entertaining. Not quite as memorable as the first two I've mentioned, but good nonetheless. They are:
The Taming of Smeagol
Andy Serkis Animation Reference
Warriors of Middle-earth
Cameras in Middle-earth
Editorial: Refining the Story
Music for Middle-earth
The Soundscapes of Middle-earth
"The Battle for Helm's Deep is over..."
Now, I don't recommend seeing them all in one day as I did. Unless you have some eyedrops on hand. And some Mountain Dew... Ok, well, maybe do watch it all in one day. It makes for a heckuva ride!
I can highly recommend the Special Extended Edition of The Two Towers! The movie is better. The Appendices are great (if a little misguided in the beginning). Altogether, it's well worth your money, even if you already have the theatrical edition on DVD.