The Watcher - Timber!

New Two Towers delights — except for the trees

"Are those Muppets?" my roommate asks.

"No, stupid, they're Ents," I answer. We're halfway through the just-released Special Extended Edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and I'll admit, even I'm getting bored by all the extra talking-tree footage. The Ents, the enormous wooden tree-people who could be forgotten characters from The Dark Crystal, get more face, er, foliage time in the supersized DVD.

With 43 minutes of footage not seen in theaters, the movie just feels fuller, and most of the new stuff genuinely dazzles. Gollum, arguably the star of the film, has only a few more minutes on screen, and the added material ups his creepy factor. The magnificent battle sequences all last longer, though not to the point of boredom. And we learn more about goings-on in Gondor, doubtlessly meant to set the stage for The Return of the King.

But the most glaring additions invariably involve Merry and Pippin, who practically had cameo appearances in the first version, and their travels among the Ents. The wayward hobbits enjoy a more complete story arc that does justice to the J.R.R. Tolkien source material. And the Ents, who we saw storming Isengard in the original, now get a double-dose of whoop ass on, though I won't spoil the surprise how.

Sadly, the extra Ent stuff often lags. It's easy to see why one particularly longwinded speech from Treebeard ended up on the cutting room floor, a fate shared by a few other exposition scenes.

What's most improved by the extended edition may be the ending. Before, the film closed with an uncharacteristically saccharine speech from Samwise. Now, four added scenes make the finale significantly more stimulating.

There must be a happy medium between the theatrical version of The Two Towers and the extended edition. Added scenes bring the overall film to just under four hours — not exactly the kind of commitment a casual fan would willfully dedicate, no matter how grand the product.

Of course, LOTR fans in general don't usually fall into the "casual" category. My own discovery of the hobbit books, around age 13, led to at least a five-year obsession with all things Tolkien. Like many a geeky small-town kid before (and after) me, I immersed myself in the minutiae of Middle-Earth, with J.E.A. Tyler's excellent The Complete Tolkien Companion as a constant reference. (The book, by the way, has just been reissued by St. Martin's Press.)

One perk of the new Two Towers DVD is an on-screen reference guide to the various races and realms of Middle-Earth, the sort of appendix sure to make serious fans giddy. Better still is the interactive atlas, which lets you trace the path of Frodo and friends in their meandering path to Mordor. The atlas uses the same hand-drawn map found as a fold-out in the back of the Tolkien books, but lets you click on specific entry points for cross-referencing with the film. Neato.

The four-disc set — with two that are bonus documentaries and galleries — mimics the books in that both create fully realized worlds easy to get lost in. Absorbing the full oeuvre of extras would require an Ent-like patience, or perhaps the obsessive nature of a 13-year-old.


The Watcher is a weekly column on television, DVDs and other small-screen delights.