Deep into the Helm

Middle chapters often deal in defeat, the heroes left ailing, frightened, or walking away. Two Towers has those moments. It’s a second act where everyone is scattered, playing out their stories individually. Aragorn wrestles with a stock forbidden romance, Frodo his loyalty to Sam and empathy toward Gollum. Then kings debating war and their allegiance to the people, living trees seeking only personal sanctuary, all staring down the same villain who pushes monsters to battle.

Yet Two Towers closes on an inspiring, thoughtful moment. A battle cost hundreds, even thousands of lives, yet Sam (Sean Astin) looks over the destruction, prophesying the future. “How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened?” he laments. A foreboding line, but cognizant the world always rights itself. Sensationally fantastic as Lord of the Rings is, a story like this capably calms and reassures – history is rife with tragedy. Death. Pain. But here we are, again, settled and sure. Much as Two Towers spoke to a post-9/11 audience, it resonates today in a year overflowing with awful.

Much as Two Towers spoke to a post-9/11 audience, it resonates today in a year overflowing with awful

Devotion becomes a running theme in this follow-up. Frodo (Elijah Wood) solidifies his hero status not for winning any fight or overpowering evil. Rather, he shows empathy. He chastises Sam for bullying the tortured, misshapen Gollum, both to protect a creature he sees as a victim and to steer his friend toward right. Pity is all Frodo asks for, willing to give someone that second chance instead of building a grudge. That’s bravery, as much so as those clashing swords against entire armies.

Gollum himself is such an engrossing character, leaner after years of parody, but absolutely mournful in the way an addict so often is. Once, he was someone good, but insatiable greed overwhelmed Gollum in a moment of weakness. That’s not someone deserving hate or derision, instead sympathy and hope. Frodo sees that. Like the world, people can right themselves too.

Two Towers doesn’t hit each mark, notably the taboo romance that hits every trope branch on the cliché tree. Time diminished the wow factor too, so many other studio films seeking the same large scale luster and digital creatures established by Lord and the Rings and then concurrent Star Wars prequels. Neither hold up well under advancing technology and scrutiny; Two Towers’ Oliphaunt strike is especially painful now. But Frodo is always around. So is Sam. They hold this together, hoping not to win, but bring about a better world.


Striking a new master for this release, Warner’s effort isn’t perfect, but a step above the sub-par Blu-ray. Giving a pass to the digital effects, left on their own without change (lackluster resolution and all), the rest shows generous detail. Strong definition highlights costumes, makeup, and facial texture. Benefits to this 4K release are apparent in fidelity alone.

Struggles happen occasionally, notably smearing. One of the first shots with Frodo/Sam walking through the fog messily passes. That happens too near fields when Aaragorn shows up on horseback. The ground lacks natural clarity, turning into a blob of color when in motion. Given Warner’s fine encoding for the rest, and ease in handling grain structure, those moments look like an anomaly. Other instances deliver a DNR-esque appearance (especially outside Theoden’s castle), odd given the filmic look everywhere else.

Color grading shifts to match the scene as intended, sometimes favoring a definite teal push, other times warmth. Generally speaking, the palette shows rich blue skies and crisp grasslands. Added color space enriches the bolder hues. Flesh tones display numerous values, offering great variety – no green tint.

An often brightly lit film, Two Towers requires extensive contrast, whether that’s a reflection of Gandalf’s robe or the sunlit skies. Dolby Vision adds to that boldness. Black levels carry nuance, not always the deepest, but careful to hold shadow detail in the frame at no sacrifice to dimension.


Gandalf battles the Balrog as Two Towers begins, a ruthlessly powerful moment dropping bass to deep, solid levels. The rumble spares little. That’s a constant in this Atmos track, bold in range, and there’s no shame in using it. Armies march, stomping as they go. The same for trees, carrying Hobbits, each step a thump. Helms Deep finds explosions, battering rams, and hand-to-hand brawls to exercise the sub, splendid stuff.

Atmos effects extend in any action scene, flushed with arrows sailing overhead or swords clashing in other positionals. Separation finds everything to push into a stereo or rear or overhead. Voices swirl in Frodo’s head, and therefore, throughout the soundstage. Ambiance stretches wind or splashing water where possible. Rain and thunder fill the channels, and by the finale, it’s controlled chaos to match the scale as armor and swords clang everywhere.


Both theatrical and extended cuts are in the package (extended cut on two discs), but no other extras. Warner plans a thorough edition in 2021.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Two Towers
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The Two Towers is an unusually optimistic middle chapter, imperfect, if ensuring Frodo is a notable, memorable hero.

User Review
3 (3 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 76 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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