Pity the unfortunate middle child: I used up most of my superlatives on the extended Fellowship of the Ring last year, and The Return of the King is still to come, so I must tread lightly on The Two Towers. Seamlessly rendering the blockbuster theatrical epic even bigger, this expansion is downright sprawling yet still dramatically taut.
Packing on another 43 minutes of movie and four audio commentaries from the various filmmakers mandated that New Line split the feature onto two discs, affording higher video bit rates, the same 448 kilobits per second on the Dolby EX soundtrack, and room to spare for the new DTS ES track at a whopping 768 kbps. Those extra bits pay off in the many subtle fantasy environments, from birdcalls to the resonance of a whistle to the echo of a shout to dragons flying about. It's a tale of war, so bass is bold throughout, with a magnificent explosion late in the film. (Who knew there was TNT back in Middle-earth?)
This is a breathtaking 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer with a healthy hint of film grain and no distracting digital flaws across the skillfully orchestrated frame. The two full discs of supplements are less about the overall saga than about the movie at hand, its imaginary world, and the award-winning, completely CGI character of Gollum. As a movie and as a DVD, Towers is both a worthy successor and a tough act to follow.—Chris Chiarella
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Special Edition—MGM/UA
If the thought of crossing a James Bond film with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory sounds appealing, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is just the movie for you. Roald Dahl adapted the screenplay from Ian Fleming's original novel, and the resulting movie is one that will please both children and adults alike. The kids will love the catchy Sherman Brothers tunes and the flying car, and the grown-ups can spend the many stretches of down time analyzing Dahl's subtle digs at European aristocracy. Or, perhaps, they'll simply hum the infectious theme song until their eyes cross. Either way, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has a little something for everyone.
Although Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has been available on DVD for years, the new special edition is the first release to feature a widescreen version of the film. The new 2.20:1 anamorphic transfer looks beautiful, and I can't imagine why anyone would flip the disc over and watch the pan-and-scan version. If ever a movie made a case for widescreen viewing only, this is it. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also very well done, and disc two features an abundance of extras.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang may not quite be in the same class as some of the other great 1960s musicals, but it's still an enjoyable film that really comes to life in its newest DVD incarnation.—Gary Maxwell