BY MY COUNT, there are 30 days until the release of Peter Jackson's final LOTR installment (Dec. 17), and you could occupy every hour until then with the extras on this four-disc special-edition set arriving Nov. 18. (On the same date, there's an even fancier collector's edition with a Gollum statue and other stuff for $80; both follow the plain-vanilla version that many fans gobbled up back in August.
Forty-three new minutes of footage has been added to Towers itself, yielding a net run time of just under four hours. This more-is-more approach worked better with Fellowship, since there were more characters to introduce, and the additional back stories helped to flesh them out. Here, as Jackson admits on his commentary, the material tends to weigh down the long middle section to the trilogy already weighed down with armor and sword. And no more Treebeard, please.
Jackson's commentary (one of four!) is shared with his wife and their third co-writer, making for a cozy, informative chat. Crucially on that and the huge cast commentary, all the speakers are identified by name and character (or profession) via titles above the letterboxed imagewhich ought to be mandatory on all DVDs. The cast, particularly Sean Astin (Sam), demonstrates huge enthusiasm and knowledge about the whole Tolkien opus. "Maps! I can't get enough of these maps!" Astin enthuses of one war-planning scene. Apparently Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen couldn't be bothered to participate.
My favorite bit on the two separate discs of extras is a 40-minute making-of featurette devoted to Gollum, his animators, and invaluable English thespian Andy Serkis (wearing the humiliating white "gimp suit" and gamely splashing about in freezing New Zealand streams). It's absolutely fascinating how sketching, modeling, "keyboard animation," motion-capture technology, and plain old acting can yield one of the remarkable feats in recent cinema: a completely convincing, wholly artificial character who's the true star of Towers.
SPEAKING OF STARS, Nov. 18 also brings Sean Connery and all the other 007s on three Bond sets containing all 20 titles ($275 net), with some solid extras. Javier Bardem is suitably glum in Mondays in the Sun; They Might Be Giants are their wacky selves in Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns), with many bonus features; and Sergio Leone's 1969 Once Upon a Time in the West includes some nice tributes to the late director from other filmmakers.