What a difference a war makes. When The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers debuted last year in the white heat of Iraq fever, its images of a free people besieged by legions of dark, snarling evildoers aroused fantastical passions -- which fell effortlessly in step with a real-world battle march. J.R.R. Tolkien's subtler (some would say fuzzier) lessons about the treacherous nature of righteous might were all but muted.
The new four-disc extended edition of ''Towers'' seems designed to redress that cultural tilt. Peter Jackson's 223-minute cut restores some of the story's original nuance, including excellent scenes with Faramir (David Wenham), brother of the dead Boromir (Sean Bean, seen here in flashback), whose desire for strategic dominance nearly derails Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring. (This is essentially an arms race, after all.) The deep, sleek documentaries and lively commentaries -- aside from making the vagaries of nasal prosthetics seem absorbing -- seek to rebut allegations of bellicosity and racism leveled at Tolkien's fantasy. We hear a great deal about the author's environmental streak, backed up with added Treebeard scenes. (''The Song of the Entwives'' has been reinstated -- if that means something to you, rejoice; if not, fast-forward.) Overall, ''Towers''' extra scenes feel a bit less essential than the ones in the extended ''Fellowship,'' but they do contain more of Andy Serkis' Gollum, who emerges here as not only the first true success of CGI characterization, but the scarred conscience of a foggy war story.