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Oscars 2017
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The dish on ''LOTR: The Two Towers''

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Viggo Mortensen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Viggo Mortensen: Pierre Vinet

These days, even cave-dwelling trolls can’t escape the hoard of the ”Rings.” Heading into this year’s Oscars with the most nominations of any film, Peter Jackson’s ”The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” continues its media assault on multiple fronts — from Academy voters to average filmgoers (who have plunked down $710 million worldwide so far).

While its 13 nods put it in the company of Oscar sweepers like ”Shakespeare in Love” and ”Forrest Gump,” there’s no sure thing in Middle-earth. ”Fellowship”’s massive box office and otherworldly theme could plunk it among popcorn flicks like ”E.T.” and ”Star Wars” — Oscar’s classic underachievers. The good news: ”People don’t think of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ pejoratively as a fantasy,” says ”Inside Oscar 2” author Damien Bona, noting that four of the last six Best Picture winners were epics.

Speaking of epic ambitions, New Line is extending its ”Rings” campaign with plans for not one but two DVD packages for ”Fellowship.” According to Jackson, the theatrical version hits stores in August; fall brings a multidisc director’s cut with 30 more minutes and new music from composer Howard Shore. Extra scenes include rockin’ Hobbit tunes (if you can rock on the lute), back story on mangy mystery man Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), and an extended gift-giving scene of Cate Blanchett’s Elf Queen. ”In the movie, Galadriel is this frightening oracle,” Jackson says. ”This is her in a more gentle mode.”

On March 29, New Line will tempt fans to see ”Fellowship” one more time on the big screen. The lure: a three-and-a-half-minute, Jackson-edited trailer for December’s ”The Two Towers” at the film’s end. ”I went through finished F/X shots and plucked the ones that looked really good,” Jackson says.

While Jackson and Co. are mum on specifics, here are some details EW gleaned about ”Towers” — which will boast about 600 F/X shots (about 80 more than ”Fellowship”). Warning: This may get kinda geeky.

BURDENED BEASTIE One fave ”Towers” creation is Gollum, former owner and current coveter of the One Ring, who is forced to march Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) to Mount Doom. But Gollum’s anti-Hobbit plotting makes him a menace à trois. ”It’s an unholy trinity,” Jackson says. ”We play psychological games more intensely than the book does.” In addition to providing the sticky rasp of the computer-animated Gollum, actor Andy Serkis played his scenes with Wood and Astin while wearing a black Lycra jumpsuit covered with hundreds of pinhead sensors. Serkis’ movements were then replicated to become the CGI Gollum. ”Andy’s physicality is a big part of what Gollum will look like on screen,” says exec producer Mark Ordesky.

CREATURE COMFORTS Quel scandale! Shelob, the she-spider that battles Sam at the end of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ”The Two Towers,” has been booted to the third movie. ”If we started ‘Return of the King’ after Shelob — the way the books do — there’d be very little for Frodo and Sam to do,” says Jackson. Right now, good guy Treebeard, the oldest being in Middle-earth, is getting the final CGI touches on his bark and leaves, with a voice by John Rhys-Davies (who also plays dwarf Gimli). And look for Brad Dourif as creepy Grima Wormtongue, double agent of Saruman (Christopher Lee). ”[Brad] doesn’t play him as a groveling creature,” Lee says. ”He kind of slithers along beside me with a soft, husky voice, whispering.”

FIGHTING SPIRITS Jackson has between 15 and 20 hours of footage of the key battle of Helm’s Deep, in which an army of elves and humans spar with 10,000 Uruk-hai (those Über-Orcs Saruman created). ”Helm’s Deep is one of Tolkien’s most vivid pieces of prose,” Jackson says. ”You really feel his blood boiling.” What does an army of crazed Uruk-hai sound like? A stadium of Kiwi cricket fans, turns out. In February, Jackson made a half-time appearance at a New Zealand-England match and asked the crowd to beat their chests, march in place, and even perform a tricky bit of dialect work. ”There’s this Black Speech battle cry the Uruk do,” Ordesky says. ”We wrote it out phonetically on the Diamond Vision screen and Peter directed 25,000 people going ‘Rrwaaa harra farr rrara!”’ Which just might translate to ”Oscar, please.”

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