The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

"a game that captivates and frustrates us in all the right ways"

Each new generation takes over the mantle of older ones, and Peter Jackson now reigns supreme as filmdom’s foremost fantasist while the Star Wars series, now seemingly more Industrial Light & Magic’s than George Lucas,’ falls by the wayside. Which isn’t to say Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones didn’t make mounds of money (having grossed over $400 million and $300 million, respectively), but rather they have not caught the popular imagination the way Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series has. The primary difference is that Lucas has lost his knack for telling a story, even one with plot points already mapped out for him. He has the score, but he just can’t hit the right notes.

Jackson’s score of course is J.R.R. Tolkien’s enormously popular literary trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, and the most noticeable thing about The Two Towers is that as it moves along, it gradually diverges from the book. Aside from a visual extravaganza of an opening that rehashes Gandalf’s encounter with the Balrog, the movie picks up right where The Fellowship of the Ring left off. Unlike the previous film, there is no prelude providing plot information to orient the viewer. The single, lonely soul who hasn’t seen the first one or read the books will probably have no idea what is going on.

Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) continue heading for Mordor, kingdom of the villainous Sauron, where they must destroy Sauron’s corrupting magic ring by casting it into a mountain of fire.Along the way, they capture one of the ring’s previous owners, the dilapidated Gollum (a completely digitized character based on the movements of and voiced by Andy Serkis), who wants his Precious back.Meanwhile, fellow Hobbits, Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) escape from the orcs who had nabbed them and escape into the forest of Fangorn where they encounter Treebeard (voice of John Rhys-Davies) of the race of living trees called Ents.The main momentum of the movie however is carried by Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and dwarf Gimli (Davies again).They pursue the orcs who have carried off Pippin and Merry until they bump into their old friend, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), freshly rejuvenated from his battle with the Balrog.Together they try to save the peoples of Rohan from the evil army of Sauron’s ally, the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee).

Jackson departs from the book by incorporating an unnecessary battle with orcs and warg wolves just to enhance a subplot between Aragorn and eowyn (Miranda Otto), the niece of Rohan’s King Theoden (Bernard Hill).Also, Gondor warrior Faramir (David Wenham) is a lot more like his brother Boromir, who perished at the end of the first installment, instead of his own man.This results in his dragging Frodo and company to the battle of Osgiliath, an event mentioned in the books but at which no major character participates. Jackson’s Two Towers also ends surprisingly early, only about two-thirds of the way into the book.

Intercutting among three storylines throughout, Jackson can barely hold it all together with the Pippin, Merry, and Treebeard plot suffering the most.Like the first film, The Two Towers faces pacing problems.Again, it feels too rushed despite its 3-hour length, and it practically jumps from action set piece to action set piece.This was actually fixed on the DVD extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring, which added 30 minutes of character interaction instead of characters in action. However, where there is character development in The Two Towers, it is very strong and comes from unexpected sources – the side characters of Gollum and eowyn.

Ignited by Frodo’s kindness to him, one that is contrasted with Sam’s nastiness, Gollum is in an intense battle between two opposing personalities residing in his single body, the one that wants the ring and the one that wants the love and companionship that has eluded him for centuries. That all this is instilled with humor and poignancy through a computer generated character makes it all the more amazing.Computer graphics technology has not reached the point where Gollum actually looks real, but Serkis’ acting makes one forget about that as Gollum comes alive. Otto does not have much screen time as eowyn, but she makes the most of it as she falls in love with Aragorn, who himself is already taken with elf princess Arwen (Liv Tyler).

As The Two Towers shares some of Fellowship’s weaknesses, it also possesses its strengths, which is not surprising since all three films were shot at the same time.Its biggest asset again is the way Jackson makes Tolkien’s world come vibrantly alive.Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie lights the characters so that they are much better integrated into their environments than those in Lucas’ recent Star Wars movies where the backgrounds often look completely phony. Impeccable production design (except for Arwen’s Evenstar jewel, which looks like a toy) by Grant Major and a soaring score by Howard Shore are indispensable to Jackson’s vivid illusion.The climatic battle between Rohan and Saruman’s forces, ten thousand strong, and the Ent siege on Saruman’s fortress, Isengard, is as epic and spectacular as they come.The movie could use a little more humanity, but it never lacks in eye-popping visuals.

George Wu

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New York, NY
George Wu holds a masters degree in cinema studies from NYU. He eats, drinks, and sleeps movies. Fortunately, he lives in New York City, the best place in the country for disorders of this type. He also works on the occasional screenplay when inspiration strikes, but his muses don't slap him around enough.