The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan
Wargs, and Oliphaunts, and Ents, Oh My!
I have just returned from Middle-Earth again. I was worried that The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers would not be able to work the same magic that The Fellowship of the Ring did on me. After all, I had already seen what was possible from director Peter Jackson and WETA Workshop’s effects one year ago (and many, many times since on DVD). I was wrong. The magic was still there. If anything, this section of the film is even more epic in scope. What may be missing from knowing where you will be heading is made up for in the new elements that are introduced. There is still enough wonder in the film to keep you in that fantasy world until the credits roll.
The Two Towers takes our heroes from the first section of the story and follows their disparate adventures. We are, at any given time, focusing on Frodo and Sam trying to get to Mordor to destroy the One Ring; Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli trying to find their companions and aid the people of Rohan; or Merry and Pippin working to find their friends and help out any way that two small hobbits can. To keep the audience in the know on all of these stories, Jackson had to cut back and forth between the many plots. While this worked very well in the first half of the film, the nearer you got to the climax, the more jarring the cuts became and you wished he would just stick with one section and see it through. The other option would have been to focus on each of the plots in turn, and make three mini-movies. I think he made the right choice to bring the story to the average audience. Also, as the beginning of The Two Towers, the book, was seen at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, so also it appears that the end of The Two Towers will be seen at the beginning of the The Return of the King. Choosing to cut it like this gives Jackson and wonderful hook to keep the viewers in suspense for another year, I think. But it does result in many a fan screaming to see a certain character, referred to by Gollum as “her,” that has never appeared on screen before.
The performances were top notch. Not a single actor took you away from the fantasy. Viggo Mortensen again exudes cool. Orlando Bloom again stuns you with his prowess in battle. Sean Astin again serves as the “everyman” (or “every hobbit,” as it were), keeping all of this grounded for us. And Elijah Wood again can show us the weight of the world around his shoulders with just a look in his eye. As for Ian McKellan? Gone is the befuddled old grey wizard, replaced by a much more confident leader. The new characters are also well played. While you will enjoy the performances of Theoden, Lord of Rohan (Bernard Hill), and his niece and nephew, Eowyn (Miranda Otto) and Eomer (Karl Urban); and you will love to hate Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), who has been corrupting King Theoden; and you will be astonished at the resemblance that Captain Faramir (David Wenham) has to his lost brother Bormoir; no performance you have seen so far will prepare you for Gollum. You will be amazed and astonished by Gollum. I cannot remember when, if ever, an animated character seemed this real to me. The combination of Andy Serkis and WETA Workshop have truly brought to life one of the most difficult, and most integral, characters from the book. Gollum must be both frightening and piteous. If you cannot take pity on this horrible creature, then you cannot believe the rest of the film. After seeing him in animated form in previous attempts, I was afraid it could not be done. But Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, and WETA did it with seamless precision. This will truly be a milestone for future attempts at digital characters.
Will others be disappointed? Yes. People who come to The Two Towers expecting a “sequel” to last year’s hit will be disappointed. People who come to The Two Towers expecting to see a complete film will be disappointed. It is, after all, the middle of one epic story, and Jackson drops you smack dab in the middle of the action, and leaves you with more of a cliffhanger than the first part. Some Tolkien purists will be disappointed in the changes made form the books. Some of them may well be offended. I was not. I have not read the book in over five years, and I held back this past year from re-reading The Two Towers on purpose. I wanted to see how much of the spirit of the books made it through to the screen, without worrying about the details. I can tell you that this section of the story has more changes than the first one did. Some characters made appearances in this section that were not in this part of the book. These were done effectively, and my only complaint was that some of their scenes served to slow the momentum of the film. Other complaints will include the treatment of Faramir as a bully and Gimli as comic relief. These are, in my opinion, valid complaints. But they are small in the greater whole of this experience. The key themes of good versus evil, of protecting the environment, and of friendship, survive intact.
Was The Two Towers perfect? No. Nothing is. It may not have held together as well as The Fellowship of the Ring, but I still view them as two parts to a larger whole. While there were more complaints for this film than for the first one, I am very hopeful that the finale will tie everything together into one grand experience. And, for now, I still view Peter Jackson’s efforts as the best adaptation, not only of this story, but of any book to the screen.
In one year, The Return of the King will be released. And it will be a wonderful, awful thing. It will be wonderful, because the waiting will be over, and we will finally see all of this epic story on the screen. It will be awful, because the waiting will be over, and I am afraid we shall never see anything like it again.