The Lord of the Rings:
The Two Towers

directed by Peter Jackson
(New Line, 2002)

The Fellowship of the Ring has the beginning, while The Return of the King will have the climactic end. That leaves The Two Towers to carry the middle of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and that lack of a start or finish has sent some people home from the theater feeling slightly let down, like the movie failed to live up to its predecessor.

That's far from the truth. While Fellowship had a more dramatic scope -- the band of companions, their dreadful quest, death and betrayal -- Towers sends our heroes their separate ways and, consequently, the action keeps bouncing among them, from city to city, forest to fortress, skirmish to war.

The hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and the ever-faithful Samwise (Sean Astin) are off to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mordor, with the questionable guidance of the magnificently computer-generated Gollum. Their part of the quest is largely walking and talking, with small bits of falling down, hiding and arguing over the proper preparation of rabbits and fish. But their path to Mordor runs afoul of men from Gondor, and Faramir (David Wenham) -- brother of the tragic Boromir from the first book and film -- has a dreadful choice to make that will help or hinder Frodo's task.

Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), whose efforts to track a band of marauders ends badly, reunite with the miraculously living Gandalf (Ian McKellen), fall in with men of Rohan, free a weary king from devious control and make a noble stand at Helm's Deep. They, as action heroes, becomes the center of attention in Towers, stealing focus away from the questing hobbits -- but the epic scale of action here is astounding and the battle scenes alone are worth the ticket price!

Meanwhile, second-string hobbits Pippin and Merry (Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan) escape their captors and end up in the arms (limbs?) of Treebeard the Ent, a crusty computer-generated tree shepherd who carries them to an eye-boggling scene with his peers at Isengard.

Is any of this not making sense? What, didn't you read the books? Several times??? Sheesh, some people's kids. Well, I won't throw in any major spoilers, in deference to the eight or nine individuals out there who don't know how the story goes, but really, people, get yourself to the library already!

Besides the main characters, there are appearances by several familiar faces -- Christopher Lee as Saruman, Liv Tyler as Arwen, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Hugo Weaving as Elrond -- plus a few new ones -- Miranda Otto as Eowyn, Karl Urban as Eomer, Bernard Hill as Theoden and Brad Dourif as Wormtongue. Andy Serkis also does an amazing job as Gollum, even though he never appears in the film. Serkis provides the voice and acted the part during filming, but his physical presence was replaced by CGI to create the spindly, emaciated creature.

There were a few disappointments. For instance, Gimli is used too much as a prat-falling clown, the butt of a few too many jokes on stature. A superfluous battle, apparent death and needless flashback consumed time that could have been better spent elsewhere. A bit of "snowboarding" on a shield down a stairway is pure corn. The slowness of Ents, which comes across so well in Tolkien's masterpiece, is sacrificed to the quickness of film and, well, let's just say they think and act slowly at a very rapid pace.

But it's all piddling stuff compared to the overall success of The Two Towers. Director Peter Jackson continues a bold new look at Tolkien's world and produces another winner. I'll be counting the days 'til the finale in December!

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 11 January 2003

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