The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Review

by Harvey S. Karten (harveycritic AT cs DOT com)
December 17th, 2002


# stars based on 4 stars: 3
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
New Line Cinema
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Stephen Sinclair, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, book by J.R.R. Tolkien
Cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, John-Rhys Davies, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Bernard Hill, Mirando Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Brad Dourif
Screened at: Loews Kips Bay, NYC, 12/12/02

    Though the opener last year brought in $860 million through worldwide distribution and earned thirteen Oscar nominations, I'm no more the target audience for the "Lord" trilogy than I am for Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle. Watching this blaze of cinematic glory, then, I pretended that "The Two Towers" is allegorical, that the characters in the movie are stand-ins for real life people in today's political world.

    Let's see how. The title ring confers great, albeit ambiguous, power on whoever possesses it, which makes the chief hobbit, Frodo (Elijah Wood) together with his Sancho Panza-like Sam (Sean Astin) determined to destroy it. Therein lies the only opportunity for peace in the Middle Earth, now presumably at the mercy of the white-bearded and white-garbed Saruman (Christopher Lee) who is determined to rule the world like some scuzz out of 007. A viewing of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is not essential to pick up the story, which is framed as a struggle between the forces of good and the armies of evil.
    The principal newbie is a computer generated image that speaks gibberish, Gollum (Andy Serkis), a small, anorectic-thin creature that could have some out the final scene of "2001` who is understood by Frodo while the audience gets the gist of his meaning. Gollum is actually a hobbit who went nuts by holding onto the ring for centuries Yet another computer generated character, amazing in its conception, is Treebeard (John Rhys- Davies), from the race of Ents, who is called upon to join the forces of good in the upcoming war.

    Though we have to listen to the nutcase nonsense spouted by Gollum, we are riveted by the best parts of the movie, the battles which are many and not far between. On the side of good, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) survives an awe-inspiring drop into the bowels of the Earth, assumed to be lost forever in a ferocious fight with the dragon-like Balrog.

For romance we get the strange joining in kisses of Arwen the elf (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn, the handsome human (Viggo Mortensen), which seems to be to come out of the blue and is hardly the sort of sizzler that could have lost "The Two Towers" its PG-13 rating.
    The series of battles is merely a preparation for the Big One, which takes place in Helm's Deep, in which a collection of alliances join in an Armadeggon-like struggle against the evil Saruman and his large, well-armed armies to say nothing of Saruman's power to put even a good king (Theoden played by Bernard Hill) under spells to render him powerless.

    Now then, my apologies to those who think that Saddam Hussein is merely a comical dictator without the ability to make war against the great powers, but to me, Saddam is the evil wizard Saruman. As Saruman casts a spell on the good King Theoden, so the Iraqi dictator works his charms on the people of his country who elect him with 100% of the vote. (Never mind that the Kurds were as likely to vote for him as the Jewish seniors in Florida were to vote for Pat Buchanan.) As Saruman gathers together his alliance, so Mr. Hussein attempts to convince the Muslim world that the upcoming war is a clash of civilizations, requiring all followers to ally themselves against the West. As the governing bodies on the continent of Europe are reluctant to join the U.N. in fighting Iraq but are expected to do so once the action begins, so does Treebeard believe that "this is not our war," that is, until he realizes that the bad wizard is about to torch him and his fellows.

    The convoluted plot notwithstanding, what gives the "Lord" trilogy its heft, its huge box office, are the special effects (supervised by Jim Rygiel), particularly the character of Gollum whose insanity makes him out to do nasty things to the hobbits until Frodo convinces him to snap out of it and come around to the right side. Aside from the genius of Gollum's creation, this CGI is the one character with conflicting motives amid thousands who are convinced of the morality of the sides they have chosen. We marvel at the storm clouds of war, the bevy of arrows that darken what little exists of sun, the camera which in the hands of Andrew Lesnie swoops across the height and depths of Middle Earth to set the stage for Armageddon while capturing the David-and-Goliath struggle of the outnumbered forces of good. If a real story about real people is what you prefer, then you'd best choose among the more weighty films, comedies, musicals and melodramas alike, such as "Adaptation," "Antwone Fisher," and "About Schmidt."

Rated PG-13. 179 minutes. Copyright 2002 by Harvey Karten at [email protected]

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