The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Review

by Laura Clifford (laura AT reelingreviews DOT com)
December 19th, 2002


As Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are led towards Mordor by Gollum (Andy Serkis), the strange and conflicted former ring bearer, their fellow Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have been
in Fangorn Forest by an equally strange creature, Treebeard (voice of John Rhys-Davies), who doesn't know what to make of them. While searching for Merry and Pip, the warrior trio of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) learn about the people of Rohan, whose King (Bernard Hill) has been mesmerized by Saruman spy Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), as an evil army approaches to destroy them in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

The only beauty to be found in "The Two Towers" is in the faces of the women who love Aragorn, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and the Rohan King's niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto), and the majestic New Zealand landscape. The only humor comes from Gimli, whose eagerness for battle is well met a multitude of times. This second installment of the trilogy is altogether darker, grayer, grimmer and bloodier than the first.

Unlike, say "The Empire Strikes Back," this bridging film cannot stand on its own, but it does propel the action forward towards the ultimate showdown with Dark Lord Sauron. Fittingly, as battle makes for the bulk of screen time here, most of the focus stays on the heroic Aragorn, fleet bowman Legolas the elf and stalwart Gimli. Trying to find Merry and Pippin, instead the trio are shocked to be met by Gandalf (Ian McKellan), transformed from the grey to a dazzling white. The foursome travel to Rohan and cast out Wormtongue, but are dismayed by rejuvenated King Theoden's decision to take his people to Helm's Deep rather than staying to fight Saruman's army. Aragorn is visited by Arwen in his dreams and looked upon longingly by Eowyn in daytime.

As Aragorn's crew travel to Helm's Deep, Frodo and Sam are kept from entering the gates of Mordor by Gollum, who tells them of a secret entrance. This scene seems a strong homage to "The Wizard of Oz," as Sauron's soldiers all but break out into "All we owe..." while our intrepid trio hide behind a rock. The ring grows into an ever heavier burden upon Frodo as they follow Gollum across the Dead Marshes, gazing upon the white faces of the dead who float just below the water's surface. Production designer Grant Major's stunning work here appears inspired by the Pre-raphaelite paintings of John William Waterhouse. Like Merry and Pippin held by the Ent, Frodo and Sam are captured by Gondor leader Faramir (David Wenham) and kept from completing their journey.

At Helm's Deep, a battle of biblical proportions concludes "The Two Towers" in a breathtaking climax that reunites Merry and Pippin with the others when Treebeard rallies the Ents to join the fray. Jackson creates a landscape that could have sprung from the mind of Hieronymous Bosch. He then lands us gently with Frodo and Sam as Sam wonders if there will ever be stories told about them. As in the first film, the second ends with the two Hobbits about to begin a more difficult journey than they just completed.

The cast are all fine, with McKellan again a standout. The film's energy is always goosed when Sir Ian is on screen. Mortensen, Bloom and Rhys-Davies all benefit with a deepening of character while Otto is a nice addition. Dourif is so deliciously evil, one is saddened by the banishment of Wormtongue.
The biggest surprise, though, is the utter perfection of Sean Astin as Sam Gangee. While Wood is mostly wide-eyed, Astin's simple down to earth Sam shows the true heart of a Hobbit.

Visual effects supervisor Jim Ryziel and Peter Jackson's Weta Digital Ltd. have outdone themselves with Gollum, a creature who looks like one of those 1960s Margaret Keane paintings of a sad, saucer eyed child if it had been an Auschwitz survivor or crypt keeper. Gollum's conversations with himself, as good tries to keep evil from betraying Frodo, are some of the film's highlights. Also beautifully realized are the Ents, mossier and more individualistic variations on the apple-throwers of Oz. Howard Shore's more ominous score is unleavened by Enya's warblings this time around.

Besides the fact that "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" will never be a film unto itself, it must also be mentioned that it does suffer somewhat from repetition. Gollum covets his 'precious' once too often and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie is overly fond of swooping panoramic shots of tiny figures trudging across landscape. The many battles that occur in the film frequently utilize those annoying closeups that make it impossible to tell what's going on.

Still, "The Two Towers" is sure to delight the hordes awaiting it. It's a brutally majestic forerunner to "The Return of the King."


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