The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Review

by Shannon Patrick Sullivan (shannon AT morgan DOT ucs DOT mun DOT ca)
December 20th, 2002


Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Jackson. Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen. Running time: 179 minutes. Rated AA for violent scenes by the MFCB. Reviewed on December 20th, 2002.


Synopsis: The shadow of Sauron falls ever more darkly upon the realm of Middle-Earth. The Hobbit Frodo (Wood), who bears the Ring of Power sought by the evil entity, and his faithful gardener Samwise (Sean Astin) journey ever closer to Sauron's dominion of Mordor, where they hope to destroy the artifact. En route they encounter Gollum (Andy Serkis), a twisted creature who once owned the Ring and was horribly corrupted by it.

Elsewhere, Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) pursue the kidnapped Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and are reunited with the wizard Gandalf (McKellen), who has returned from the dead. They soon learn that Théoden (Bernard Hill), King of Rohan, has fallen under the sway of the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), Sauron's ally. Saruman is trying to incite war in Rohan to eliminate Man as a potential adversary for his dark master.

Review: In a way, "The Two Towers" is in an unenviable position. From a box office perspective, it is the middle part of a trilogy of films, and as such effectively has neither a beginning nor an end. It's the movie whose ultimate goal is to get the characters from where they were at the end of the first installment to where they need to be to start the final chapter. It's almost subservient to the other parts.

From a filmmaking point of view, "Towers" is an adaptation of probably the weakest segment of JRR Tolkien's "The Lord Of The Rings". Although the first half of the novel, with its famed Battle of Helm's Deep, is justly praised, the latter half -- dealing with Frodo and Sam's meanderings toward Mordor -- is often criticised as being, well, kind of boring.
As such, some viewers may be surprised to find Frodo's role somewhat deemphasised in "The Two Towers". And with Merry and Pippin also despatched on an important but relatively uneventful side adventure, director Peter Jackson's focus instead falls on the trio of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, and the coming of war to Rohan.

This is just one of a number of changes made in adapting Tolkien's book. Although some Tolkien adherents were disappointed by the omissions made from "The Fellowship Of The Ring", that film essentially followed the sketch of Tolkien's plot. In "The Two Towers", Jackson and his team have taken far greater liberties.

Some of these are for sound cinematic reasons. For instance, Tolkien's narrative technique of dividing "The Two Towers" into two parts, one focussing exclusively on Frodo and Samwise and the other on the remaining protagonists, would have made for a singularly disjointed movie. Jackson's approach of mixing the two strands together is commendable.

Likewise, although the decision to end the screenplay about three-quarters of the way through the dual sections of the novel deprives the film of a more dramatic cliffhanger, it still makes a lot of sense. The final book, "The Return Of The King", is by far the shortest installment (and much of it is essentially epilogue), and Jackson's rebalancing allows for a more uniform construction to his three movies.

An unfortunate side-effect, though, is that the appearances of Gandalf (whose return has been made plain in the advertising, so I hope I'm spoiling no one by this revelation) feel awkward and haphazard. Similarly, Éowyn (Miranda Otto), niece of Théoden, all but vanishes from the final hour.

Some of the other modifications also grate a little, particularly Gimli's demotion to comic relief. While I have no complaint about the injection of humour into the proceedings, it appears that generating laughs is now Gimli's chief purpose, and this became distinctly strained as the movie wore on.

Although it would be traditional at this point to evaluate the quality of the acting, it seems almost foolish to do so for the returning cast. "The Two Towers" was made simultaneously with the other movies in the series, and therefore they should really be assessed as single, huge, performances. That said, though, McKellen's Gandalf must be singled out once again. Here he expertly put a slightly different spin on his reborn character, more emphatically serious and powerful now, without neglecting the fundamentals of his "Fellowship" portrayal.

Of the new players, easily the best is Gollum, who raises new standards in the marriage of performance and special effects. Gollum is a terrific animated character, full of expression and personality, and he interacts seamlessly with the real actors. The filmmakers and voice artiste Serkis are forced to tread a fine line in their depiction of the complex Gollum, trying to portray him as neither too cute nor too corrupt, and they hit the bullseye.

Also memorable are the Ents, Tolkien's massive walking, talking trees. This is the sort of thing which could quite easily appear ridiculous, but the realisation of the Ents is remarkably successful. It does seem odd, though, that Rhys-Davies was chosen to voice the principal Ent, Treebeard, because his inflections are scarcely differentiable from Gimli.

Jackson's direction is once again excellent. Unlike "Fellowship", which was very much a classic quest film and therefore afforded Jackson the chance to show off a lot of breathtaking environments, "Towers" is more localised (despite its triumvirate of chief plot strands) and the director adapts well to the change of pace. Easily Jackson's triumph is also the novel's major set piece, the siege at Helm's Deep, one of the most breathtaking battle scenes ever recorded on film -- and made all the more astonishing by the fact that so much of it is computer-generated.
So although it's probably fair to say that "The Two Towers" is not as good a movie as the masterful "Fellowship", it is nonetheless an accomplished sequel, especially when one considers the added burdens it bore. Jackson's adaptation of "The Lord Of The Rings" is shaping up to be a milestone of modern cinema, and I await the finale with barely restrained excitement.
Copyright © 2002 Shannon Patrick Sullivan.
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