The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Review

by Jerry Saravia (faust668 AT aol DOT com)
January 20th, 2003

Reviewed by Jerry Saravia
Viewed on January 16th, 2003
RATING: Three stars

I recently watched "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" again and I was struck by its emotional density. Every character is given a human dimension and every tragedy is treated with cosmic significance in a world far removed from our own. Though not a great film, the first "Lord of the Rings" has real power to it. "The Two Towers," the middle section of the trilogy, is not nearly as sweeping or grandiose as the first epic. It has action and zest to it but the intimacy is gone. Director Peter Jackson is intent on throwing everything in except the kitchen sink.

When we last left the J.R.R. Tolkien world, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Josh Astin) were prepared to go to Mordor where Frodo would destroy the all-powerful ring forever. Along for this journey is the skeletal-looking creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), who initially attempts to steal the ring from Frodo. This ring exudes a magic and a will of its own, and can make men of nobility change into traitors and murderers. After a major struggle with Gollum, the three acquiesce and head to Mordor using Gollum as their guide.

A war is starting to brew in Middle-Earth. Saruman (Christopher Lee), the evil wizard, has amassed an army of 10,000 Uruk-Hai, basically creatures with ugly eyes and distorted, wizened faces. There are also the Orcs, another race of creatures we had seen in the last film. They are all warriors who are ready for battle, and see no harm in pulling trees off the ground. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), our hero who is destined to become king one day, has to warn the real king, Theoden (Bernard Hill), of the growing armies of darkness. Brad Dourif is Grima Wormtongue, a pale-skinned, vampiric-looking servant to Saruman who betrays Theoden with the help of Saruman's spell. Naturally, Aragorn cannot go at this alone. He teams up with the elf, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the feisty, competitive dwarf, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and the wise wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who was last seen battling the demon Balrog (this battle is briefly reprised with a different outcome). Just when Gandalf was thought to be dead, he survives and becomes Gandalf the White, a more powerful wizard who can stop anyone in his tracks with forces of blinding white light.

Meanwhile, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), two hobbits who had to let Frodo go his own way, are captured by the Orcs. They eventually flee into the Fanghorn Forest, a forest few ever dare to enter. This forest has living trees named Ents, who can walk with grace from one edge of the forest to the other. One particular Ent named Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies) helps Merry and Pippin on their journey to Saruman's stronghold.

As in "Fellowship of the Ring," every image of "The Two Towers" is forceful and serenely beautiful. Though director Peter Jackson overdoes the sweeping shots of the countryside and still shoots the action scenes a little too tightly, the film does have much to offer. The special-effects are consistently dazzling and eye-opening. The creatures are all believable and this world of Middle-Earth is still quite a vision of grand vistas of the countryside, foggy swamps, fiery castles and mountains. No shot is wasted and no effect is too impossible for Mr. Jackson - he has created a storybook of fantasy images one can only dream about. I recently looked through a delightful illustration book of Tolkien's trilogy and I can say that the images are as crystallized as the ones created in the film - even the Gollum looks exactly as one could imagine on screen. This is a world understood on the page by Tolkien, and cinematically understood by Jackson's own vision.

There is action to spare, especially during the climactic Helm's Deep battle, but the intimacy and emotional weight of "Fellowship of the Ring" is clearly gone. The hobbits are taken matter-of-factly, as is our unshaven hero, Aragorn, and the elf and the dwarf. A return by Liv Tyler as Arwen, the elf who fell in love with Aragorn, springs some emotion but, alas, is too brief to strike any chord. Likewise the cameo by Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, the queen of the Elves. The one character that brings some pathos is Gollum, the enervated creature who may or may not have been a hobbit named Smeagal. His wide eyes of confusion and hate indicate the undying need for the ring he once possessed ("My precious!"). This creature was created by CGI and yet, despite some reservations I have about this technology, this character remains the most convincing animated creation I have yet seen on film. He moves, gyrates, spits, talks and jumps like a real being. The exception is that this creature seems like a real actor, emoting between looks of fright and anger with equal aplomp. Andy Serkis, who voices the creature and was on the set to match the motion control through CGI, brilliantly captures a lost, schizophrenic soul of Middle-Earth - he remains the most human character in the film by far, as if he was thrust into this world to live a life of pain and regret.

"The Two Towers" is recommended for its visual beauty and for the amazing, memorable Gollum character. The rest of the film will likely make no sense to anyone who has not read the books or seen the first film in this epic series. There is no beginning, middle or end - this is clearly the middle chapter and no recap of past events has been implemented. Overlong and overcooked, "The Two Towers" is still worthwile entertainment and remains stunning mostly in terms of what it accomplishes visually. I still miss the intimacy.

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