The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Review

by Richard A. Zwelling (razwee AT yahoo DOT com)
June 12th, 2003

**** (out of ****)
a film review by
Richard A. Zwelling

With all three installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy being filmed back-to-back-to-back, I suspected that with The Two Towers, there would be little change in quality and stylistic effectiveness. I said this, however, having not read any of the books in the trilogy. Therefore, while I was right about The Two Towers being just as masterfully executed as The Fellowship of the Ring, the aspect of the second film that most held my attention was the stark difference in tone.

With The Fellowship of the Ring, much of the material was expository. Characters had to be introduced, the plight of Middle Earth had to be discussed, and the process of taking the One Ring to the dark land of Mordor had to be set in motion. As a result, much of the enjoyment of the first film came from viewing new places and new faces as the fellowship trekked across vastly different areas of Middle Earth. While there was sufficient character development for the first third of the trilogy, the overall story was much more concerned with setting and plot advancement.

With The Two Towers there is a very notable change. The only two major settings not previously encounted in The Fellowship are Rohan, the kingdom of men led by King Theoden (Bernard Hill), and Fangorn Forest, the dwelling space of the ancient race of tree-herding Ents. As such, a greater focus is placed on character development, and the tone is often much more grave and grim, the emphasis much more dramatic than merely adventuresome. The One Ring is closer to Mordor and the dark lord Sauron's plans to cover Middle Earth in darkness are rapidly advancing, and as such, the weariness and the vulnerability of those opposed to him begin to show.

The film begins almost immediately where the first left off. There is no recollection of events of the first film save a brief flashback that acts as an important foreshadow to events that happen later in the film. Now that the fellowship has been broken, various members find themselves in very different settings. The hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are alone en route to Mordor, and as the Ring draws closer to the Black Gates, Frodo begins to weaken. He is the most strong-willed of individuals, but we see that after carrying the Ring for as long as he has, even he is not immune to its evil.
With the hobbits is Gollum (Andy Serkis), the withered creature who has been under the Ring's influence for more than 500 years. He tries to steal the Ring from the hobbits, but Frodo and Sam capture him and use him as their guide. Gollum, however, is not necessarily the villain we initially perceive him to be. We learn that he has a troubled past and that there may yet be some good left in him, and only Frodo, having understood the strain of being under the Ring's power, feels pity for him.

Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) the dwarf, and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) the elf trek westward from Mordor in an attempt to rescue the hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippen (Billy Boyd) from the barbarous Uruk-Hai. Along the way, they encounter the riders of Rohan, who have been banished from the kingdom through the treachery of Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Along with Wormtongue, the deceitful white wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) has acted to enslave the mind of King Theoden so that he may not hinder the further destruction of the kingdoms of men.

The quest to find the hobbits leads into the ancient woods of Fangorn Forest where we meet Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies) the Ent. In addition, the three travelers meet "somebody they did not expect", one who will lead them to Rohan in an attempt to free the king.

But there is much more at stake. Saruman is breeding an army of Uruk-Hai (hybrids of orcs and goblins) that amass unprecedented numbers, easily large enough to launch a siege against Rohan. It is up to Aragorn and company to prepare the people of Rohan for the upcoming battle, which will eventually take place in the recesses of Helm's Deep, where a seemingly impregnable fortress lies.

Having now finished reading The Two Towers, it is clear to me that the film diverts much more from its source material than did The Fellowship. The Helm's Deep battle sequence, which occupies less than twenty pages of Tolkien's 300-plus page novel, is transformed into the titanic centerpiece of the film, a monumental struggle against seemingly impossible odds that occupies close to one-fourth of the film as a whole.

The other major change involves an alternate interpretation of Faramir (David Wenham), a captain of the human kingdom of Gondor who encounters Frodo, Sam, and Gollum on their journey to Mordor. The role of Eowyn (Miranda Otto), daughter of King Theoden, is also expanded to dramatize a love triangle with Aragorn and the elf Arwen (Liv Tyler) to whom he has pledged undying love.

Gimli and Legolas, who were in the background for the first film, are here put in the forefront as comic relief in ways that the book never outlined. In addition to these changes, there are also several minor ones (including the exclusion of the final two chapters of the book, which will be incorporated into The Return of the King), but as was the case with The Fellowship, none of these changes dilute or contaminate the essential spirit of Tolkien's work.

There are several examples in The Two Towers that represent some of the most stunning uses of CGI technology yet to grace the screen. Despite the fact that computer manipulation is used extensively, director Peter Jackson has once again been careful not to let it draw excessive attention to itself nor overwhelm the inherent drama of various scenes.

For the battle of Helm's Deep, Jackson masterfully captures the fear-inspiring awe of Saruman's army and its attack upon the great fortress. Without many of the overhead, panoramic shots, it would be hard to fathom the odds against which the people of Rohan are fighting. I could not help but feel myself in the middle of the battle.

The other two major uses of CGI are the Ents and Gollum, who are entirely computer generated. The film accurately captures the dignified regality of the tree-herders, creatures who may be slow to speak, but give careful thought to anything they say. For the creation of Gollum, actor Andy Serkis was actually filmed performing in all of the necessary scenes. Following this, the images of Gollum were digitally overlayed in place of Serkis, although his eerie interpretation of the creature's voice still remains. There were times when I could not believe that I was looking at CGI, being completely convinced and entranced by Gollum's struggle against the influence of the Ring, which also entails the most compelling character development of the film.

Of all the Lord of the Rings movies, The Two Towers is the one with the biggest inherent drawback in that it has no beginning and no end (the dreaded "middle-chapter syndrome"), and it is for that reason that it could simultaneously be called the strongest and weakest of the three. Although no one is at fault, the sudden jump into the film and its sudden conclusion without resolution to a number of major issues could serve to tarnish the image of the picture as a whole for some. For others, Jackson's ability to rise above this handicap and create a fabulous motion picture will certainly serve to upgrade the status of the picture as an individual unit.

Although I am slightly more partial to The Fellowship of the Ring, this in no way detracts from my considering The Two Towers as a tour de force in its own right. Jackson is one step closer to cementing his trilogy as one of the all-time great achievements in cinema history, and I suspect that The Return of the King will only help to expedite the process.

More on 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers'...

Originally posted in the newsgroup. Copyright belongs to original author unless otherwise stated. We take no responsibilities nor do we endorse the contents of this review.