The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Review

by Marshall Garvey (hunter48 AT goodpeopleunite DOT com)
November 27th, 2003

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (2002)
Review by Marshall Garvey
Rating (0 to 5): ***** Grade: A+
Starring Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee), Billy Boyd (Pippin), Dominic Monaghan (Merry), Orlando Bloom (Legolas Greenleaf), John Rhys-Davis (Gimli), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Miranda Otto (Eowyn), Andy Serkis (Gollum/Smeagol), Brad Dourif (Grima Wormtongue), Bernard Hill (Theoden)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, and Frances Walsh Written by Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Jackson (Based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Original music by Howard Shore
New Line Cinema
179 minutes
Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and scary images

    So how do you continue a masterpiece? This is a question I sometimes ask myself when I think about great sequels that passed their paramount predecessors. Sequels like "Aliens", "The Godfather Part II", "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", and "The Empire Strikes Back" all raised the bar even after their precursors set new standards and influenced their genres like proud grandfathers. The "Fellowship of the Ring"/"Two Towers" contrast also comes into play when this matter is considered, although while some sequels manage to surpass the first almost easily, even if it be by only a small notch, deciding which of Peter Jackson's eye-popping masterpieces is the superior one can sometimes be almost impossible to determine. On one hand, "Fellowship" made its mark as the best fantasy film since the "Star Wars" movies, and was made with such compelling ingenuity that it managed to raise the bar at a time when most Hollywood big budget productions can rarely be considered masterpieces. Despite running three hours, it also managed to be engrossing to the final second, and the charm and grandeur with which it presented the classic figures of the fellowship was so overwhelming that you would have to be a heartless misanthropist to not become attached to them through each nail-biting battle and venture.

On the contrary, the characterization of "The Two Towers" may not be as favorable as that of the first, for while the unity of the fellowship was enthralling, the characters here are divided into different segments. Still, this can hardly be considered a flaw, for the film's perfect editing helps maintain the pace evenly and faultlessly. "The Two Towers" also shows little or no fault in continuing in each and every place where "Fellowship" left off, and when it finally comes to its end, this exhilarating sequel shows that lightning sometimes doesn't just strike twice: it can strike harder.
After the breakup of the fellowship, this film continues the tale through the ventures of each group of characters. First and foremost is the journey of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin), continuing on their way to Mordor as their hopes grow fainter. "It's the one place in Middle Earth we don't want to get close to, and it's the one place we're trying to get to." Says a disgruntled Sam of Mordor, where the Ring that Frodo carries can be destroyed.

On their journey, the two encounter a feeble, pale-white creature named Gollum (whose motions are done amazingly by Andy Serkis), who once possessed the Ring long ago but lost it and has since then hunted desperately for it (he followed the group throughout the first film). Gollum tries to take the Ring by force as they sleep, but soon finds himself at the end of a rope, dragged along by Sam. Gollum's yelps of pain annoy Sam, and he proposes that they tie him up and leave him for death. But the creature vows to do anything for the "master of the precious", and Frodo, convinced, asks him to lead them to Mordor. Gollum weakly agrees.

The second major half of the story is that of Legolas Greenleaf (Orlando Bloom), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who continue their search for the other two Hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), who have been kidnapped by a band of Uruk-Hai. When the three warriors, each of a different race, learn from a soldier named Eomer (Karl Urban) that he and his army had slain a throng of Uruk-Hai near the edge of a forest and left no survivors, their hopes are diminished.

Frustrations grow when they see the wreckage, with burned bodies piled on top of each other. However, Aragorn, using his bold instinct, finds several traces of the Hobbits leading into the wood called Fangorn. Gimli and Legolas doubt entering it, though. "What madness drove them in there?" ponders Gimli. Yet they continue, with their weapons ready, and come upon a strange figure. They quickly attack, only to have their blows stopped by the person clad in white, and find that he is not the enemy Saruman: he is Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen), who, after falling in the Mines of Moria in the first film, has returned to complete his task.

As the other three search for them, Pippin and Merry encounter somebody in Fangorn they did not expect: a talking tree named Treebeard (voiced by Rhys-Davies) of a species called the Ents ("I am no tree!" he exclaims). Treebeard is somewhat alarmed by Pippin and Merry at first, calling them "Little Orcs". He is soon convinced that they aren't, but not without a little discussion with some other Ents that takes a few hours. He detests Saruman, claiming that he has a "mind of metal and wheels". Treebeard provides some very subtle and true echoes of nature.

Outside of the broken fellowship's members, the story also introduces some newer figures that could turn out to be key characters in the upcoming "Return of the King". The greatest is King Theoden (Bernard Hill, who played Captain Smith in "Titanic"), a withering ruler of the land of Rohan whose soul is possessed by Saruman. Theoden's kingdom is crumbling all around him, with his son killed in battle and his deceitful servant Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) slowly gaining control over his decisions. The only person who tries to overcome the decay of this empire is Theoden's niece, Eowyn (Miranda Otto). The courageous Eowyn, with the spirit of a fighter, says to Aragorn, "I fear neither death nor pain." "What do you fear?" asks Aragorn. "To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them." She says.
The main villain of the story is Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), who under the rule of the Dark Lord Sauron continues to create a massive army bred for a sole purpose: destroy all mankind. Unlike "Fellowship", Saruman's screen time is limited, but his villainy and menace remain as powerful as ever thanks to Christopher Lee, who seems to be born for the role. "There will be no dawn for man" he says in a disturbingly chilling way as he watches his army march out of Isengard, where smoke rises from the ground and evil dominates all.
Each year, The Stinkers, the biggest bad movie awards group on the internet, give out an award for the most annoying nonhuman character in a movie. Now you may expect me to say that Gollum received a nomination in 2002, but as a matter of fact he didn't. True, some may see Gollum as a Jar Jar Binks equivalent, and I didn't see all of the greatness of his character when I first saw the film in theaters. Since then, however, I have watched it three times, once more in the cinema and twice on DVD, and every time I have focused more and more on Gollum's characterization. During each viewing, I see a little more depth to his personality, from Peter Jackson's powerful presentation of his feeble, tortured character to his quarrels with his inner conscious Smeagol. In one scene, as Sam and Frodo sleep, Jackson uses a fresh approach by changing camera views while Gollum and Smeagol argue. Even knowing the outcome, the direction of that scene always retains its effect, and shows the layers of Gollum's amazing character. On a lesser standard, just look at the unbearably annoying Moaning Myrtle ghost from "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", who plays a key role but never goes beyond her irritating personality. Here, though, Andy Serkis and Jackson bring one of the most important characters to life faultlessly, and without driving the viewer crazy.
Some of the greatest films ever hold their impact in part because of the way they end or climax. "Aliens", "Chinatown", "The Wild Bunch", and "Apocalypse Now" are part of this category, not because of the violence, but because their endings answer to everything else we've seen in a way that won't be forgotten. "The Two Towers" is different because of its more convoluted storyline, and indeed it is only the second part of the trilogy. Still, it ends with two great battles, one of which is among the greatest in cinematic history. That battle occurs at a fortress known as Helm's Deep, where Theoden, after having his spirit freed by Gandalf, has evacuated his people to. When the Uruk-Hai army arrives, Jackson stages it in suspenseful, stylish fashion by adding rain as the man and elf armies prepare to meet their fate. Once the battle begins, it's only better, and although the army of Isengard is in the ten thousand range the CGI never completely overrules the sequence. The editing by Michael Horton and Jabez Olssen also helps, and the battle avoids incoherence. Still, it's so fast and exhilarating that whenever the film cuts to the more peaceful meeting of the Ents you'll feel your nerves cool down. Between the carnage and sword fights, there's also a little humor with Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas, all of whom whip Isengard's forces with such energy and agility that you might end up pumping your fist and cheering as if though your favorite sports team were winning. It's not all for men and elves, however, for Isengard has a few weapons that help in breeching the wall.

Through the half hour that this sequence takes up, you may feel almost every human emotion known to man, from the darkest and most hopeless moments to the more victorious. Even after four viewings, the Helm's Deep sequence has lost none of its punch, and when seen in theaters it might have helped if I had a seat belt. I will not, however, reveal its best moments, for it would be a waste time. The other great battle, to keep it simple and avoid too much detail, involves an army of Ents and Isengard itself, but I won't go any further to spoil it.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is as much a cinematography film as it is a fantasy film. The cinematographer, Andrew Lesnie, provides such stunning background shots and views of New Zealand that it makes we want to go there even as I write this review. You might wonder where your breath has gone just focusing on the setting, which has as much beauty as the most exquisite painting of nature imaginable. Just don't forget the movie as well.

Outside of the obvious absence of Sean Bean, the only major actor from the first film that's not here is Ian Holm. While it's hard to except Holm, one of my favorite character actors, from the cast, everybody else does their part. My personal favorite is John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, who brings both laughs and thrills. "We Dwarves are natural sprinters." he pants as he lags behind Aragorn and Legolas during their hunt for Merry and Pippin. Other lines of his include, "Bring your pretty face to my axe" and some funny commentary on popular belief about Dwarf women (who are often mistaken for men because of their beards).

While Hugo Weaving (as Elrond) and Cate Blanchett (as Galadriel) have smaller roles as their elf characters this time (Blanchett has but a brief appearance and a little dialogue), the film still gives some time to the romance story of Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (the scenes are some of the slower moments in the movie, but the love is powerful). Yet while other characters are in the background, other characters' roles become more prominent. Gandalf, for one, continues to make his mark as one of the greatest fictional characters of all time. McKellen's performance nearly defies description, and it is indeed a crime that he didn't receive recognition from the Academy. Seeing him makes me even more excited for "Return of the King", as if I weren't enthusiastic enough.

It is difficult to create an entire world with CGI convincingly, and there are often times when the special effects are the weakest aspect of a film. Not so here, for Jackson and his special effects crew have constructed Middle Earth so amazingly that it seems realistic. Combined with the superlative cinematography, the overall impact is tremendous. Of course, the designs of Middle Earth aren't the only ones worthy of credit: the graphics for Treebeard, Gollum, and the army of Isengard are all equally astounding as well.

From what I can remember from the book, the movie is a faithful adaptation in a number of ways, especially in the sense of nature that Tolkien always provided. Throughout the film, several of Treebeard's lines reflect upon nature and man's attitude towards it. "He no longer cares for growing things." Says Treebeard of Saruman, who has cut down numerous trees to carry out his mission of destroying humanity. For those of you who see this film as a simple fantasy and nothing more, take a close look at this and the other messages in the story, such as bravery, friendship, and self-sacrifice. It is sad, though, that some people may not see the messages and under-appreciate the film, when its morals are realistic and powerful in every way.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" DVD is superb, with a second disc of features full of treats such as a short film by Sean Astin called "The Long and Short Of It" and a preview of the extended version, which is currently available. While the longer version is close to 4 hours, there's no doubt that adding to this film would only make it better, even if it would be longer. Honestly, there's nothing to be cut, so it all makes sense to me (and to those who believe the movie could be more faithful to the book).

There is so much that makes this film classic, but what really gives it heart are the leads Elijah Wood and Sean Astin. These two are so amusing together that one hopes their partnership won't end after the trilogy is completed. Hopefully, they'll work on more projects together. If not, then at least we'll always have this.

So do I think "Return of the King" might surpass "Two Towers"? Perhaps. For one, it will have Ian Holm, and if Jackson can still provide the chemistry each character has had so far it just might happen. Either way, "The Two Towers" will still be among the best of all fantasies, and one of the grandest movies of all time. My precious…

This review is purely of my doing, and I do not copy off other reviewers.

So, what does this rating system mean anyway?
*****-A masterpiece of filmmaking that should be seen at all costs ****1/2-A fabulous movie. An absolute must catch.
****-An excellent show. Be sure to see it.
***1/2-A good film. Recommended.
***-Decent movie that could be a lot better.
**1/2-Average movie with a number of flaws.
**-Pretty bad with a few saving graces.
*1/2-Bad. Don’t see it.
*-As much fun as having your seat kicked for two hours. 1/2-Just plain awful.
0-Death may come

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