Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

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I'll get straight to the point, even though I know whatever I say at this point will already be redundant: "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is absolutely amazing.  It is more awe-inspiring and visionary than any film to come along in years, and then some.  It is epic in every sense of the word; nothing in recent memory is even close to comparable.  Not since the days of Akira Kurosawa or David Lean has any film succeeded in painting something so grand and wonderful.  Now you tell me who is crazier: Peter Jackson and the creative team for thinking they had the paints to do it, or New Line Cinema for giving them the canvas.  The guts these people have!


"The Two Towers", a much more intricate film than its predecessor "The Fellowship of the Ring", has three distinct plotlines.  The first involves Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), continuing their quest to go to Mordor destroy the One Ring of Power.  The closer they get to Mordor, the more the Ring begins to take its toll on Frodo.  It begins to get heavier, and is tempting Frodo more and more to put it on, something Frodo must never do.  Along their path, they meet someone who has been stalking them for some time: Gollum (Andy Serkis).  Gollum used to be named Sméagol; he used to be something like a Hobbit, until the addictive nature of the Ring drove him into seclusion and spoiled him.  The Ring, which he calls his "precious", was found and taken away from him a long time ago by Frodo's uncle, Bilbo (Ian Holm, who does not appear in this chapter of "Rings").  When he meets up with the two Hobbits, he is a wretched, rotten, schizophrenic mess, decayed and driven mad by the Ring.  He agrees to be the Hobbits' guide to Mordor, but what are his true motives?


The second revolves around the other two Hobbits from the original fellowship, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd).  In "Fellowship", the two were captured by monsters called Uruk-Hai.  The master of the Uruk-Hai, the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), thinks they might have the Ring that Frodo is carrying, and had the Uruk-Hai capture them in hopes of obtaining it for himself.  When the Uruk-Hai are quarrelling amongst themselves (that would be the polite way to put it), Merry and Pippin manage to escape from their clutches and into the Fangorn Forest.  There, they find the last thing they expect: an Ent named Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies), a creature closely resembling a walking, talking tree.  After some convincing, Treebeard agrees to keep the two safe.


Searching for Merry and Pippin are the three remaining members of the fellowship: Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies).  Hoping to rescue the two, they track their trail all the way into the Fangorn Forest, where they too find someone who they never expected to meet: the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen).  The three thought that Gandalf had met his doom when he had fallen into an abyss, but instead, he survived the fall, and came back stronger than ever.  Gandalf brings the three to Rohan, where a servant of Saruman's, Grima Wormtounge (Brad Dourif) has been poisoning the king Théoden's mind with evil spells.  Their help will be needed there.


If the above sounds confusing to you, you're in trouble.  For "The Two Towers" throws its audience back into the action right where it left off a year ago without any sort of refresher.  Such represents one of the strengths of "Towers" over "Fellowship": in "Fellowship", it sometimes seemed that Jackson wanted to look around and just see what worked.  Now, however, in "Towers", Jackson and his team have their feet planted firmly in the ground, ready to do just about anything.


Yes, "The Two Towers" is an action movie.  But this is the kind of action that no one has ever seen before; imagine, if you will: Gandalf flying down a chasm all the way fighting a sort of fire beast, ten or so men fighting dozens of monstrous Orcs on wolves, and this is only the beginning.  The action centerpiece of the film, the Battle of Helm's Deep, is one of the most elaborate, pulse-pounding, goosebump-raising battles ever to reach the screen.  There are times when the crowd I saw it in simply exclaimed "Oh my God...", a sentiment echoed by everyone in the theater.


But the most amazing achievement of "The Two Towers" may be how in the midst of all of this chaos, it is the human element of the battle that is always the focus.  People can complain about a lack of character development, but considering there are almost twenty principal players, it is remarkable how we can feel for each character in some way.  No one is a simple pawn to some loud, silly combat sequence, but each one has a soul and has something important to do before this film or the next is over.  This is one of the most important elements of Tolkein's work; he believed that each being really did make a difference.  This has been perfectly conveyed in "The Two Towers", keeping in with Tolkein's spirit, no matter what so-called "Tolkein purists" may say.


This would not have worked without the cast at hand.  Filmmakers should be begging to have the casting director for "The Two Towers" working for them.  Every single actor does a job worthy of recognition; Elijah Wood and Sean Astin continue to mature as Sam and Frodo and as actors; Viggo Mortensen is marvelous as Aragorn; nobody could be as slimy and evil with such conviction as Brad Dourif; Christopher Lee is absolutely outstanding in one of his most memorable performances; John Rhys-Davies actually works as comic relief, never stepping out of character; nobody looks better jumping backwards onto a horse than Orlando Bloom; Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan expand on their characters from "Fellowship"; Bernard Hill and Miranda Otto are terrific, and I am particularly excited to see what they will do with their characters in the last film in this series; and of course, Ian McKellen is Gandalf.  There is not a dim bulb in the whole cast, and each can make the silliest of lines ("I will withdraw you like I can withdraw poison from a wound!") carry extraordinary power.


I think special attention can be placed on Andy Serkis's Gollum.  Yes, Gollum is a computer-generated character in appearance, and he is the most believable one ever conceived; look as hard as you can and you still won't find the seams.  However, Serkis provides more here than just his voice, he brings Gollum's entire physicality, mannerisms and all his little quirks to the screen, with the animators just doing a little bit of painting over him.  Serkis' analogy of him wearing a "CGI Prosthetic" is probably the best way to describe his performance.  While the animators did a fantastic job, this performance belongs solely to Serkis.  Gollum himself is the most conflicted character of the entire ensemble, and he conflicts the audience as well.  We feel immense pity for him as he is overtaken by what the Ring has done to him, but we also hate his other personality for lying to him and prolonging such decay.


Now, a "Tolkein purist" may say that what Jackson and his team have done here is sacrilege, as they have changed many of the events from the original book.  I say, look at something like the "Harry Potter" series.  While I did enjoy the second one, they both are simply page-by-page, shot-by-shot retellings of the book, trying to get all the events in without capturing much of the spirit.  While this may please some fans, this is nowhere in the same league as what is being done with "The Lord of the Rings".  Both "Rings" films stand as wonderful adaptations of Tolkein's classics, but they have departed from the books just enough so that they are unique experiences in their own right.


There is something amazing about "The Two Towers".  It is an incomparable experience; knowing that what is being projected onscreen is one of the greatest film sagas of all time unfolding right before your eyes.  This is the kind of film you know you'll tell your grandchildren about; that you were there when "The Lord of the Rings" first opened.  It is the kind of film that deserves, and gets, thunderous applause no matter how many times you see it.  I'm not sure my blabbering does the series justice, and I know that I could go on for much longer. I hope people realize how lucky audiences are that the greatest fantasy tale ever written is in such good hands.  I think the greatest compliment I can give to "The Two Towers" is this: one could not wish a better fate for Tolkein's work onscreen than this miraculous epic.

Elijah Wood ....  Frodo Baggins
Ian McKellen ....  Gandalf
Viggo Mortensen ....  Aragorn/Strider/The Heir of Gondor
Sean Astin ....  Samwise 'Sam' Gamgee
Billy Boyd ....  Peregrin 'Pippin' Took
Liv Tyler ....  Arwen Undómiel
John Rhys-Davies ....  Gimli/Treebeard
Dominic Monaghan ....  Meriadoc 'Merry' Brandybuck
Christopher Lee ....  Saruman
Miranda Otto ....  Éowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan
Brad Dourif ....  Gríma Wormtongue
Orlando Bloom ....  Legolas Greenleaf
Cate Blanchett ....  Galadriel
Karl Urban ....  Éomér
Bernard Hill ....  Théoden
David Wenham ....  Faramir
Andy Serkis ....  Gollum/Sméagol 

Running Time:  179 minutes
"Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and scary images.

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All reviews © Evan Spigelman