When last we left Middle Earth, the Fellowship of the Ring had beenbroken. Gandalf the Grey had fallen into shadow after his battle with theBarlog and Boromir (Sean Bean) is dead. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise(Sean Astin) have gone to Mordor alone to destroy the One Ring, Merry(Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have been captured by theUruk-hai, and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli(John Rhys-Davies) were hot on their trail.
As The Two Towers, the second chapter of the Lord of theRings trilogy, opens, the trio have befriended the Rohan, a race ofhumans that are in the path of the upcoming war. They are led by the agingThoden king (Bernard Hill). Saruman (Christopher Lee), under the power ofthe Dark Lord Sauron, and his slimy assistant, Grma Wormtongue (BradDourif), have created a grand Uruk-hai army bent on the destruction of Manand Middle-earth. Gandalf the White (Sir Ian McKellen), thought to be dead,has returned to help defeat the forces of evil. Meanwhile, one of the Ring’soriginal bearers, the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), has tracked Frodo andSam down in search of his ‘precious’, but is captured by the Hobbits andused as a way to lead them to Mt. Doom.
Picking up right where The Fellowship of the Ring left off, TheTwo Towers is a different sort of cinematic beast than Fellowshipboth in terms of story and filmmaking. Whereas the first one was a bit morerelaxed in its pacing and served as one hell of a setup, Towersroars through its three-hour running time like a jet flying at full speed.Filled with action sequences and epic battles that are visually stunning,chaotic and thrilling all at once, director Peter Jackson never misses abeat. Amidst the spectacle, sound and fury, Jackson never losessight of what proved to be Fellowship‘s most special effect – itshumanity. To dazzle not only the eye but also the heart and soul in aneffects-laden Hollywood epic these days is rare, almost unheard of. YetJackson does it and on a scale as grand as David Lean or StevenSpielberg at their best.
Of the three JRR Tolkien novels that make up the trilogy, The TwoTowers is easily the most difficult to turn into a workable screenplay.The novel lacked a beginning and end, it deals with a multitude of eventsand equal amount of characters concurrently, and was presented in two separatebooks within one novel. To make this part of the trilogy workin a cinematic sense, some things have been changed around or droppedaltogether, perhaps to be included in the third film or even in the DVDExtended cut of this film next year. Now, before you cry heresy, keep inmind that this is an adaptation of a novel. If you want a filmed book(yawn), go see Harry Potter. Screenwriters Jackson, Fran Walsh,Philippa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair have produced an involving, excitingand at times highly emotional screenplay. And fear not, the spirit andbeauty of Tolkien’s work remains intact.
Once again, the large ensemble cast is nothing short of remarkable. Allof the returning members from Fellowship of the Ring seem morecomfortable in this film and the sense of camaraderie between them shinesbrightly, resulting in richer, more developed characters. The new additionsto the cast, including Hill as Theoden, Dourif as Wormtongue and MirandaOtto as Theoden’s niece, Eowyn, are excellent.
But perhaps the most impressive performance may belong to Gollum, abrilliant combination of Andy Serkis’ skillful performance and the bestcomputer animation yet put to film. Sorry Yoda, go to hell Jar Jar. It takesall of a minute to forget that Gollum is computer-generated and to believethat he really does exist alongside the humans. Like all the best screenvillains, we come to both despise and pity the creature. Watching Gollumengage in an argument with Smeagol, his former self, over what to do aboutthe Ring is both creepy and hilarious.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the film also triumphs onevery technical level. Aside from the little creepy Ring addict (Gollum, notFrodo), the stunning visual effects work on display here is an actualimprovement over the first film (and those were nothing to sneeze ateither). Treebeard and the Ents, an ancient race that help Merry and Pippin,are almost as impressive as Gollum. Howard Shore contributes anothersweeping, majestic musical score that at times evokes Maurice Jarre’slegendary work, while Andrew Lesnie’s photography takes on a grittier,darker but no less beautiful aura.
Is The Two Towers a better film than The Fellowship of theRing? No. It’s its equal. Whereas most second films are dreary retreadsof their predecessors, The Two Towers does what all proceedinginstalments should do – take what made the first one work so well and expandon it in ways that keep the viewer involved on both a visceral and emotionallevel.
One can only shudder when imagining what Jackson and company have instore for us in the third and final chapter of the series, The Return Ofthe King.