The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
October 15, 2003
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, John Rhys-Davies, Dominic Monaghan, Christopher Lee, Miranda Otto, Brad Dourif, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban, Bernard Hill, ,
For those who haven’t read the books, watching the middle film of a trilogy might seem like a frustrating, even unsatisfying experience. Not only does The Two Towers leave you on another year-long cliffhangar, but it also demands that you’ve at least seen the first film, because Jackson gets right into the action sans prologue. But since all three films were shot back to back, it stands to reason all three will have the same quality as we first saw in Fellowship, and this proves to be the case here.
Longer and darker in tone, The Two Towers opens with a ‘what really happened with Gandalf and the Balrog’ sequence that immediately sets the heart racing. And this is a good thing seeing as there’s another three hours of the stuff to get through. Meanwhile Sam and Frodo continue their trek towards Mordor, and finally come face to face with Gollum: (“The thieves. The thieves. The filthy little thieves!”) In the book he was perhaps more openly evil and ugly, yet Serkis plays Gollum with an irresistible child-like charm that simoultaneously hides a murderous longing for the ring.
Frodo makes Gollum be their guide into Mordor; a decision which Sam (and the audience) know will only end in treachery. Serkis and the effects team at Weta have created a fully interactive character (Jar Jar who?) so believable that after the first ten minutes you almost forget Gollum is just a bunch of zeros and ones on a Kiwi’s Applemac.
Whereas Fellowship was about team effort, Towers is about breaking up that team into separate narratives and goals. Saruman is getting stronger, ready to unleash his feed n’ grow army of nasties, while Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are still on the trail of kidnapped Hobbits Merry and Pippin.
New characters take their first bows; Treebeard, another tour-de-force by Weta, voiced by Gimli actor John Rhys-Davies, King Theoden (Bernard Hill), Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), princess Eowyn (Otto) and Boromir’s brother, Faramir. Dourif revels in these sorts of slimebag roles, and you either want to laugh or wince at his performance. This is, after all, his best shot at anything resembling Shakespeare. Hill isn’t much better, and it’s only Otto who really strikes a chord in the land of Rohan, where Aragorn and his buddies come seeking help. We’ve only seen her in small roles so far over here, in The Thin Red Line and What Lies Beneath, and it may surprise some to know she’s older than twenty-five, but she’s more than a match for Aragorn on screen and soon enough there’s a love triangle going on, with Arwen still stuck in Rivendell with Agent Smith- oops, I mean Elrond.
The movie climaxes with the epic battle at Helm’s Deep with Saruman’s army, and it’s hard to recall when our generation has seen such a true series of epics like this on the big screen. Jackson unleashes shot after shot of CGI/model genius that makes you coo like a baby. He’s always been technically adept (see the underrated The Frighteners for proof) but literally nothing like this has ever been attempted on film.
Stand-out scenes include Gollum’s schizophrenic one on one, Frodo’s creepy experience in the dead marshes and a close call with a black rider.
An Oscar snubb will not be glossed over this year – not least because Christopher Lee has threatened to get medieval on academy voter’s asses if they favour another middling Ron Howard film over Tolkien.
On the down side, you do leave the cinema with a numb backside as well as a light head, and without much sense of closure. LOTR virgins won’t know what the hell is going on, and book devotees may grumble at things being juggled about or removed entirely (spidey Shelhob has been retained purely for part three). Gimli seems to have adopted a slapstick routine not found in the books, but such a pompous, stubborn character is the obvious choice for such comic relief; Having Aragorn fall off a horse and splutter “I meant to do that!” just wouldn’t work as well.
So the narrative flow is in question, but this is film two of three remember, and when cinema is this good, do we really care about nitpicking the little details? Roll on Return of the King.