6b. The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers (2002)

Director: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian MacKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

When I actually sat down to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” after seeing the theatrical version of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” I must say I was rather shocked by the slow pacing of the story in comparison to the movies, but unquestionably my favorite of the three books was “The Two Towers.” I can remember coming out of “The Fellowship of the Ring” wondering how in the world Peter Jackson et al were going to top what I’d already seen. “The Two Towers” doesn’t take very long before it answers that question. Every cast member who made “Fellowship” what it is returns for this one, including Sean Bean as Boromir (albeit only in flashback), however it is the new characters introduced here who steal the show.

Brad Dourif, whom I have been a fan of for a long, long time, is rather Shakespearean in his delivery as the treacherous Grima Wormtongue, especially in his very first scene. He feigns allegiance to Théoden (Bernard Hill), King of Rohan, when in reality he is a puppet of Saruman (Christopher Lee). Easily my favorite character from books Two and Three was Éowyn, and so is her cinematic counterpart. As played by Miranda Otto, Éowyn is the only lady in the city of Rohan who can cut you down as swiftly as the men can. Her biggest moment is saved for “Return of the King,” but here she proves that she can stand up for herself without the need to demonstrate her proficiency with a blade. The greatest musical cue of the movie, the Rohan theme, makes its first and best appearance as Eowyn sees four of our heroes approaching the city. Like the people of Rohan, the theme is appropriately Celtic.

Of course, not all of the new characters could have been represented accurately without the aid of CGI. Very early on, Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood & Sean Astin) finally meet with the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis). I’d been highly anticipating this moment, one that could have destroyed the entire trilogy if it was handled improperly, like with Yoda’s reveal in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Because the then-fairly new concept of motion capture technology mean that Andy Serkis was able to perform the character, with Gollum’s appearance superimposed later, this allowed for Gollum to appear as though he were as real as you or me. The big surprise, though was the Ents, a race of walking, talking trees. Led by Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies, who also stars as the dwarf Gimli), the Ents provide the swing in momentum that our heroes sorely need. Saruman has been careless, cutting down the forest around Isengard for fuel to keep his machines running in his bid to conquer Rohan. This means that a lot of Treebeard’s friends are being slaughtered, and the last thing you ever want to do is piss off an Ent. They make wonderful allies if you can become their friends, but if you get on their bad side, you might find yourself turned into grape jelly on the underside of their feet.

One thing J.R.R. Tolkien was not good at was writing action sequences. Several key battles happen off-page and are related later in the past tense. “The Two Towers” fixes that, giving us a good 45 minutes of hack, slice and stab (as well as an explosion or two) at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. At the same time that Frodo and Sam are following Gollum to Mordor, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli are helping the people of Rohan defend themselves against the forces of Saruman. It’s the most visually exciting thing we’ve been offered so far, and by the time the battle is over we are once again left to wonder how anything that remains can be any more entertaining.

As with “The Fellowship of the Ring,” I saw “The Two Towers” three times in the theater. The first time, I was kind of surprised by just where the movie ends, based on my familiarity with the ending of the book. I had been waiting for Frodo and Sam to encounter a specific adversary, the spider Shelob, but it was not to be until the next movie. I know now that, had they gone ahead and put Shelob at the end of the “Two Towers” movie, there would be virtually nothing left for Frodo and Sam to do except to arrive at Mount Doom with the One Ring. The right choice was definitely made, and the stage was set for the mother of all third acts…


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