Film Reviews


By • Dec 18th, 2002 •

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New Line Cinema / A Wingnut Films production
Running time — 179 minutes / MPAA rating: PG-13

I’ll be the reckless, foolish messenger and endure the wrath of LOTR devotees: Compared to THE FELLOWSHIP, THE TWO TOWERS is a big, sprawling disappointment.

The Fellowship splintered at the end of part one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy. The complicated stories of the surviving men of the Fellowship takes center stage. THE TWO TOWERS begins with Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) spectacular hurling-into-the-abyss/supposed-death- match with the fire-breathing Balrog of Morgoth.

The Two Towers are Orthanc Tower in Isengard, where evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) reigns, and Barad-dur (Tower) in Mordor, the fortress of the dark Lord Sauron (symbolized as a resplendent, fiery eye). It’s the eve of a war for the fate of Middle Earth that culminates in a brilliantly executed, visually stunning battle.

But it’s a two-and-a-half hour lonely journey through woods, mountains, and fields to get to the CGI/live action battle.

Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are still on their perilous journey. Frodo toys with The Ring hanging from a chain around his neck. Yes, The Ring has a seductive lure but Frodo is strong. He avoids temptation and doesn’t put it on – not even to save his life.

Why did Biblo give The Ring to his nephew knowing the danger it brings?

Frodo and Sam are being followed by a near-naked, split-personality creature (once the hobbit Smeagol) called Gollum (Andy Serkis), who either wants to kill Frodo and take back “my precious” ring, or loyally serve “Master” Frodo. He becomes their captive/guide to the Black Gate. Gollum had The Ring for 500 hundred years. Gollum represents the complete degradation visited upon possessors of The Ring (but it does take hundreds of years). Introduced in FELLOWSHIP as a menacing, lurking presence, here Gollum is a whimpering crybaby (Good Gollum) and a nasty troublemaker (Bad Gollum).

Fellowship warriors human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli the dwarf (John-Rhys Davies) are also on an arduous, long foot journey to find captured Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). Merry and Pippin escape their cannibal captors during a fierce battle and find refuge in Fanghorn Forest. The Ents are living trees who walk, talk, and get mad. A CGI character, Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), decides to help the Hobbits and joins the war against Saruman. Carried by Treebeard, they also go on a long, solitary journey. Treebeard is poorly conceived with eyes darting around like people forced into cartoon costumes.

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli must pass through the kingdom of Rohan. Gandalf miraculously returns to save Rohan’s dying king, Theoden (Bernard Hill). Saruman has cast a spell upon Theoden. His death will bring Saruman’s slimely cohort Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) to the throne, since the spellbound king banished his nephew and heir Eomer (Karl Urban). Wormtongue desires the King’s niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto), but she prefers to take a sword to battle when Theoden’s curse is lifted by Gandalf.

Eowyn falls for Aragorn, but he is still in love with elf Arwen (Liv Tyler) who visits him in a dream. Eowyn’s father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) makes a brief appearance, as does Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli fight in the battle of Helm’s Deep alongside Rohan warriors against Saruman’s formidable army of Uruk-hai, Orcs, and Easterlings. Aragorn, believed to be killed in the battle, miraculously returns.

That’s two miraculous returns from the dead. (Well, yes, Gandalf technically didn’t die, he was transformed.)

There is no denying the brilliance of the battle sequence that ends the film. Sauron’s army is made up of fantastic creatures: the massive elephant-like Oliphants, the Ringwraiths, and Wargs. Yet, there’s an impersonal feel to the battle.

Sometimes directors have screen alter-egos and here director Peter Jackson obviously favors Gimli. He has more screen time and close-ups then The Ring, Frodo, and Aragorn combined. He’s also the comic relief. My favorite character, Legolas, who I had hoped to see more of, just trails behind Aragorn on the long, forced march. Frodo spends a lot of time walking through the woods as a minor character. Sam gives a speech. Gandalf, a clever and formidable personality in FELLOWSHIP, is a secondary, one-dimensional character here. The charm of his scenes with Bilbo are gone as he becomes a white-robed, haloed wizard. Theoden and his nephew Eomer come to the forefront but obscure the importance and potency of the destiny of The Ring. It’s the battle for Middle Earth that dominates THE TWO TOWERS.

Yes, THE TWO TOWERS is visually impressive and the months spent on the battle scenes is noteworthy (and acknowledged), but the stunning images and carefully drawn characters are not advanced. The haunting, memorable score is now minor background music. The wonderful visual illusion of the tiny Hobbits in the world of wizards, elfs, and humans – so beautifully rendered in FELLOWSHIP – is not shown since Frodo and Sam spend most of THE TWO TOWERS alone in the woods with a crawling, naked and dirty Gollum.

While LOTR devotees will adore the grandeur and special effects, the battle for Middle Earth is played out against a standard medieval backdrop. THE TWO TOWERS is about real estate. The strong presence of a villain to hold the drama together is missing. Saruman spends his screen time gazing into a crystal.

The enormous vista of THE TWO TOWERS cannot be dismissed. Yet, the story is not intriguing. I understand that many of my story criticisms will be answered in the last part of the trilogy when all the pieces come together. However, THE TWO TOWERS must stand alone in its own right.

Frodo: Elijah Wood
Gandalf: Ian McKellen
Arwen: Liv Tyler
Aragorn: Viggo Mortensen
Sam: Sean Astin
Saruman: Christopher Lee
Gimli/the voice of Treebeard: John Rhys-Davies
Merry: Dominic Monaghan
Pippin: Billy Boyd
Legolas: Orlando Bloom
Elrond: Hugo Weaving
Gollum: Andy Serkis
King Theoden: Bernard Hill
Faramir: David Wenham
Eowyn: Miranda Otto
Eomer: Karl Urban
Galadriel: Cate Blanchett

Director: Peter Jackson
Screenwriters: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson
Based on the book by: J.R.R. Tolkien
Director of photography: Andrew Lesnie
Production designer: Grant Major
Editors: Michael Horton, Jabez Olssen
Music: Howard Shore
Visual effects supervisor: Jim Rygiel

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