Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:59 - Released 12/18/02

The first thing I should say when reviewing Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, Peter Jackson’s three-hour follow-up to his immensely powerful first installment of the Lord Of The Rings fantasy saga, last December’s The Fellowship Of The Ring, is that in doing so I must reveal certain story aspects that could be considered spoilers. The legions of die-hard fans of J.R.R. Tolkein’s books know what happens in the story, but those who haven’t read the books may want to avoid reading this review until after they’ve seen the film, as there is at least one major surprise inherent in the plot. Having said that, the second point that pops to mind is that it would be an enormous task for Jackson to outdo last year’s phenomenon, since it was one of the most amazing all-around cinematic experiences to come along in years, and this is merely the second of three installments. And yet he pretty much does just that. This second episode (filmed simultaneously with the first and third) lives up in every way to the epic grandeur of last year’s movie, layering Tolkein’s famous story, adapted by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and director Jackson, with the same sweeping cinematography, enchantingly realized effects, and flawless acting as Fellowship, while adding the many new characters, creatures, and locations included in the second book. There are a few choices that I was not particularly thrilled with, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

In terms of story, this is obviously a continuation of the quest begun by hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) to destroy the immensely powerful One Ring created by the evil sorcerer Sauron, by traveling back to Sauron’s domain of Mordor and casting it into the fires of Mt. Doom from whence it came. But it’s hard to do that when everybody you encounter, good and bad, wants it for their very own. While Frodo’s hobbit friend Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) stuck with him at the end of the first movie, the remaining members of the fellowship were scattered. Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen), the wise and friendly wizard, fell into the depths of Moria while battling the immense fire-beast Balrog, but as we learn in an amazing action sequence at the very beginning of Towers, he was not killed, but, having battled the monster to the death, was transformed into Gandalf The White, with much more power to do good. Meanwhile, the two other hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), were captured by the army of orcs under the control of evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), and the other 3 remaining members, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and his friends Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), began pursuing the orcs through the land of Rohan to save their friends.

This has got to be the first movie where one of the most remarkable performances was done by a computer-generated character. The strange and immensely creepy creature Gollum, a.k.a. Sméagol, who was hardly seen in Fellowship, becomes one of the main characters here, crawling along with Frodo and Sam, first attempting to kill them for the ring, but then becoming their guide through the treacherous land of Mordor. Don’t get me wrong—this is not a slam against the live actors, who all do exquisite work; it’s a compliment to the technical staff who can create a complex, conflicted character seemingly out of thin air, and of the powerful work by Andy Serkis, who not only voiced Sméagol but participated in his scenes wearing a motion-capture suit which allowed the computer technicians who created the creature to follow his every move. Gollum is so tortured, so conflicted; he’s capable of so many subtle facial and vocal expressions, that as he wrestles with his schizophrenic characterization we don’t know whether to revile or pity him. This is an immensely important point, since one of the major plot elements is Frodo’s struggle with the same decision.

New characters and new cinematic challenges are presented in this story, all realized with the same creative genius Jackson showed us last year. The epic battle of Helm’s Deep, only possible after Gandalf frees King Théoden of Rohan (Bernard Hill) from the evil influence of Saruman’s minion Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), is as visually remarkable in some ways as Speilberg’s battle footage in Saving Private Ryan. Théoden’s nephew Éomer (Karl Urban) and niece Éowyn (Miranda Otto) are both introduced as powerful allies to the fellowship, as well as Faramir (David Wenham), the brother of Boromir, who was killed at the end of the first film. The ents, a tree-like race of forest shepherds led by Treebeard (another CGI creation with the voice of Rhys-Davies), are as remarkable from a sound standpoint as they are visually, with their deep voices uttering out the slow, droning intonations of their ancient language. “It takes us a long time to say things,” rumbles Treebeard, “but we only say things that are worth saying.” Then there are the titular towers themselves, Saruman’s Orthanc, standing starkly amid the scorched earth of his orc factory at Isengard, and Barad-Dur, located in the center of Mordor, where Sauron’s huge, disembodied eye maintains a constant vigil for the Ring. Finally there are brief but important repeat performances by Liv Tyler as Arwen, the elf-princess in love with Aragorn, Hugo Weaving as her father Elrond, and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, the all-knowing elvish priestess.

The only things I can find wrong with this movie (and they are minor points) are some slight alterations of the plot, which will annoy the devoted Middle-Earth freaks more than they did me, like Aragorn’s brief disappearance in the middle of the film. That it never occurs in the original text is less annoying than the fact that it feels like a cheap repetition of what happened to Gandalf in the first film. I also don’t like that Gimli becomes an almost comic character, constantly pratfalling and enduring Jackson’s cinematic short jokes, one of which is truly ridiculous. His character in the books is just as noble and respected as all the others; here he almost becomes a stooge.

As with Fellowship, this movie is long, intense, scary, and incredibly beautiful. If nothing else, the series will go down as a great commercial for New Zealand, whose sweeping majesty is effectively captured by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. But don’t bring children who are prone to nightmares or fidgeting, or you might end up concentrating more on kid-management than what’s transpiring on the screen. And that would be a shame, because this movie deserves everyone’s undivided attention. *****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail