The Two Towers

Just got back from seeing Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Oh my lord.

At this point, if Peter Jackson doesn’t get some sort of special achievement Oscar after Return of the King is released, I’ll be quite surprised and dissapointed. Fellowship of the Ring was an excellent film, and a masterful job of adapting what was for years considered an “unfilmable” literary work to the screen — but the possibility was there that that could have been a fluke. Here, Jackson had the task of following up the blockbuster success of LotR:FotR with a “middle movie” that had neither a definite beginning nor end to its story. While because of that LotR:TTT admittedly cannot stand entirely on its own as a single entity (and I would hate to be someone in the unenviable position of attempting to watch LotR:TTT without having first watched LotR:FotR), as the second chapter in an epic saga, it is far and away an absolutely incredible achievement.

More thoughts follow — not entirely spoiler-free, though, click through at your own risk….

Opening with a quick flashback to Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog in the Mines of Moria from midway through LotR:FotR, Jackson spares no time attempting to fill his audience in on the events of the first film, instead following Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the Balrog as they fall, battling each other into the depths of the earth. Soon we cut to Frodo (Elijah Wood) waking from his dream of Gandalf’s fate, and he and Sam (Sean Astin) continue on their journey towards Mordor. For the rest of the film, the three parts of the broken fellowship are followed on their respective journeys — Frodo and Sam towards Mordor; Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) first in the clutches of the Uruk-Hai and later finding the Ents of Fangor Forest; and the trio of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) first tracking Merry and Pippin, then joining forces with the men of Rohan to defend Helms Deep from the forces of Saruman’s (Christopher Lee) army. Even cutting from one storyline to the other, following each of the seperate storylines is well presented, and it’s surprisingly easy to track on what is happening without getting confused.

While the first film was very much primarily Frodo and Sam’s story, the bulk of LotR:TTT centers around Aragorn and his companions. Tracking the abducted Merry and Pippin up to Fangorn Forest, they soon meet with the resurrected Gandalf (now Gandalf the White), and join him in assisting the men of Rohan in defending themselves against the seemingly unsurmountable might of Saruman and his 10,000 strong army of Orcs. Dominating the final third of the film, the assault upon Helms Deep is truly one of the most stunning epic battles I’ve yet seen captured on screen. Wave upon wave of Orcs crash against the battlements, raising their ladders against the walls and constantly threatening to swarm over them. The shields covering a serpentine collum of attackers crossing a bridge ripple as if they were truly the scales of a snake slithering towards the gate of the keep, then part to reveal a massive battering ram as it slams into the doors. After a tremendous explosion shatters the outer wall of the fortifications, chunks of masonry the size of small cars fall from the sky, shaking the ground with their impact, crushing Orc and Human alike as they rain down. Absolutely mind blowing to watch.

Merry and Pippin get the shortest shrift in this film. After escaping their Uruk-Hai captors and encountering Treebeard, most of their scenes boil down to riding on Treebeard’s shoulders as he gathers the other Ents of the forest to discuss whether or not they should involve themselves in the coming war. While the Ents are incredible to watch and wonderfully realised, these scenes sometimes seem the most stilted in the movie. While Jackson couldn’t just let Merry and Pippin disappear for the majority of the film, they really don’t have much to do at this stage in the game. Even their role as the jesters of the first film has been given over to Gimli for this installment, and it often feels like we’re cutting over to them just to both remind us that they’re still around and to give is a momentary breather from the assaults taking place elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam continue on their trek towards Mordor to attempt to destroy the Ring, now accompanied by Gollum. Gollum is in many ways truly the outstanding star of LotR:TTT. While visually he is the single most amazingly believeable pure CGI to have been created — for the first time, it’s actually possible to forget that you’re watching an entirely digital creation, and merely accept him as another character in the film — it is the voice and physical acting of Andy Serkis (whose every movement and facial expression was captured and used in the animation of the creature) that truly brings Gollum to life. In what is already one of the most talked about sequences of the film, Gollum has a long debate with his kinder, more obsequeous alter-ego Sméagol that is alternately both disturbing and heart rending to watch as he battles with himself as to whether to kill the Hobbits in their sleep and steal his “Precious” back, or to accept Frodo’s kindness and help them in their quest. Truly believeable and incredible to watch, Gollum alone (in the guise of Andy Serkis and the animation team that brough him to life) deserves some sort of award.

Eventually drawing all three storylines to a surprisingly satisfying stopping point — though, admittedly, hardly a conclusion — we are left knowing that it is going to be a long, long wait through the next year until LotR:RotK is released.

0 thoughts on “The Two Towers

  1. Here’s my review – go get a cup of tea!

    The opening shot is done very well panning through the Misty Mountains and then delving in to see Gandalf falling off the bridge and following him down fighting with the Balrog. The plot then continues from where the first film left off and we see Golum for the first time properly. Golum on the whole is done extremely well… Just one little point – the hacking GOLUM sound he makes is not how Tolkien describes in one of his letters. He explains it as a gulping noise (Try and say Golum with a gulp and sounding the G with your tonsils). Jackson has opted for a clearing of the throat noise… but this can be easily brushed aside. The bickering between the two sides of himself (Smeagol and Golum.. or Stinker and Slinker!) is done very well.

    Then we follow Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli across the plains of Rohan – Gimli changes from being detestable in the Fellowship to having one role in this film – comic relief! It works well in places but it was too much at Helms Deep – Dwarf Tossing and armour that’s too long.. anyway.
    We meet Eomer – I really liked this actor.. Jackson changes the way tempers are frayed from an argument over Lothlorien and Galadriel to simple trespassing and racism. That had to be done as he had done nothing in the theatrical release of the Fellowship to explain Gimli’s love of Galadriel.
    Pippin and Merry’s ordeal with the Uruk Hai is vastly played down – they’re carried all the time as I remember but more than this apart from a cut above the brow they look fine! He could have made them look a little paler and tired etc… and we see none of the forced drinking of the Orc draft. The slaying of the Uruk Hai was also a little disappointing compared to the expansive time it was given in the book with the encircling of the camp and Jackson has cut all dispute between Saruman’s Uruk Hai and Saurons Mordor troops and the direction they are headed.

    Then Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride on to Fangorn where they meet Gandalf – the introduction is done well and I love the fact that Jackson shows more clearly how Gandalf dies and is sent back – hence the fact he’s nearly forgotten his name Gandalf as he’s spent time uncounted as Olorin. Most people who don’t read Tolkiens other writings assume Gandalf defeats the Balrog and “walks” back to Rivendell and then just gets a different set of white clothing and staff and decides to be a little more powerful! We also see Shadowfax for the first time – this was REALLY disappointing – Shadowfax with his silver grey body like a wind in grass is portrayed as a white horse running in slow motion everywhere! Why does he do that? I wanted a little computer enhanced trickery to make Shadowfax seem a little faster than you thought possible. At least get his colour right damn it!

    Then we go to Edoras again a superb set and location building you up for an even larger disappointment! Theoden is possessed by Saruman! Yes you read correctly… he can hardly speak without prompting… He’s covered in a cob webby lacing of white hair and his eyes are glazed over. Then we see a disarmed Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas “punching” away armed guards whilst Gandalf exorcises Saruman…. PATHETIC. He’s changed a great scene.. for no good reason into a farse. Why can’t we see Gandalf reveal himself and use his magic to darken the hall and cower Wormtongue like the book. Then Theoden with Saruman removed is changed into a man in his early 40’s As if his people wouldn’t have suspected something a tad different about him before. I think Jackson felt that if he’d done it like the book Theoden “changing” his mind would have seemed unrealistic in the screen time he could have given it… what a shame. Then we have Gandalf annoyed that Theoden isn’t riding out to open war against thousands of Orcs! What utter garbage – In the book it was Gandalfs idea to go to Helms Deep! Just like in the Fellowship when we saw Gandalf voting against going to Moria when it was his idea in the book! Also Jackson has eradicated the existence of Dunharrow – the refuge of the Riddermark and sends the women and children with them to Helms Deep – didn’t really mind this due to time.

    Then the worst bits of the film – an extremely expensive (graphics wise) Warg riding battle scene which didn’t happen in the book – why add new things when your cutting existing scenes such as the wolf battle missing in the Fellowship. Even worse is Aragorn falling off a cliff and floating down a river and then making his way to Helms Deep… We also have constant cuts of Arwen during this section including a scene with Elrond where he tries to persuade her to stay using the fact she’ll live past Aragorn in misery as bate. I don’t like this idea at all – I could debate this all day going back to issues surrounding the life span of the Numenorians and the fact that Elrond was half elven and chose immortality whereas his brother didn’t – so to is Arwen and she has the “choice”. It was Tolkiens intent that she chooses the mortal life with Aragorn… what was Jackson getting at adding this scene in? What a complete git. Besides this why is Arwen and the love triangle with Eowyn featured at all? As if Jackson hasn’t got enough to portray and us enough to think about, he gives the love triangle for Aragorn as much importance as saving the peoples of Middle Earth – If we wanted a love triangle we’d go and watch the Thorn Birds… Plus such a wealth of wasted screen time could be spent in so many other places – the Ents… Thoedens Hall scene (and do it properly!)… The Uruk Hai passage… why why why etc….

    Helms Deep – Brilliant sets and action again, however unlike the book some Elves from Rivendell turn up led by Haldir of Lothlorien – who seems to have defected to Elrond and doesn’t even mention his queen Galadriel! He could have at least brought some mates from Lothlorien! Why did Jackson do this now? They simply wouldn’t have had time to mobalise and get to Helms Deep in time. This happens later at the battle of the Pellanor Fields… and if he does that now it won’t have any effect on us as it’s happened already! This idea got utterly slated on the internet before even the Fellowship came out.. and rightly so – it simply doesn’t even vaguely fit into the story. Crap idea Jacko.

    Whilst the Helms Deep battle is raging we have cuts to Pippen and Merry with Treebeard. A quick side comment – Why did Jackson use Gimli’s actor John Rhys-Davies to do Treebeards voice? You could really notice it… Then we have the frustration that Treebeard doesn’t know about Saruman’s uprooting of the trees of Isengard…. um why wouldn’t he? Saruman started doing that months ago! It takes Pippen to make him walk South to drop them off so he “stumbles” into it…. tragic.

    Then we have Faramir to contend with. Good introduction – love the Oliphants in Ilithien… I really like the actor who plays Faramir to… However, once again we see Jackson fundamentally change a character. Instead of the surprisingly wise and thoughtful Faramir who is in such contrast to Boromir, and shows the Hobbits excellent hospitality we have another Boromir who takes the Hobbits prisoner all the way to Osgiliath! AAAHHHHH More wasted screen time! He could have spent it simply in the secret cave – developing character and telling the books story. Plus we have moments where Frodo actually attacks Sam Before he’s even in Mordor… this is when I got really annoyed! This is so much in contrast with the book… we have Sam desperate to be spared from his own master.. this shock factor should have been saved for the crossing of Mordor when the rings power is at it’s greatest – where it belongs. Plus at the end we have the now uncomfortable (Due to Frodo’s recent actions) cheesy wind up of Frodo and Sam giving us a quick moral update on what’s worth fighting for…

    The only explanation I can give is Jackson is playing for a slower audience who also haven’t read the book. Hence possessing Theoden and having the Ents “see” the trees destroyed, and Farmir come to a decision only after “seeing” the rings effect on Frodo at Osgiliath, all to really slap the point in the face of the viewer. The only reason we let him get away with it is the stupendous locations, set design, and special effects which truly succeed in bringing Middle Earth to life. But for a man who had the responsibility of over one hundred million pounds is he really doing the book justice? in this film he’s proven beyond doubt his goals are obviously different to what any Tolkien fans would have been. My goal would be to create the definitive adaptation – to be as close to the book as possible – The Lord of The Rings by JRR Tolkien. Not the Lord of The Rings by Peter Jackson and chums. If I could swap the effects for a better adaptation and better directing I would – Although the actors might I don’t think Jackson deserves any awards for this one…

  2. Yeah, jackson is pandering to the general audience, which (and this may surprise you) to the greater half have NOT read the book.
    Thus it is likely only a few people feel let down by any screen adaptions, those that do (like you) just have to read the book again and let you imagination tell the tale the way you like it.
    These movies are not Mr Tolkiens imagination but Mr Jacksons, they are not perhaps as powerful as the books but just coming close deserves more credit than you give.
    You do not let anyone get away with anything – Mr Jackson has more epic scope than you do negativity, and thats saying something.