Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) / Fantasy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for epic battle sequences and scary images
Running Time: 179 min. (extended editions run 223 min. and 235 min.)
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortenson, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson
Review published December 27, 2002
Before I begin this review, I feel the need to point out how strong of a fan I am of Tolkien's original Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as The Hobbit, and how delighted I am to see it come to life for a new generation. Since I have read each of the books multiple times as a child and teenager, it is a difficult task to try to divorce my opinions about the book and how it relates to the movie as much as I can. Basically, I have to assume I know nothing about the book. I do this for the vast majority of people who read this review that may not have read the trilogy, and are trying to find out if they would enjoy the film on its own. I will say that Peter Jackson (The Frighteners, King Kong) has made my task much easier, because his films are not really giving you Tolkien's original vision but rather an interpolation, extracting elements which are more conducive to the cinematic grandeur than in the hauntingly whimsical adventure that the books they're based on are.
With this in mind, it's surprising how much the movie bothers to retain of the book, because it's hard to imagine that much of The Two Towers makes sense, with the multitudinous characters and location changes, to someone who has not read it. The first two hours serve mostly as a set-up for the final third of the film, as well as for the final film of the trilogy. So much has been abbreviated that it becomes somewhat difficult to know precisely what is going on at all times. The best we can do is try to get the gist of each scene, and follow the general direction of where things are headed.
It didn't really need to be this way, as Jackson spends so much time and effort in sweeping cinematography, full of swirling shots around mountains and fortresses, that probably an hour of the three hour running length is only scenes of eye-candy meant to impress us with the beautiful imagery. As lovely as these images are, they do come at the expense of the story, which is as barebones as can be and still maintain a semblance of structure. For the first two hours, it's a bit of a dry experience, with only Gollum providing genuine moments of interest, probably because his motivation is the easiest to understand.
The Two Towers directly follows the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, and doesn't do very much to tell you what came before, so do not watch this without seeing the first film. Here, the fellowship is now fragmented, with Frodo (Wood, All I Want) and Samwise (Astin, Bulworth) following Gollum to Mordor to destroy the ring, Merry (Monaghan, "Lost") and Pippin (Boyd, On a Clear Day) have fled into a dangerous forest where they are captured by a large tree creature called Treebeard the Ent, while Aragorn (Mortensen, 28 Days), Legolas (Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean), and Gimli (Rhys-Davies, The Great White Hype), and the obviously not-dead Gandalf (McKellen, X-Men), shore up the troops by allying themselves with Theoden (Bernard Hill, The Scorpion King), the king of Rohan. They need all the help they can get, as the bad wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee, Attack of the Clones) has created the world's most impressive assemblage of evil in a mighty Uruk-Hai army that tramples through the lands in their quest for the destruction of Man.
The experience of watching The Two Towers hearkens back to the feeling of watching Titanic, not in its story, but in the structure. The first two hours are merely set-up to an inevitable cataclysmic conclusion, so for a while we must be entertained by looking at all of the nice cinematography and special effects that are the backdrop to the story. Admittedly, all of it is very beautifully rendered, and there's no skimping in the imagery department. Even with all of the impressive sights and sounds, the story doesn't really draw you in until the events of the final third of the film, with the Uruk-Hai siege of Helm's Deep. This is the hour that makes the price of admission worthwhile, and just like we were during the crash of the Titanic, we are rapt in silence, mouths agape, in awe of one of the most magnificent battles ever created in the history of cinema.
The Two Towers is a triumph of special effects and imaginative cinematics, like a moving painting that almost lulls you into thinking you are watching a masterpiece, which some champion the film as being. Don't believe the hype. Peter Jackson's vision is impressive, but only a small portion of that of J.R.R. Tolkien's creation, and so far removed in tone and storytelling, that he is like a little child that is given a bunch of toys to play with, having a grand old time lavishly creating scenarios for his new playthings to battle each other out in extravagant style. Luckily for us, he has a love of adventure and excitement, so even if he is impatient with the poetry and beauty that is part of the joys of reading Tolkien, we are entertained with the colossal clashes of good and evil presented with a ceaselessly feverish intensity.
©2002 Vince Leo