Last year at this time, we waited impatiently to see The
Fellowship Of The Rings. (Read last years review
if you are wholly unfamiliar with this universe, and please,
see the first film first. Youve been warned.) The second
installment of Tolkien s The Lord Of The Rings
is The Two Towers. The action focuses on Sarumans
tower, Orthanc , and Saurons tower, Barad-Dur. At the
end of both the first novel and the first movie, the fellowship
of the ring was sundered, with various members going, or being
taken, in several directions.
Gandalf had been taken by a balrog in the mines of Moria.
After Boromir tries to take the ring, Frodo decides to make
his way to Mordor alone, but Sam divines his intentions and
joins him. Boromir is then mortally wounded while trying unsuccessfully
to prevent orcs from abducting Merry and Pippin. Aragorn,
Legolas, and Gimli care for Boromirs corpse, then decide
to pursue the orcs. The Two Towers has three story
lines to follow, a lot of information, and a hella big battle.
It couldve gotten ugly, and its to the very great
credit of Peter Jackson et al. that the story makes
sense at all.
As Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) make their
way toward Mount Doom, they encounter yet another one-time
ringbearerGollum (Serkis), the very creature
from whom Bilbo (Holm) stole the ring in the first
placewho agrees to guide them into Mordor. Sam is constantly
suspicious, but Frodo feels a bond with one who knows what
a burden it is to carry the ring. The Searchers dont
find Merry and Pippin, but they do meet up with some pale
riders from the land of Rohan, who have just defeated the
orc band in battle. Everyones seen the trailers so its
giving nothing away to say that Gandalf (McKellen)
returns in time to join Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas
(Bloom), and Gimli (Rhys Davies) on the road
to Rohan. Rohans king, Theoden, has been enchanted and
is pretty much drooling on his throne, leaving his "advisor"
Grima (Dourif) to run the show. Grima Wormtongue is
Sarumans (Lee) lackey, and not only does he sport
a Dickensian name, hes like Uriah Heep to the nth degree.
So things are in a sad state indeed until Gandalf shows up
and performs an exorcism that restores Theodens wits!
Reinvigorated, the king leads his people to the mountain fastness
of Helms Deep and girds for war against Sarumans
legions. Meanwhile, Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd)
escape while their orc captors battle the men of Rohan and
conceal themselves inside Fangorn forest, where they meet
Treebeard (voiced by Rhys Davies), eldest of the Entsanimate
forefathers of trees.
Though Tolkien generally denied any such intent, its
all but impossible to ignore the influence of religion in
this unfolding story of good vs. evil. Gandalf rises again,
purified and more powerful than ever. Its evident in
Merrys Christian argument to the Ents, who are debating
what to do about Saruman: "You must help. You
must do something." Its also evident in the fate
of those who would dare to play God, which is an oft-encountered
annoyance in science fiction and fantasy. Saruman has tampered
where even wizards should not (and also committed some pretty
big environmental sins, but thats another story), so
he must pay. Ive read that Tolkien died without ever
owning a television or a washing machine, and that anti-technology
bias of his shows up in these stories as well.
Sometimes things that you just dont quite realize on
the printed page become glaringly obvious on the screen. This
is the case with the big-ass battle of Helms Deep. Saruman
has done some "genetic engineering" to produce legions
of cannon fodder. These creatures are nasty pieces of work.
Slimy or scaly (or both), with pointy carnassial pairs of
teeth and horrifying tartar buildup, theyre also bellicose
as hell. The men of Rohan and the elves who join them are
clearly the good guys, if only because they have better dental
hygiene. Yet when Sarumans fugly bastards showed up
and the fighting began, my loyalty seriously wavered. Why?
Because the Uruk-Hai brought technology to the battle.
Its like in The Untouchables, when Sean Connery
derides a guy for bringing a knife to a gun fight. The elf-human
contingent has stout hearts and all that, but their offense
consists of swordsmen and archerspretty punk compared
to the siege ladders and trebuchets employed by the goblin
horde. And what I say is, its most definitely hard not
to be on the side of a force thats waging mechanized
warfare (even when they take out one of my favorite second-tier
characters). At any rate, for the most part the battle scenes
are jaw-droppingly cool to look at. There are some scenes
where enemy soldiers get swept off a bridge that look a lot
like dominoes falling, but mostly the CGI was tiptop.
Not so, alas for the CG creation of the film. Gollum just
didnt work for me. Nearly every time I saw Gollum, it
took me right out of the movie. This animation was motion-capturedbased
on actor Andy Serkiss movements. That allowed for a
skeleton of wonderfully natural action. Unfortunately they
caparisoned that skeleton with the love child of Yoda and
one of those big-head babies on Nickelodeon. This is only
tolerable when Gollum is acting with himself, which he does
from time to time, as "good Gollum" debates moral
issues with "bad Gollum". When Gollum is seen alongside
Frodo and Sam, or any other real actors, hes just, well,
goofy-looking. I hate not liking the Gollum, especially when
Jackson & Co. got so many other visuals right. The Nazgul,
Saurons black riders, are dead brilliant, 100%. And
when Gandalf summons Shadowfax and the steed appears, its
like having your best-ever storybook spring to life. Also,
this is the "hard times" episode, and its
well served by the gray on slate-gray palette Jacksons
Good news: This installment introduces Eowyn (Otto)
of Rohan, a female character we can actually admire. Suffice
it to say that the actors all know their business, though
it should be noted that the amazing Christopher Lee is walking
proof that cool knows no age limit. Despite the presence of
some high-wattage thespians, these roles dont call for
subtle shading and major acting chops. On the other hand,
a spot of subtlety would not have been out of place in the
movies music. I could not believe it when Howard
Shore picked up an Oscar for the sledgehammer score of
last years installment. Hes back again, with compositions
that fairly scream "its an epic!" This guy
must be the Miles Gloriosus of composersStand back!
He writes big notes!
Shore and Gollum are two small flies in the ointment of a
very fine movie, better than The Fellowship Of The Ring.