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The Lord Of The Rings:
The Two Towers (PG-13)

New Line
Official Site
Director:Peter Jackson
Producers: Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh, Tim Sanders
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair; from the book by J.R.R. Tolkien
Cast: Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Viggo Mortensen, Ian Holm, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Sean Bean, John Rhys Davies, Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill, Brad Dourif, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, Marton Csokas, Karl Urban, John Noble, David Wenham, Bruce Hopkins

Rating: out of 5

Last year at this time, we waited impatiently to see The Fellowship Of The Rings. (Read last year’s review if you are wholly unfamiliar with this universe, and please, see the first film first. You’ve been warned.) The second installment of Tolkien’ s The Lord Of The Rings is The Two Towers. The action focuses on Saruman’s tower, Orthanc , and Sauron’s 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 Boromir’s 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 could’ve gotten ugly, and it’s 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 ringbearer–Gollum (Serkis), the very creature from whom Bilbo (Holm) stole the ring in the first place–who 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 don’t 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. Everyone’s seen the trailers so it’s 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. Rohan’s 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 Saruman’s (Lee) lackey, and not only does he sport a Dickensian name, he’s 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 Theoden’s wits! Reinvigorated, the king leads his people to the mountain fastness of Helm’s Deep and girds for war against Saruman’s 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 Ents–animate forefathers of trees.

Though Tolkien generally denied any such intent, it’s 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. It’s evident in Merry’s Christian argument to the Ents, who are debating what to do about Saruman: "You must help. You must do something." It’s 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 that’s another story), so he must pay. I’ve 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 don’t quite realize on the printed page become glaringly obvious on the screen. This is the case with the big-ass battle of Helm’s 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, they’re 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 Saruman’s fugly bastards showed up and the fighting began, my loyalty seriously wavered. Why? Because the Uruk-Hai brought technology to the battle. It’s 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 archers–pretty punk compared to the siege ladders and trebuchets employed by the goblin horde. And what I say is, it’s most definitely hard not to be on the side of a force that’s 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 didn’t work for me. Nearly every time I saw Gollum, it took me right out of the movie. This animation was motion-captured–based on actor Andy Serkis’s 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, he’s just, well, goofy-looking. I hate not liking the Gollum, especially when Jackson & Co. got so many other visuals right. The Nazgul, Sauron’s black riders, are dead brilliant, 100%. And when Gandalf summons Shadowfax and the steed appears, it’s like having your best-ever storybook spring to life. Also, this is the "hard times" episode, and it’s well served by the gray on slate-gray palette Jackson’s employed.

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 don’t 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 movie’s music. I could not believe it when Howard Shore picked up an Oscar for the sledgehammer score of last year’s installment. He’s back again, with compositions that fairly scream "it’s an epic!" This guy must be the Miles Gloriosus of composers–Stand 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.

– Roxanne Bogucka


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