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Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

I’ve read the books about five years ago so excuse the mistakes I’m probably going to make. Also excuse that I am reviewing the film, not the book. I loved the book, but Jackson’s job was that of an adaption. And he did a brilliant job. The rest of the text contains spoilers. Don’t read on if you want to see the film unspoiled.

“The Two Towers” opens with the camera hovering over snowy mountains. We hear voices and screams. Then, the camera enters the mountain and we see the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog again. This time, from a slightly different perspective – and slightly longer. That’s good: The film opens with my favourite scene from “Fellowship.” It starts with an impressive bang. That’s because Peter Jackson did all the character introduction and the geography of Middle Earth in “Fellowship.” He can now dive right into it. At the bginning, that causes some problems, because the intercutting of the scenes make the film appear episodic and uneven. However, as soon as all the plot threads are interwoven, The Two Towers becomes a bulldozer you cannot stop until the very end. In it’s pure kinetic style, I was reminded of James Cameron’s Aliens which also had such a relentless energy.

Each of the three story parts (Aragon/Legolas/Gimli – Frodo/Sam – Merry/Pippin) has a distinctive style. The Merry/Pippin-plot for example starts out rather grisly and later becomes the calm part that acts as a counterpart to the battle at Helm’s Deep. This different style and different speed of the three threads make the film more vivid than the rather linear Fellowship. One thing is alike to all three plots: The darkness. Frodo’s and Sam’s walk through the marshes is extremely gritty. The landscape is chilly and the bodies floating under water are truly creepy. It’s an eerie landscape and one can see that Peter Jackson is a genius when it comes to portraying evil. The hobbits then reach the black gate which is operated by two cave trolls. The impressive thing about the scene is the weight of the portal. The use of models and CGI is perfect and gives this set the depth and weight it needs to be convincing.

Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas search for the two hobbits. The story of the three makes up the biggest part of the film. After they re-unite with Gandalf, they set out to free Theoden from the spell of Saruman and guide the people of the city to the stronghold of Helm’s Deep. In those scenes, I was very impressed by Jackson’s courage to use some ancient tongues. If I’d like Shakespeare, I’d say The Two Towers is Jackson’s Henry V because of the long, melancholic monologues and of course the war-theme. I don’t know if the kids will like those heavy words. Anyway, on their way to “Helm’s Deep”, Orcs on wargs attack and that’s a fierce scene. Very well edited. From there on it’s straight to the last third, to the big battle. It is intercut with other threads, but overall, it accounts for about 45 minutes of epic sword- and bowfight.

Jackson introduces us to the geography of the fortress before Saruman’s huge army approaches with thundering noise. The vista is amazing and the battle will keep you on the edge of your seat. There’s the scene with the exploding wall you might know from the trailer. The spectacular thing is the huge stones that rain down after the explosion. Again, they *feel* heavy and when they fall down on some Uruk-hai, it really hurts. This is definitely the biggest set piece in the film – but it’s not my favourite scene. That comes later. Oh, and before the battle actually starts, Jackson shows children being prepared for the battle. It’s a simple yet effective way to show the dispair of the people. An army that has to send its kids to the front line is probably the most impressive symbol of a hopeless situation. But you don’t have to become all depressed. Disrupting the doom are some comic relief moments from Gimli. The funniest scene has him just standing behind the wall. You only see his helmet (they made him a bit smaller than he should be but never mind) which causes some much needed laughter. I wouldn’t have liked “The Two Towers” being ironic, but a little humor is most welcome.

That leads me to the last thread: Pippin and Merry. The beginning of their story is very rough. There is actually an intestine visible when the Uruk-hai kill each other in a frenzy. “The Two Towers” is tougher and rougher than “Fellowship.” That PG-13-rating is really hard to swallow. There’s a lot of R-material in this film. I personally think violence fits the story and atmosphere, but this is not for kiddies. Jackson shouldn’t care though. One can clearly see how much fun he had with those scenes of carnage.

Later, the two hobbits flee into the forrest and meet Treebeard. I really like this tree-guy. His nose, his eyes, his “skin”, his voice. All perfect. If you see a wide shot with him and other Ents, they appear to be the most CG-ish of all characters. I guess leafs are hard to animate and the color green is tough for the effects-people. However, that’s not bad because the forrest looks terrific and the Ents are wacky guys. When they set out for Isengard, my favourite scene begins. This is the “nature strikes back” scene and seeing Saruman watching his army being blown away by some trees made me smile. The almost biblical flood afterwards has a clensing effect after all the dirt and foulness we’ve witnessed. Wonderful scene.

Now to Gollum. He’s the best CG-creature I’ve ever seen. There are moments, when you clearly see that he’s digital (for example when he catches a fish), but the major feeling is the one of being impressed. Before our eyes, a couple of pixels become an important character. I’m already heartbroken if I have to read comparisons with Jar-Jar or Dobby. Gollum might also be a little nag, but he’s way more complex. When did you ever see an artificial creature having a schizophrenic conversation with itselfr Over a couple of minutes, Gollum actually argues with himself. Either you accept this, or not. If you don’t, you’re perhaps not really into fantasy movies to start with.

Gollum is the CG-highlight. Others include my favourite Balrog in his early scene, the cave trolls, the explosion at Helm’s Deep, the attack on Isengard, Treebeard – oh and the oliphants. They are majestic. At that point in the movie, they are almost too much because they don’t much serve the plot. But the sight is impressive – and I always prefer “too much” to “not enough”. As in Fellowship, the backgrounds are stunning. New Zealand once again becomes Middle Earth. The difference to something like “Attack of the Clones” is the fact, that Jackson filmed real landscapes and added the buildings. That gives the image the depth it needs. Even if you don’t like the war mongering in The Two Towers, you’d at least have to acknowledge that this is a very good walking guide through Middle Earth …

Now, briefly, the actors: Sean Astin has more to do and shines. Elijah Wood appears a lot less than in part one but he’s good. The other two hobbits have less gags than in “Fellowship” – and it works. This time around, the jokes go to John Rhys-Davies who’s funny as Gimli and impressive as the voice of Treebeard. Orlando Bloom was better in “Fellowship.” He has one or two wooden lines and is less fancy with his tool – the bow that is. But he’s still good. Viggo Mortensen was probably the best man in the film. If Fellowship was Frodo’s quest, The Two Towers is Aragorns. And Viggo does a good job portraying that. On the other hand, Ian McKellen was reduced. He’s stiffer than in part one and apart from 2 or 3 funny lines, he only has some heavy dialogue. Cate Blanchet has only a cameo and Liv Tyler was less distracting than I thought. Her scenes are still rather useless.

Bernard Hill was grand. Sometimes I had the feeling he’s playing captain of the Titanic again and steering his ship Rohan into doom. Miranda Otto was also good. There were lots of discussion about the “love triangle”. It’s not happing actually because Eowyn sees that Aragorn loves Arwen. The few glances of Miranda Otto speak volumes and were better than any love relation a lesser director would have attempted to put more estrogen in the picture. I guess the changes of the female characters will be the most talked about among Tolkien purists. For me, they felt right. Also something to discuss: The movie ends before the book does. It ends when Gollum leads the hobbits to a grisly fate … to “her” (he pronounces it deliciously).

To sum things up, “The Two Towers” is the movie event 2002. A colleague of mine said, women won’t like it. Well, that might be sexist. I’d rather say geeks (and there are some women among those) will particularly enjoy it. It’s an epic war movie full of amazing visuals and astonishing power. It is not a light movie. It’s the evil stepchild of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” One cannot exist without the other. “Fellowship” did not only introduce the characters, it also remains a counterpoint to “The two Towers.” When I left the cinema I felt beaten and exhausted. And for that, Peter Jackson, I thank you.

Rating: A