A NEW POWER IS RISING.
So here’s the middle child of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. A middle child is likely to feel like they never get any attention from the parents, but this one is equal to the others. It’s just as grand. It’s just as exciting. And it’s just as intelligent. One of the outstanding features of Jackson’s work is how he and his fellow screenwriters pick and choose parts from all three books and put them in the movie they consider should have that part, without losing respect of the author’s original intentions. It takes true understanding of the books, as well as cojones.
The movie begins where the first chapter ended. We follow Gandalf (Ian McKellen) as he falls down an abyss, still fighting the Balrog monster, in a sequence that is such a special-effects extravaganza one wonders how they are gonna top that in the next three hours. Not knowing that Gandalf might still be alive, the Fellowship of the Ring has split into three groups. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are headed for Mount Doom with the Ring and they learn that a pale, sinewy, sinister little creature called Gollum is following them. They know that Gollum owned the Ring before it ended up in Bilbo’s hands and that he is prepared to do virtually anything to get it back… but he also knows the way to Mordor and the hobbits reluctantly decide to use him as a guide.
Meantime, two other hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), are captured by monsters known as the Uruk-hai, but they manage to escape and make their way into Fangorn forest. There, they run into the mighty Treebeard (don’t call him a tree) and try to talk the towering ents into waging war against Saruman (Christopher Lee). The last of the three groups, the one with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom), arrive in the kingdom of Rohan and help the people there fight Saruman’s terrifying army in the battle of Helm’s Deep. The two towers cast a long shadow over the proceedings, the towers that unite Mordor and Isengard, the places where evil rules.
Secretly struggling with another persona
The CGI is very impressive in all three movies, but this is the part where I should delve a little deeper. The creature Gollum is the epitome of the achievement by visual effects maestro Richard Taylor and his people. Utterly convincing, this fellow feels like a natural member of the cast. That’s because an actor, Andy Serkis, first created the character and how he should move, behave and talk, and then became the actual model for the artists. This detailed approach is necessary because Gollum is a complex character.
Throughout the film, we follow him as he secretly struggles with his other persona, Sméagol – it’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing. We are supposed to invest our emotions in this character and in order for that to happen the creature must look believable, not like some Jar Jar Binks. The CGI wizards certainly get away with it.
Another impressive achievement effects-wise is the charge of the ents on Isengard. Don’t fuck with trees. It’s easy to dwell on the action sequences, because the story drags a bit when it turns to the romantic aspects involving Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn. There are times when one can’t help but wonder why those sequences need to be so solemn and… well, childish. It’s the sort of romance ten-year-old girls dream of.
The movie ends on a downbeat, but thrilling, note. We realize that things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get better. I’ll have some more, please.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 2002-U.S. 179 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh. Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Stephen Sinclair. Novel: J.R.R. Tolkien. Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie. Music: Howard Shore. Costume Design: Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor. Visual Effects: Richard Taylor, and others. Cast: Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett… John Rhys-Davies, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, Christopher Lee, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis.
Trivia: Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli the dwarf, also provided the voice of Treebeard. The alternate version of this film runs 223 min. Followed by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).
Oscars: Best Visual Effects, Sound Editing. BAFTA: Best Costume Design, Special Visual Effects.
Last word: “The technology is leapfrogging ahead so quickly that we couldn’t have done every single shot that you see in ‘The Two Towers’ last year. At the time we were doing ‘The Fellowship’ it just wouldn’t have been possible. I mean, a version of it would have been possible but not what you actually see now. We have little piece of Gollum in the first film, little teasing the blips of Gollum in the mines. That was our R&D kind of prototype Gollum. We basically threw him away at the beginning of this year because we were able to do so much better. We rebuilt Gollum from scratch – using new software that had been written, new software that our guys had written – and improved him a lot.” (Jackson, IGN)