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THE LORD OF THE RINGS - THE TWO TOWERS (2002)
The opening scene of The Two Towers provides an outstanding, yet very brief, taste of action, cinematography, and special effects, only to be matched (and far surpassed) in the final hour of the film. The stunning events of the third hour of The Two Towers are undoubtedly the centerpiece of the film, and while the first two hours serve finely as story development, they primarily build anticipation for the final hour, which mostly depicts the battle of Helm's Deep. More than anything else, the first two hours merely tease and torment the patient audience. It's a shame that such a gap has to exist between the first minute and the final hour, but I take no reservations in saying that despite how you feel about the first two hours of the film, the final hour will make the wait entirely worth its while.
As stated, the road to the battle of Helm's Deep can be enormously long and painful for any viewer aware of what breathtaking scenes await towards the end of the film. Perhaps The Two Towers' biggest fault is in its own accomplishments; the first two thirds of the film are well shot, well paced, and they necessarily and adequately progress the storyline, but when compared to the spectacular final hour, the first two hours seem uneventful and insignificant. However, to be fair, I feel that it's simply impossible to create two hours of film that could appropriately lead into the battle of Helm's Deep. It's difficult to comprehend how such scenes came to exist in the rather short amount of time Peter Jackson has had to create six hours (so far) of finished film. The battle of Helm's Deep is simply unreal; it's unlike any event that has come to pass since fantasy films gained, and regained, popularity.
As assumed, The Two Towers begins where The Fellowship of the Ring ended. The majority of the film follows four separate groups and their story lines: Frodo and Sam; Aragorn and Legolas, Merry and Pippin, and Saruman and his army. The performances live well up to the standards of the first film, with a particularly notable performance from Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, whose role is significantly larger in The Two Towers. Aragorn satisfies a thirst for someone to root for, a thirst that was left partly unquenched in Fellowship. It's much easier to root for Aragorn than it is for Frodo; Aragorn has many more qualities of a leading man, a soldier, and a hero. More than once did the audience, filled mostly with academy voters, applaud the heroics of Aragorn. Gollum also shines in a much-welcomed large role, due to extremely realistic computer animation, and a fine performance from Andy Serkis, upon which the animation was modeled. In Fellowship, it was appropriate to consider Gollum one of the many great 'features' of the film. However, here he is more of a leading character and a 'star,' and his convincing dual-personality, stabbing voice, and well-choreographed body movements make him consistently eye-grabbing and the center of focus of nearly every scene in which he appears.
As was The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers is a visual delight. Those who have seen Fellowship are no doubt familiar with the beauty of the landscapes of New Zealand. The cinematography is, again, one of the best aspects of the film. The swooshing camera movements that follow the armies and horsemen throughout the fields are extremely satisfying in this post-Matrix era. The shots of the ascending enemy-laden ladders in the battle of Helm's Deep are terrifying and chillingly gorgeous all at once. The visual effects take an appropriate leap forward from those of the first film. While the visual effects in Fellowship were outstanding, the battle of Helm's Deep provides for the best application of CGI since the rippling waves of The Matrix's 'Bullet Time.' The battle of Helm's Deep features absolutely awe-inspiring and seamless integration of acting, stunts, and computer animation. Each orc seems to have its own personality, demonstrated in its movements and visual features. The masses of armies fight with strategy and true character, which I imagine is much harder to accomplish than animating thousands of identical clone troopers. The only problem I have with the visual department is the look of Gimli, the Treebeard. Gimli's visual features seem a bit childish and uninspired, inconsistent with the standards set by the rest of the film. But again, there is simply nothing that compares to the battle of Helm's Deep. George Lucas and the Wachowski brothers certainly have not created anything that approaches the grandness and magnificence of The Two Towers' final hour, and I doubt they will do so anytime soon.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, I had a few minor problems with Howard Shore's score. While I thought it was gorgeous and it established several very memorable themes, I don't think it handled the sentimental scenes (opening in the Shire, Gandalf's passing) properly. I thought it caved in to the melodrama a bit too much, resembling the emotions from James Horner's Titanic. However, I believe that The Two Towers requires the type of score which Howard Shore accomplishes best: dark, continuous, and unrelenting, as demonstrated in Se7en and Silence of the Lambs. The theme used in many of the action scenes in Fellowship (low brass, six notes repeated with a rest in between) is much more present in The Two Towers, appropriately. A brand new theme is also unveiled, the theme for Rohan, a prominent kingdom in Middle Earth. Rohan's theme is played more often than any other melody in the film, underscoring most of the memorable and heroic scenes with great effect. Howard Shore undeniably exhibits his skills as an 'A-list' composer, and with a possible double Oscar nomination this year for The Two Towers and Gangs of New York, he could get propelled to the very top of the 'A-list,' right beside John Williams and Hans Zimmer in terms of demand.
If not the picture itself, there should be a way to recognize and award the battle of Helm's Deep. The battle sequence alone represents successful filmmaking in its highest form. The choreography of the battle, the visual effects, the pacing, acting, cinematography, and music, all work together in perfection to achieve grand filmmaking which is as entertaining and enjoyable as film can be. For this very reason, no one, whether a fan of Fellowship or not, should miss The Two Towers.
*** This comment may contain spoilers ***
The Two Towers can only be explained in one word, beautiful. This film left me breathless. I was hoping for a film that could stand in the same depths of the Fellowship of the Ring, and I must say that it has surpassed the film completely. I will have a hard time watching the Fellowship and seeing the ending, knowing there is so much more waiting.
Let's start with Gollum. Gollum gave an astonishing performance. The poor misunderstood beast, or the darkened soul creature whose cares are only based on the One Ring. The performance given in CGI is at times very human. The facial expressions given could strangely give this character a personality as you would see in any great actor. Gollum's voice is still haunting, even when the beast appears to be the loving guide to the dark gates of Mordor. For these reasons and more, Gollum has become my favorite character in the film, replacing Legolas in the Fellowship.
On the other side of Middle Earth we see Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. I have to say that the dark times of this movie are at times overbearing, and saddening. There is a perfect mix of humor in the film given by the characters Gimli, and Legolas, while still keeping the viewer in understanding that these are very darkened times. Aragorn's performance is outstanding. He has proven that he can be put on an A-List of actors, and deserves appraise for his performance.
Gandalf "the White" in this film was a twist. We remember the friendly Gandalf The Grey in the Fellowship being a kind elderly wizard. Shouting off fireworks for the children of the shire, and smoking "leaf" as explained in the novel. There are no cute scenes with the new White Wizard. No fireworks, or pipes. Just a Wizard that knows the daunting task ahead, and the quest seems to have taken hold of the great wizard.
Very dark are the times for Frodo, and Samwise. Gollum seams to give Frodo hope, as the two ring bearers can associate the pains of the One Ring. Frodo gives an amazing performance this time around as well. It seams that the Ring of power has taken hold of Frodo, and our hero is slipping. But the surprise was aimed at Samwise. Proving that Sam is the definition of a true best friend. Even at times when it seems there is no hope for the troubled trio, it seams that Sam brings hope to the moment. This is what keeps the Frodo's story this time around even more extraordinary, is the hope that is there, even when all odds point to despair.
Merry and Pippin's story is very odd initially. The Ents in the story are very wise and newly troubled creatures from the amazing mind of Tolkien. This story goes back to cut scenes during the worries of the rest of Middle Earth, and gives us a feeling of hope, in the troubled times of Aragorn and the others. The Ents were very well done CGI wise, but it was there personality that moved the audience. They are curiously wise, and well spoken and give the impression of an elderly college Professor. Their story is eventually given a wonderful opportunity, and for those of us who know the story, know that greatness is upon them.
This movie honestly moved me further than I thought any film could. I could see my face and the emotion I felt as I was watching this mammoth film. Peter Jackson has truly given us all a gift of a magnificent. This story has captivated my heart, and the film has taken my breath away. There is no words that can express the greatness of this film.
*** This comment may contain spoilers ***
The Two Towers is the second book in Tolkien's masterpiece trilogy of invented English mythology and the second film in Peter Jackson's film trilogy based on the original mid-20th century novels.
The Fellowship has physically disbanded, though through its bonds of purpose and friendship, remains intimately connected. Two Towers follows the members of the fellowship through their continuing, and increasingly dark and dangerous, adventures as they each do their part (whether accidental or intentionally) to try to save all that is good in Middle Earth from the power-hungry eye of Sauron, Lord of Mordor. Frodo (Wood) and Samwise (Aston) are lead by their captive Smeagol/Golem (Serkus) to Mordor, but Gollem's intentions are, at best, suspicious.
The ring has begun to taint Frodo's mind and soul, and rage and hate make fleeting and uncharacteristic appearances in this previously innocent and light-hearted Hobbit. He has already begun to recognize that he and Gollem have more in common than anybody would care to admit. His profound friendship with Sam is very nicely portrayed in this film and is as central in the film as it is in Tolkien's original work. Smeagol/Gollem is also treated sympathetically and his ambiguity and the polarity of his personalities are key to his role as an unpredictable element.
The story also introduces three major human characters- Theodin (Hill), Eowyn (Otto), and Farromir - all of whom will play important parts in the Fellowship's mission as the story progresses. Two important, but less often present characters are also introduced – Grima Wormtongue (Dourif) and Eomer (Urban). As I discussed in my review of the Fellowship, the casting and acting are perfect, and the new additions are no exception.
Andy Serkis and the animation team's Gollem becomes a major character in The Two Towers. Serkis contributions to the character are profound, and very nicely reflected in the special features for the Two Towers. I look forward to seeing more work from this performer and I sincerely hope that he does not go over-looked or remain type-cast.
In the first film, during a valiant and successful attempt to prevent harm from coming to Frodo, Merry and Pippin (Monaghan and Boyd) are carried off by Saruman's army, narrowly escaping into Fangorn forest when the Uruk'Hai party is slain by an exiled band of Rohirim lead by Eomer. The hobbits manage to wind up in the hands of an Ent – a wise old walking tree and steward of the forest, who they try to convince to join in the fight against Saruman and Sauron.
Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas continue their dogged attempt to rescue Merry and Pippin, and an old friend unexpectedly re-enters the story as several components of the Fellowship come together to devise an improbable defense of the land of Rohan against the overwhelming force of Mordor.
Like The Fellowship, the Two Towers manages to capture the essence of Tolkien's story and characters while rearranging portions for better cinematic continuity and emphasizing interpretive connections which are not wholly obvious in Tolkien's writing. Two elements keep Frodo from the brink of abject insanity – Sam and Smeagol. Smeagol's addiction to the ring allows Frodo to sympathize with him in a way that only an addict can understand. Sam's pure and clear-headed love for Frodo offers a sane and reliable anchor. Other members of the Fellowship help each other in similar ways as Gimli, Aragorn and Legolas prepare for battle and Gandalf works hard to repair the damaged bonds between Rohan and Gondor.
The darkest and most uncomfortable of the three movies, The Two Towers is also, in some ways, the most powerful. The themes are morality, sacrifice, friendship and, as always, the nature and just use of power. Many have commented on Tolkien's religious beliefs and their permeation throughout the LOTR, but it is worth noting that the great scholar uses components of many different cultures and belief systems to create the world he portrays, and – from a strict Roman Catholic perspective (Tolkien's religion of choice) - there are many more blasphemies in LOTR than there are catholic metaphors and symbols. In the Two Towers, the internal power struggle between good and evil gains momentum within the fellowship's principal protagonists. As with the fellowship, the art direction, score and soundscaping subtly add great depth to the entire experience.
The story and its themes are in no way subordinated to the technical merit of the film, but its methods are still very noteworthy. Gollem is not an animated insertion who intrudes in every scene, but rather, a fully developed central character around whom Frodo and Sam's story arc revolves. The sets and landscapes, just like the Fellowship before it, are immersive and in every way as sensually real as if they had been built thousands of years ago and weathered by exposure to the elements of Middle Earth. The battle scenes are exciting, dramatic and believable. And the special features on the Special Edition box set explain how all of this was accomplished with lucidity.