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The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers
Stars: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Sir Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Liv Tyler, David Wenham, Christopher Lee and Hugo Weaving
Director/Scriptwriter: Peter Jackson
Music: Howard Shore
New Line Cinema
Running Time: 175 minutes
Rating: PG 13

In the final minutes of The Two Towers, certainly one of the most thrilling movies of the last year, Sam the Hobbit speaks of the "great stories of old . . . the stories that make you believe there could be good in the world. . . the stories that matter." It's a funny speech because he's wondering if anyone will ever tell a story about him and Frodo, and of course that's the story we're watching. I remarked to my friend Garth afterward, who loved the movie as much as I did, that the speech felt like a not-so-subtle rebuke to Hollywood and the stories we're usually offered. "The whole movie is a not-so-subtle rebuke to Hollywood," Garth retorted. As usual, Garth was right.

I fear that my review of The Two Towers will sound like the ruminations of a blathering fool. It's difficult to write a review of a movie you
positively love and not sound somewhat foolish. It's like talking about that special girl you've fallen in love with, when kissing her is the
greatest feeling in the world and you can't imagine ever quarreling. You want to go on and on about her, but few people really want to listen. So if you choose to skip this review and just go see the movie, I certainly won't blame you. I promise the movie itself won't disappoint.

The Two Towers picks up where last year's Fellowship of the Ring left off. Boromir and Gandalf are dead, and the rest of the fellowship have been split up into three groups. Frodo the ringkeeper and his trusty friend Sam have been forced to continue the long journey to Mordor by themselves. The other two hobbits, Merry and Pippin, are captured; and Aragorn, Legolas the Elf, and Gimli the Dwarf are out to save them. Meanwhile, Saruman the White Wizard continues to mass his nefarious army of orcs so that he might wipe out the race of men from Middle Earth and become even more powerful than the dark lord Sauron.

The Two Towers is certainly the most entertaining of Tolkien's trilogy, but it also presents the most difficulties for any movie adaptation. With four significant and parallel storylines already in place as well as a host of new characters--Gollum assumes a much larger role, and we also meet the Ents, Wormtongue, Eowyn, and the other people of Rohan--tracking each story without confusing the audience poses a great challenge.

Fortunately, the writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and writer/director Peter Jackson are more than up to the challenge. Their seamless interweaving is masterful; every story receives its due, and even those unfamiliar with the book should find little difficulty following along. The conflicts build in intensity and sweep the audience along in their epic grandeur. Three hours flies by before you even know it, and you're left wanting more, wanting to know what will happen to the brave and the evil, the good and the horrible, these wonderfully fascinating characters whose world we've entered.

The acting in The Two Towers seems of a different order than we saw in Fellowship of the Ring. I was especially impressed with Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn. I dare say that some women will swoon as he leads his forces into battle, and most men will envy his striking charisma. John Rhys-Davies as Gimli is even more comfortable in his role of comic relief, brightening the story even when it's darkest. Miranda Otto, as Eowyn, exhibits both beauty and strength, providing a worthy heroine in this otherwise masculine tale. And Sean Astin as Sam is a perfect companion. Only Elijah Wood as Frodo seems overwhelmed by the story. He has the unenviable task of portraying an interior struggle, as the ring's power begins to take hold. Unfortunately, he's not quite up to the task, and his pained reaction shots have the same emptiness they did in the trilogy's first installment.

Making up for that and then some is Peter Jackson's brilliant direction. Not only is the story coherent and powerful, but it's beautifully shot. The New Zealand Tourist Board could not have asked for a better advertisement than this film, as Jackson captures the striking vistas, the awe-inspiring mountains, and the grandeur of the open space. But we're not just seeing pretty pictures--the cinematography (courtesy of Andrew Lesnie) propels the story along. The scope of the tale is matched by the scope of the visuals, creating an even more intense experience. When our heroes ride across the open field, the camera rides with them, creating a thrilling rush in the audience that's impossible to describe. When Frodo and Sam trod through the marshes, we feel that desolation of the landscape. Add in Howard Shore's majestic score, and you have a truly great cinematic achievement.

Most impressive of all, however, are the film's dynamic special effects. In particular, high praise must go to the creators of Gollum and Treebeard the Ent. It would have been so easy to get these critical characters wrong, and yet the team of special effects wizards, led by Eric Sainden and Daniel Falconer, perfectly capture their elusive qualities. Gollum is a powerful presence, and his interactions with Frodo and Sam belie his computer-generated nature. Treebeard is that amazing combination of sentience and plant, and the march of the Ents, probably my favorite passage in the book, is breathtaking. I can't leave out the incredible battle at Helm's Deep, which is one of the most impressive spectacles you're likely to see in years. More importantly, it's not empty spectacle, it's not a bunch of effects designed merely to show off. Rather, they are integral to the story, and when the Savior comes in a flash of blinding light, it is genuinely awe-inspiring.

I choose that word 'Savior' carefully. While Tolkien made a point of decrying his friend C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles for their allegorizing, it's hard to miss the obvious Christian symbolism on display here in The Two Towers. I have either misremembered the book or Peter Jackson has chosen to highlight what Tolkien only hinted at. The themes of resurrection, sin and redemption, and victory of light over darkness are clear and powerful, and increased my appreciation of this already breathtaking movie.

Ahh, yes. I've reached blathering fool mode, so I'll stop. But do yourself and your family and friends a favor. Make a point to see The Two Towers. It is a story reminiscent of the great stories of old. It is a story that matters. 

by J. Robert Parks 12/15/2002

The pulse of the country can now return to normal. The second part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is on the big screen. Most of the cast returns, and there are new faces to add to the journey of Frodo the Hobbit (Elijah Wood)s he tries to return the Ring to Mount Mordor.

One doesn't have to have read this popular book series to figure out what is going on. At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, there was a cliff-hanging cry of, "Let's go kill Orcs." That phrase whetted everyone's appetite until now, when the story resumes. Frodo and Samwise (Sean Astin) are trying to reach Mount Mordor with the aid of a creature called Gollem (Andy Serkis) who once owned the Ring. Such is the Ring's evil power that anyone in close proximity becomes wretchedly selfish and destructive. Gollem resembles a white tree frog, for want of another description, and the actor (aided by computerization) does a remarkable job. No Jar Jar Binks here, but dark pointed teeth with a disposition to match and a habit of talking to itself. Another story has the rest of the Fellowship trying to find Frodo and Samwise (gone in one direction) and Merry and Pippin who were captured by the enemy and taken in another direction. If it weren't for the fact that all of them can see the fiery and bubbling Mount Mordor from time to time, they would be wandering Middle Earth yet. New characters prove to be difficult to persuade to join in the defense like King Theoden (Hill) who is influenced by his counselor Wormtongue (Dourif). You can tell he is bad, his teeth resemble Orc teeth. Theoden's daughter, Eowyn (Otto) is a feisty lass and Wormtongue drools over her. All of this is in preparation for the big battle at Helm's Deep. Humans, dwarves, elves, and various other creatures meet to decide victory.

The Two Towers taken by itself, is one big wind-up to the Helm's Deep battle. This is a dark story, fraught with betrayal, evil, rain, mud and bad food. On the side of Right are a noble few who fight with straight sword, lance, and cleaner armor. On the side of Wrong is a  new breed of creature designed as killing machines. They eat raw meat, have teeth like tigers and keep coming, no matter what.

New alliances are made and broken. Old alliances are remembered and honored. The bright moments in the film are the memories of Aragon (Mortensen) as he thinks of his love, the Elfish princess Arwen. Humor is provided by the antics of Rhys-Davies as the dwarf, Gimli, who is always ready for a fight. This is such a large cast, in my estimation; no single actor stands out, except for Serkis who choreographed the movements of Gollem.Tolkien had causes in his writing, and one was forest preservation. Here, Merry and Pippin find themselves in a forest with trees that talk and walk. Who wouldn't like to be picked up by a large, leafy branch and carried treetop high around the valley? At the same time, Frodo and Samwise are crossing a swamp with water that barely covers the bodies of dead warriors.

In The Two Towers, you can see that Tolkien is using human history---our history---as material. There is a wizard who goes to the dark side, wants all kingdoms for himself, will do anything to achieve this aim. Sound familiar? Just look at the headlines of any daily newspaper.

This is a murky film in that part of the dialogue is about past alliances. In the first film, I felt the audience could follow the story well, but that may not be the case in The Two Towers. Part of the action takes place at night when it is raining and it is difficult to distinguish one person from another. A sword blade flashes. Who did the swinging? Who was the fallen? In a scene where the sun is shining, the audience breathes a sigh of relief.

As for the music, Howard Shore continues the themes that won him an Academy Award for 2001. No Enya to sing songs this time, but we do have "Gollem's Song" by Emiliana Torrini. Just as Peter Jackson filmed three movies one after another, so Shore wrote music for the films, one after another, also quite a feat. The "Riders of Rohan" theme is especially well done. Perhaps, another Oscar nod for the composer this year, too? However, he would, also, have a chance with the soundtrack from Gangs of New York.

The Two Towers, as Part Two, whets one's taste for the final film due Christmas 2003 called Return of the King. After that, director Peter Jackson had better find a hiding place, because fans will be clamoring for more and there are no more Ring trilogies. Jackson has done a fantastic job by filming three major films, one after another. This may set a precedent for future filmmakers. When you have stories and locations---go for it. New Zealand looks so appealing that the tourist industry there must be thriving.

Copyright 2002 Marie Asner
Submitted 12/23/02


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