Starring: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Bernard Hill, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Brad Dourif
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Parental Notes: Although the violence in “The Two Towers” is not particularly graphic, it is too intense for young children. However, fantasy-minded preteens and teens will no doubt enjoy it.
Holiday time is here again, and with it another installment of “The Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson’s epic three-film adaptation of the novel by J. R. R. Tolkien. “The Two Towers” picks up where last year’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” left off, and with almost no recap at all. Those who barely remember the first film would be well advised to rent it before venturing forth to see the second.
In short, at the end of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the diverse group escorting Frodo (Elijah Wood) in his quest to destroy the One Ring was split. Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin), his gardener, headed off alone for Mordor to destroy the Ring. Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), Frodo’s cousins and close friends, were captured by monstrous Uruk-Hai, and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) set out to rescue them. Boromir was dead, having died trying to save Merry and Pippin, and Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellan) had fallen into a crevasse protecting the Fellowship from a demonic Balrog.
As a result, “The Two Towers” has to juggle several storylines: Frodo and Sam’s attempt to get to Mordor; Merry and Pippin’s attempts to escape from the Uruk-Hai; and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli’s hunt for them. There are new characters as well; the Ents, mobile and sentient trees who act as shepherds of the forest; the people and King of Rohan, under siege by wild men and orcs; and Faramir (David Wenham), Boromir’s brother, who (in a departure from the book) is at least as tempted by the Ring as his brother was.
With one or two exceptions, the film captures the emotional story of the book remarkably well. There are numerous deletions, of course, and a number of major changes to the plot, but nearly all of the characters are brought to life perfectly. Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), corrupt advisor to the King of Rohan, is as slimy and revolting on screen as in the book, but almost pitiable at the same time. Eowyn (Miranda Otto), niece of the king of Rohan and a valiant swordswoman, is a match for any of the men in the film in courage, and although she is underused in “The Two Towers,” she will have a larger part in the next film if Jackson follows the text of the book.
The flaws in the movie, such as they are, come mostly from moments when Jackson and the other writers lose faith in Tolkien’s storytelling ability. The people of Rohan in the book are a brave warrior people who are fearless and great in their simplicity; in the film they are peasants who tremble at the thought of battle but rally around Aragorn and their King, going from helpless and untrained warriors to brave heroes making a last stand with no transition. The climactic battle scene between armies of Uruk-Hai and the few hundred men Rohan is able to muster is almost exactly like the book, although inexplicably Jackson chose to have a company of Elves appear with improbable speed and no narrative necessity.
The most surprising change in many ways is to be found in Faramir; in the text he is everything Boromir should have been but was not: courageous and a great warrior but without his brother’s arrogance and inability to see other people’s points of view. Here, he might as well be Boromir all over again; the only difference is that rather than trying to keep the Ring for himself, he tries to send it to Gondor. There seems to be little point to this alteration; by making Faramir’s relationship with Frodo and the Ring so similar to Boromir’s, Jackson misses the opportunity to showcase the things about Boromir that were noble and good, and to show that Aragorn isn’t the only human who can resist the call of the Ring.
These alterations will probably not bother anyone but intense, purist fans of the book. Everything else about the film is superb, from the acting to the special effects. The effects in particular are noteworthy for their quality. Gollum in particular is amazing; wasted and corrupt, he was once something like Frodo, but he was twisted by the Ring into a skeletally thin, clammy wreck of a creature. Voiced by Andy Serkis, but completely computer-generated, he is one of the most sympathetic characters in the film. To help the other actors react to him correctly and to aid in making him look real, Serkis played the part in a motion capture suit, which allowed the effects crew to give Gollum the right movement and body language. Although he never seems quite as real as Frodo or Sam, Gollum is far more believable than a Dobby or a Jar-Jar Binks.
Moviegoers in search of ‘the rest of the story’ will no doubt be frustrated by the not-quite-an-ending “The Two Towers” has, but it is a delight to spend another three hours with the characters we grew to know and love in the first film. The epic battle sequences are thrilling, and the monsters, heroes, and sheer beauty of the story are a joy to behold.