Our good friend Sarumann had a chance to see The Two Towers, at the now infamous, MTV screening last night in Los Angeles, CA. He was kind enough to send us two reviews. One spoiler free and one full of spoilers!
Non-Spoiler Review (okay, maybe some light spoilers)
The lights go down, the picture comes up, and as the title “The Lord of the Rings” comes across the screen, you know that you are in for three more hours of one of the greatest stories ever told.
The tale of The Two Towers is one of battle, inner turmoil, and conquering demons, both inside and out. The audience is taken on three separate yet intricately connected stories, each one leading to the same fate: the final battle against Sauron and the hosts of Mordor.
Frodo and Sam continue their journey east with the creature Gollum as their guide. Gollum is a breathtaking feat of CG animation and incredible acting. Andy Serkis lends a child-like quality to Gollum that makes him both fearsome and pitiful at the same time. As the Ring takes a closer hold on Frodo, Sam’s role as protector becomes all the clearer.
Merry and Pippin, escaping the orcs in the confusion of battle, find themselves among the Ents, the tree-shepherds, led by Treebeard. While the Ents seem a bit goofy-looking, they are certainly a force to be reckoned with. And Merry and Pippin transcend their roles as comic relief from the first film, and become a driving force in the battle against Saruman.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gilmli, hot on the trail of Merry and Pippin (with some scenes that finally show Aragorn’s abilities as a Ranger), are brought into a much greater peril. The kingdom of Rohan has been infiltrated by Saruman via the evil Grima Wormtongue. It is up to Aragorn to claim his destiny as King of Gondor and fight alongside the weakened King Theoden of Rohan against the forces of Isengard.
With the help of the reborn Gandalf the White, Grima is ostracized, and the influence of Saruman exorcised from Rohan and King Theoden.
The Two Towers takes us on three separate journeys, yet each one is dependent upon the other. While information is given to us at a feverish pace, there is never a sense of information overload or confusion. The stories never skip a beat. They never halt to gaze at the scenery (which is breathtaking). It is cinema storytelling at its finest. Each character (both old and new) is given their moment to shine.
And shine they do. The performances from the most minor of characters to the largest of leading roles are superb. The battles are the most epic that I have ever seen. There is action without limits, and characters such as Legolas show us why Elves were the greatest of all beings.
As Merry and Pippin come into their own, Gimli is the one who takes the helm as comic relief. From a rather funny rant about Dwarf women to eloquent screams that are equal to any form of “Lemme attim!” Gimli brings the right amount of levity without being over the top. There is one exception when one joke about his height, while given a terrific first delivery, is revisited a few times with less and less humor.
The strengths of The Two Towers greatly outnumbers its weaknesses. There are many more alterations to the original text in this film than the firstoa few of which are sure to spark heated debates among fans for years to come. And while the alterations range from minor to drastic, the spirit is still the same, and carries through the entire film.
This is a fantastic second chapter of the trilogy, and the anticipation for the third and final chapter next year is almost too much to bear. I can guarantee that this fan will be revisiting this movie quite a few times before it leaves theaters.
To compare The Two Towers to its predecessor, The Fellowship of the Ring is like comparing two equally-sized pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. One may be more aesthetically pleasing than the other. One may seem to make more sense than the other. But, when placed together, they create something more incredible than the individual pieces.
A lot of anticipation has been built up over this second installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and this movie does not disappoint in the least. Without skipping a beat, we are brought into the Misty Mountains, with Gandalf’s defiant declaration of “You shall not pass!” hanging in the air like an echoey whisper, the screams, battle clashes, and cries of desperation growing louder until we are transported like a flash of light back to Khazad-Dum, and Gandalf is once again standing against the Balrog. We relive those last moments before Gandalf’s fall (albeit slightly abbreviated), and then follow his freefall after the Balrog into the depths of Moria.
The rest of the movie follows the same feverish pace to bring us all up to speed, as three separate plotlines now need to be established: Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor, Merry and Pippin in the snare of the Uruk-hai, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli hot on their trail. On top of that, the storyline of Saruman’s impending assault on Rohan and the weakening of the throne of Edoras are all established…and all of this in the first half hour. Information comes so quickly and relentlessly, that I felt myself struggling to keep up.
But once the film settles into its own pace, the intense storytelling begins. Each character (both old and new) is given their moment to shine. The relationship between Sam and Frodo is tested. Legolas and Gilmli develop their quickly-building friendship. Theoden transforms from a beaten old man to a valiant leader. Gandalf becomes the shining light of destiny.
But, this movie is truly Aragorn’s moment to shine. The King to Be is forced to face some personal demons and come into his own as the Leader of Men. He can no longer hide behind the Elves or his own frail apprehension. The desperate times of the War of the Ring have begun. It is his time to stand up and be counted among the heroes of battle and accept the mantle of the leader he is destined to be. By the end of the film, Aragorn has stepped up and claimed his destiny.
While Aragorn has the strongest character arc of any in the film, the character that struck me that most was Gollum. The tortured creature of whom we only get a few fleeting glimpses in the first film now takes center stage in Frodo’s storyline. While there are times that the CG elements of Gollum show forth, and others where he blends so seamlessly, that I found myself wondering if there was, in fact, some very advanced animatronic work going on. And, when it comes to CG character effects, that is a huge compliment. Gollum’s true performance is in subtlety. With a twitch of the lip or a lift of an eye, Gollum can transform for Slinker to Stinker instantaneously. Andy Serkis’ performance brings a quality to Gollum that is almost child-like. Gollum’s inner turmoil is brought forth so unfettered, that I truly understood the “Pity of Bilbo.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Treebeard, an Ent: one of the ages-old tree shepherds. Of all of the CG characters, Treebeard and the Ents seem to fall a bit below the mark. Their bodies are made up primarily of legs, and Merry and Pippin seem to spend about 80% of the film riding in Treebeard’s branches while he takes them aimlessly around Fangorn Forest. He finally brings them to the Entmoot, where we encounter other Ents, each one looking just a bit more cartoony than the next. However, once sprung into action, the Ents truly steal the show with one of the most fantastic battles in the film.
That battle is second only to Helm’s Deep, which is consistently intercut with the other developing plotlines, while never losing its own momentum. The desperation of the people of Rohan comes through in a number of scenes leading up to the battle (the most poignant one for me is a scene of confused children attempting to brandish weapons). Even before the battle begins, the entire effort seems hopeless. Until, we are met with a subplot that was not in the books at all: Elrond’s decision to bring the Elves into the War of the Ring. I am still trying to figure out if I like this change or not, and I know that this will be the subject of many a heated debate among fans. I honestly think I need to see this movie a few more times before I say for sure how I feel about it, as it plays well despite how it seems to go in direct opposition of the general theme that this is a war for Men to fight.
In spite of this drastic alteration, the battle is a spectacle unlike I have ever seen on film before. Armies flow like seas of people over the battlefield. The Orcs bring with them huge numbers and large amounts of weaponry, and the men and elves counter with fury and passion. The battle is so epically intense, that I found myself wondering how this movie got away with a PG-13 rating.
By the end of the battle, when all hope seems lost, and the people of Rohan are cornered, Aragorn convinces Theoden to ride out in one last glorious attack. As Helm’s Horn is sounded, Theoden cries “Forth, Eorlingas!” and leads a spectacular charge which had the entire audience cheering. The men on horseback plow through orcs like a knife. And, if things can’t get better, Aragorn spies Gandalf atop Shadowfax, leading a charge with Eomer and the Rohirrim with the rising sun behind them. The tide of the battle turns in a spectacular display of power and destruction. The battle effects have come a long way in the year since we were first introduced to them with the Battle of the Last Alliance. At this rate, the Battle of Pelennor Fields in the next film will be mind-blowing.
But, there is still a third battle that is shown in this film. We also see the sacking of Osgiliath, the border city of Gondor. In a change from the book, Frodo’s encounter with Faramir ends very differently, with Faramir taking Frodo and Sam prisoner, and forcing them to return with him to Gondor for the explicit purpose of using the Ring to turn the tide of battle. Again, it is a very drastic change, but one that adds much more dramatic tension. As Frodo and Sam are taken into Osgiliath, we are brought face-to-face with the Nazgul on their new winged steeds, and they look ten times more horrifying than before. Frodo’s building conflict with his resistance to the Ring comes to a heart-wrenching climax, as Frodo finds himself in front of the Nazgul yet again, and this time offers the Ring to them. It is only Sam’s interference that saves him, and Faramir witnesses this and has his change of heartoof course, this is also after Sam gives him a very harsh lecture on how Boromir gave in to the Ring.
By the end, Frodo and Sam are led again into Mordor by Gollum. And it is this final scene that will break the heart, as Gollum had earlier fought with his own inner demons and come out triumphant, trusting Frodo to be a good and kind person. However, when he is captured by Faramir, everything comes crashing down, and Gollum’s dark side takes over once again. In this last scene, Gollum fights with himself one more time, only to have the dark side win this round, transforming him into the truly devious stinker that will lead Frodo and Sam to the lair of Shelob.
While this film is stronger in certain areas than Fellowship, as well as weaker in some areas, it is the perfect complement to the first, and an excellent continuation of the story. The Two Towers is the second piece of the great jigsaw puzzle that is The Lord of the Rings. There are scenes in this that will enhance others in the first, and there are scenes in the first that lend themselves to others in this film. The Two Towers stands on its own very well, but when coupled with Fellowship, the whole becomes something even greater. This only makes the year-long wait for The Return of the King and the final chapter that much more unbearable.