TORn staffer MrCere (Our Line Party God) had the opportunity to see the Two Towers yesterday. Here’s what he thought:
Dear fellow TORNados – I saw a movie yesterday and wanted to write you all a review as spoiler free as possible. I feel a great fellowship with you and wanted to share as soon and as well as possible. Here is my attempt.
How much can the eye and the mind take in? Is there a point where images and words overload the brain? Like Fellowship Of THe Ring, The Two Towers is a fully loaded, double barrel blast of a three hour film.
The Two Towers probably will require a second viewing, and a third (fourth!) before some viewers (me) can really taste, digest and fathom the experience that the film is. There are moments of brilliance to be sure, moments that some lovers of the movie’s root literature will choke on, and moments of beauty, horror, complete coolness, humor and subtlety that confirm director Peter Jackson as a cinema master.
I must state my personal stand on things Tolkien, both film and book, before diving into the meat of things because as hard as I try, some of my own prejudices will seep into the written word. I hold the book in the highest regard but were I to be the very man in charge of a Rings film, I too would make changes. Books and film are two very different mediums and to tell the best story..well..blah..blah..blah, you know what I mean. In short, I don’t fault the film for being different. I confess too that after watching “Fellowship” I was almost bewildered because my internal voice was busy doing checks and counter checks, analysis and bouncing things around. Deja vu all over again.
So anyway, I actually can’t wait to see what Peter Jackson does post Rings. He is a craftsman and this film has the look and feel of him all over it. Sometimes I just actually laughed out loud not at the humor in the film but at what I was actually seeing on film. The opening made me giggle like it was my junior prom because I was agog at the sheer audacity of the challenge PJ and company decided to tackle when any of a 100 film-making shortcuts might also have told the story. Instead, we see…well, that would be telling. No shortcuts for PJ. How cocky was the man and his team to storyboard this sequence and commit to making it come to life on the screen? Amazing.
VERY MINOR SPOILERS REGARDING STORY STRUCTURE
Our film is a weaving of different plots in different places and probably at different times. We have Sam and Frodo and Gollum, Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli, a bit of Gandalf, a bit of both of the film’s two towers, Elrond and Galadriel and Arwen. Much like the novel, PJ sticks with a plot line and characters, builds some tension and then jumps away to another set of problems barely leaving us time to catch our breath. The jumping effect reminded me very much of the book because it makes the view/reader think “No! Don’t leave,” and moments or paragraphs later we have forgotten what we left and are fully invested in where we are.
Interestingly this film, which does indeed feel like the same movie after a one-year intermission, emphasizes different characters than does Fellowship. Ian McKellen’s Gandalf the Grey is gone and Gandalf the White is more focused and less warm than his predecessor. Part of this is performance and part of it is story telling. Gandalf is very present in the story but he isn’t quite so near or at the heart of it as he was, and I miss him.
Frodo of course is still the ring-bearer and his relationship with Sam and Smeagol/Gollum, although not as action oriented as the other sections of the movie is emotionally weighty. Wood probably will not get the acting attention he deserves because much of what he must play in the film is a gradual deepening of being under the effects of the ring. His performance is excellent and central but also natural and understated enough that it doesn’t punch you in the face and win him awards, but it certainly serves the story. I cannot fathom another person playing Frodo. Sam is given life here when compared to Fellowship and Astin and the character soar. Along with Gollum (I am coming to that later) the three have a fascinating on-screen dynamic.
Aragorn (Viggo) begins to carry the weight of the plot (and the world) on his shoulders. I would say in fact that it is his movie and obviously in the next installment, he will indeed be ‘the man’. It stuns me to think that Viggo joined the cast last minute and this extremely central character might have been somebody else. I think I would have been perfect for the role (in my dreams) but I can but shake my head when trying to envision somebody else in his place.
Gimli is also beefed up a bit in this film and while often used for much needed laughs, he is likeable and heartwarming. Legolas is a killing machine once again but the dwarf gobbles up the screen when he is on it. There is a real sense of fellowship with our three hunters which seems an obvious film-making choice but I feared it would be overwhelmed by plot. It was not.
Merry and Pippin, while definitely present, don’t experience quite the same rigors as the other characters. Their time with the orcs is harrowing and I must toss mighty praise to Richard Taylor and his WETA crew for the wonderment of the orcs. How easy it would have been to just make templated orcs but they have them in all their variety and personality and variance and we get to hear them speak and interact rather than just growl and die. The two hobbits grow up just a bit, but I am betting their time is coming in the sure-to-be four-hour Return Of The King.
Treebeard is better than I feared he would be. His character must be considered one of the most difficult or THE most difficult to translate to film and it mostly worked. I am a BIG fan of John Rhys-Davies and his voice performance is quite fine but the problem is that it is still his voice. I could hear Gimli too much and while it didn’t ruin things it wasn’t the best choice. I had great fun seeing other Ents and there is a scene that was more fun to watch than a barrel full of monkeys (whatever that means.)
Now then, there are changes from the books. One is particular was quite jarring to me.
SPOILER IN THE NEXT SENTENCE
Our friend Faramir interacts with Frodo and makes some choices regarding him and the ring which were a major departure from the written word and jarred me a bit from the film. I know the story tellers had reasons but I couldn’t figure out the whys of this decision and frankly the sequence left me a bit cold. I predict it will anger some reader-viewers quite a lot.
Other changes, specifically Arwen/Aragorn were superb. All the internet horror stories about Arwen at Helm’s Deep are hogwash but there is some play between her and Elrond and Aragorn that had great emotional depth and for me was one of the best parts about the film. In this instance PJ has accentuated a deeply hidden theme in the book and made it real and vital to the audience. By dealing with the Elves as he does he gives greater depth to the dilemma they face and raises the stakes for all of Middle-Earth. He presents the sadness of the Elves to us beautifully. I am tempted to say that some of the Arwen/Aragorn moments are my favorite in the flick. Ask me again after viewing #3 for confirmation.
There are some other problems I had with the film, but all are minor and may not bother others and may freak out some. During the Helm’s Deep sequence our three hunters were just a little too heroic for my taste. I know Aragorn is a sword master and Legolas is Spider-Man with hair but I don’t think I felt their jeopardy as I should have. KillingUruk Hai was a bit too easy. Sometimes during the battles CG characters were seen as just that. I know the details were many but I just sometimes caught myself saying, “uups, that was fake.”
Speaking of fake, a good portion of this film hinges on Gollum. In CG history (film history), fans hate Jar Jar Binks more than anything. He ‘feels’ fake to the viewer and gums up the movie. In my view what makes him fake however was not his look but his character or should I say caricature. He was a clown in an alien suit with badly written dialog and he just felt out of place for us in the Star Wars universe.
Gollum faces the same challenge, being an impossible character to physically become. The performance of Gollum – which includes his voice and gestures as well as his gait and facial expressions – is quite excellent. He is well played by Andy Serkis but also by the animators who breath life into his face and actions. Still, he is discernibly CG. He isn’t Jarjaring but you CAN tell that this character isn’t quite alive sometimes. Having said all that, the character works well for the plot, is a real being we believe in emotionally if not 100 percent physically and was still amazing. His face shots especially told much more than the dialog.
RANDOM STUFF The so called “exorcism” is beautifully done and not what folks are making it to be. Bernard Hill is great. Miranda Otto is radiant and uniquely beautiful and if anybody has her phone number I want to invite her to dinner right away. Brad Dourif’s Grima Wormtounge is spot on. The Wargs, although not perfect in wide shots, are pretty cool and convincing, especially in close ups. There is a camera shot (spoiler free) when Frodo is in the marshes, of somebody’s gloved hand that pulls out to a widescreen overview that is do danged cool I nearly laughed out loud. The film has magic in it.
THE REAL QUESTION Was it as good as Fellowship? My first impressions which I reserve the right to change is No. It isn’t as good as Fellowship, it is better. There is more room for air in the this film and it isn’t quite as dense, although it is far from airy. If I can get past one major plot change on subsequent viewings, there will be no doubt about it.