TTT Review from: DM

Let’s hail Peter Jackson for another reason this time around. PJ is an honest dealer. PJ is being faithful to the faithful. The Two Towers film is NOT as faithful to the book…by some considerable measure…as compared to The Fellowship of the Ring. But PJ, In my opinion, clearly is.

I won’t litter this review with spoilers or detailed explanations. Suffice it to say, numerous small liberties and a few large ones have been taken with the storyline, on both sides of the Anduin. I expect the long time fans of the book (and I’m approaching the 40th anniversary of MY first reading of it, so I take my helmet off to few…) to notice. Many will argue. Many more will be disturbed and some will be infuriated. I was made uncomfortable from time to time by the differences. More on that anon.

Fairness to the film now dictates that I describe its huge stockpile of treasures. Again, New Zealand is Middle Earth, and the cast is, again, nearly perfect. Newcomers to the cast range from the wonderful to the spectacular. Brad Dourif is stunning, stunning as Grima Wormtongue. The translucently beautiful Miranda Otto is a Magnificent Eowyn. Bernard Hill brings so much magnetic presence and humanity to the old King Theoden, all deserving of vast heaps of praise.

Gollum is astonishing. I won’t even bother to expand on that. Wait to see him for yourself, then in mute wonder, pry your eyes and ears away from him for even a second to agree with me, if you can. The reappearance of the Nazgul, riding flying fell beasts? This was one of the moments I have been aching to see from the beginning, and they are sublimely evil, gloriously terrifying, perfect.

Treebeard and the ents, I’m a little less thrilled with…but I have the opinion that the professor added that sequence to make sure a movie version was never made at all. They are serviceable, they do the job.

Standout sequences: PJ and partners show their superb talent for streamlining once again with the “Three Hunters” section, which is expertly delivered and yet largely stripped of excess. Likewise the stretch from Taming Smeagol…again, astonishing…through Herbs and Stewed Rabbit. The essentials are there…even everyone’s favorite discussion of Fish and Chips.

Now for the quibbling and the counter-quibbling. The battle of Helm’s Deep, to my mind, is huge, clear, vivid and exquisite, and about five to ten minutes too long for anybody but the faithful. Some of it could…and much of what was unseen probably will…be relegated to the extended edition, which I, too, will watch again and again, never fear. The great cavalry leader of Rohan, Erkenbrand, apparently has the same agent as Tom Bombadil and Glorfindel, and shares their fate. Eomer (Karl Urban, suitably masculine and impulsive) rides his horse and does his chores instead. Arwen manages a brief appearance in a sequence that fills in a gap that has confused many non readers of the book: Elrond’s apparent dissapproval of Aragorn, particularly where his daughter is concerned. Elrond now seems far more justified in his concern and far less antagonistic to his foster child, Aragorn.

Faramir’s entry marks a noticeable veer from the known storyline: in fact this variation will be the biggest controversy among ringers, once the film is seen. I must say I would have very much preferred the book’s storyline here, myself, but the necessity for the change is fairly clear: Timing.

Grab your paperback copy of “The Return of the King.” Find the page that begins the appendices. Now measure the actual book’s thickness against “Fellowship” and the Two Towers.” There’s the problem.

Could you sell three films, one that runs three hours, one that runs four hours and the last one that runs about 80 minutes? Aha.

So, clearly some moving must be done. (or film the appendices, but that’s not really an answer.) But that raises another problem. The book is being adapted into a Movie, not into Masterpiece Theatre. A bang-up ending is required, and if you want to argue with this inescapable fact, I suggest you need to see a few movies, and face reality, particularly fiscal reality, the way New Line Cinema probably sees things.
Faramir’s long confrontation with Frodo and Sam is a wonderful read, because it does a great deal of character exploration, and sets up the third book beautifully. However, most of it is conversation, dinner, conversation, surprise slip of the tongue revelation, and conversation. Blockbuster action adventure fantasy films cannot depend on a climax that resembles “My Dinner with Andre”…even if dinner IS in a cave in Ithilien, hidden behind a waterfall. The other storyline back in Rohan, has so many climaxes, this is not a problem. Pick one, defer the rest for a year.

Defense, Part One: This is a necessity, and PJ in his wisdom clearly knew it, and bit the bullet here for the good of the Great Tale as a whole. PJ has made it clear in numerous statements, and interviews devoured by most of us, that this book is the one in which the script had the most variation. He doesn’t pretend it doesn’t happen, or hope that (“Jeez, who will notice, it’s such a big thick book anyway…”) many will simply fail to spot the changes. He’s playing fair. He warned us.

Defense, Part Two: We have all known Anduril will make it’s reforged appearance early in “The Return of the King.” We also know the fate of the Palantir of Orthanc, and that it will quickly, and importantly make its way into Aragorn’s hands. Those facts taken into consideration…Aragorn will soon distract the eye of Sauron, as in the book…and the evil one will conclude that Frodo is no longer a player. The ring was in Gondor…and now This Guy shows up. This leads to an inevitable conclusion: The Changes in The Two Towers Leave Us In Almost Exactly The Same Place That Total Faithfulness Would Have Done. The remainder of the book versions of The Two Towers and The Return of the King can proceed on film next year, and give us what all of us knew would be the trilogy’s greatest installment, all along: the Finale.

Fairness to PJ again, compare the previous animated versions to his accomplishment. Allow me to refresh a few sad memories: Without reference to Eomer, with a Eowyn that looked like an animated honky-tonk waitress, Ralph Bakshi ended his version of the entire trilogy with an incomprehensible rendition of the battle of Helm’s deep, attacked by hordes of extras who looked less like orcs, and more like extras dressed in Rubber Gorilla Masks and Bedsheets. Once the battle was inexplicably won, the whole thing came to a screeching halt, never to move again.

Rankin Bass, skipped the entire second book, dumped Eomer, Legolas, Gimli, Arwen and countless others, and started their “Return of the King” film with Pippin saying…in Casey Casem’s voice, “He’s Looney, I tell ya!”…and had enough time to offer a musical number for the orcs of Mordor, the unforgettable “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way”, noted for its electric guitar work. One critic, I recall, suggested it as a possible new single for the Village People. I wish I’d said that, so I have to quote it.

If you want to complain about something, start there. PJ survives comparisons, and then some.
Is “The Two Towers”, then, the weakest installment in the eventual completed work? Probably. Is it a wonderful adaptation of the book, utterly necessary, and worthy of what has come before, and what will come after? I have no doubt that it is. Am I perfectly satisfied with it? No. Do I love it, and will I see it dozens of times, possibly hundreds? Of course. So will you.