Review by Jane Barnes

Tis good to be back home in Middle-earth!

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!” The Two Towers, the second of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners), opens with a return to Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen in his best-supporting Oscar-nominated role) fighting the Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-dum, from last year’s Oscar-winning, The Fellowship of the Ring. As he tells the shocked Fellowship, “Fly, you fools!” he plunges from the bridge, only this time we continue the fall with him. As Gandalf falls through the gaping chasm, he recovers his sword, Glamdring, and continues a jaw-dropping battle with the Balrog until they both fall into the lake beneath the Mines of Moria.

“GANDALF!” Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), awakes from his nightmare of Gandalf’s fall, and thus our journey continues, mere days after the fall of Boromir and the fracturing of the Fellowship at Amon Hen.

And what a journey! There is a darker, more exciting theme to The Two Towers (which refers to Orthanc, the tower of Saruman in Isengard and Sauron’s Barad-dur in Mordor), especially where Ring-bearer, Frodo, is concerned. The closer he gets to Mount Doom, where he must cast the Ring back into the fires where it was forged, the heavier it becomes and the tighter the pull it’s creator, Sauron has on Frodo’s psyche.

We catch up with the Human, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the Elf, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the Dwarf, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) as they search for their Hobbit friends Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) after their capture by marauding Uruk-hai in Amon Hen. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli trail their friends to Fangorn Forest, where they run into an old friend – the Grey Pilgrim returns to them and completes his tale of his battle with the Balrog, and how he’s now Gandalf the White. He assures them Merry and Pippin are safe – they’ve been found and cared for by one of Middle-earth’s oldest denizens, Treebeard the Ent (a tree shepherd). Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make their way to Edoras, the realm of King Theoden (Bernard Hill) of Rohan, who has been mentally besieged by Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif you’ll want to have a shower after seeing Brad’s remarkable performance as this slimy, insipid fiend). Aptly named, Grima is a servant of Saruman masquerading as a trusted advisor to King Theoden. Gandalf releases Theoden from Grima’s twisted hold, and Grima flees Rohan back to Saruman. The people of Rohan escape to the safety of the keep at Helm’s Deep. They are attacked by some 10,000 Orcs, Uruk-hai, wildmen of Southron and Easterlings.

The 300 men and boys able to defend Helm’s Deep seem hopelessly outnumbered until an Elven army sent by Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and lead by Haldir (Craig Parker) of Lothlorien arrive to renew their alliance with Men and fight along side them once again.

Through all this Aragorn goes through his own test – a test of love and loyalty. It becomes quite obvious that Theoden’s niece, Eowyn (Miranda Otto) is quite taken with the ranger, and Aragorn is visibly torn between his love for Elrond’s daughter, Arwen (liv Tyler), and the attentions of Eowyn.

Peter Jackson himself has said that Tolkien purists may have some trouble with this second installment of the trilogy of films as they’ve taken the most liberties with the story line of The Two Towers, more so than either Fellowship or the next year’s Return of the King (Dec 17, 2003). I consider myself a Tolkien purist, having been a devoted reader for the last 25 years (The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are the two greatest books ever written), and I have no problem with any of the additions, deletions or expansions made by Peter and his team.

It seems that fans are most keen to see the CGI-created characters of Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies in a dual role of sorts) and Gollum. We got a mere tease of what to expect with Gollum in Fellowship, his full characterization in TTT is nothing short of spectacular. A key element to Gollum’s realism is surely due in part to actor Andy Serkis, who acted directly with his co-stars on set. Then, in a specially-designed suit, he recreated every single one of his own actions for the CGI geniouses at Peter Jackson’s WETA studios, who magically brought Gollum to film. Serkis also voiced Gollum (and must have gone through dozens of boxes of throat lozenges!) Hopefully, in Return of the King, Gollum will finally be able to dislodge that fur ball

Treebeard and his gnarled cronies too are a fantastic realization of Professor Tolkien’s written word, it’s a shame they aren’t in the movie more. The lads and lasses at WETA studios went all out in bringing out of the pages the dragon-like beasts the Nazgul are now mounted on, the Wargs, vicious bear/wolf-like creatures ridden by the Orcs, the magnificent Oliphants, and two new cave trolls who ‘man’ the Black Gates. I smell a few awards coming their way!

My favourite part of the movie, is the Battle of Helm’s Deep. The battle took four grueling months of night-shoots but it was worth it. I DARE the viewer to stay slouched down in their theater seat, to not shout and cheer out loud. You’ll want to pick up a sword or a bow and join in the battle (choose your own side). The battle lasts approximately 40 minutes with a few respites returning to other plot lines and then you’re thrown right back into the battle. A bit of trivia: to get the voices of the Host of Sauron, Peter Jackson directed the half-time crowd of about 20,000 New Zealand rugby fans to chant, stomp their feet and make a din suitable for an army of Orcs and Uruk-hai and he used the taping to great effect!

I found myself getting so involved in each scene that I kept forgetting there were other story lines going on until we were taken back to them (a positive thing in my book!). I saw Fellowship 21 times in theaters (go ahead, ask me if I liked it) and I have a feeling I will easily break my own record with The Two Towers. Bring on Dec 17, 2003 and the Return of the King!