by Douglas J. Rowe
NEW YORK – Peter Jackson’s middle movie may suffer a severe case of middle-child syndrome.
“The next one is my favorite. I shouldn’t actually say that. I’m supposed to be promoting this film,” says the director, who’s come from New Zealand to flog the second in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Two Towers,” which opens Wednesday.
“In ‘The Return of the King’ we get to pay it all off in a very triumphant kind of a way,” he says. “There are just great bits of drama; it’s very heroic and very emotional.”
OK, but before we skip ahead to next Christmas and that film, what about this one?
“The Two Towers” was the toughest of the three, he says, explaining that he pulled apart the book to make it more cinematic and make sure that “the bottom didn’t drop out” in any of the three story lines, which will converge in the conclusion.
“This one is a classic kind of middle chapter. Which is tough in a sense in that it doesn’t have a beginning and it doesn’t have an end.”
Is he afraid that will leave fans unsatisfied?
“I hope not. The first one didn’t have an ending, either,” he says, laughing. “Only one of them is actually going to have an end. . . . We’re going to become specialists in movies with no endings.”
The absence of a beginning in “The Two Towers” was “a blessing,” Jackson says, because he didn’t need the complicated, introductory exposition that began last year’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”
And he deliberately avoided a recap of the first film.
“So many people last year said, ‘Oh God, I wish I could have just sat there and seen the second film straight away.’ So I thought: Let’s treat this film in that way,” he says. “We just pretend the year hasn’t gone by and we’re just carrying the story on from the moment that we left off.”
Even though Jackson’s cinematic magnum opus has very detailed, definitive source material in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, the 41-year-old New Zealand filmmaker always saw himself and his collaborators as more than just conduits of the legendary literature.
“As filmmakers, we never felt that it was our job to faithfully take everything that Tolkien had written — in the way that he wrote it — and just put that on screen,” he says. “Our primary responsibility was as filmmakers and to make an entertaining film, or three entertaining films in this case. And by doing that we’ve had to change a lot of things in the book.
“And I think people have forgiven us.”
Tolkien fans who five years ago would have howled at the thought of any changes have appreciated his efforts, he says.
More things were changed in “The Two Towers” than in the other two films. (Aficionados will notice, for instance, that Jackson developed more scenes for the Gollum/Frodo plot line than the second book contained. And the confrontation with a giant spider, which ends the second book, has been moved to the third movie.)
“Everything deviates from the books in some degree. I mean, we don’t have a single scene in any of our films that sort of takes the book and verbatim just translates the dialogue and the events . . . into the movie.”
He prepared for three years (1997 through 1999) before he even started shooting. Besides writing the script, he did a lot of storyboards, made models of castles and used little plastic soldiers to map out the battle scenes.
He also approached the story as if it were history, rather than fantasy.
“I don’t know anybody else who could have done this, who could have gone through this whole period and stayed with these three films,” says Mirando Otto, who plays Eowyn, the niece of the king of Rohan, who lost her parents to marauding orcs.
With his eyes twinkling through big round glasses amid a forest of long hair and beard, Jackson does come across as unflappable.
After the success of the first film — $860 million worldwide box office, 13 Academy Award nominations and four statuettes — he says the pressure this time is different.
“The pressure on the first film was basically, would the studio survive? — this folly of making three films at once,” Jackson says.
Now the pressure stems simply from not wanting to disappoint people who loved the first film, he says.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Rated: PG-13 (epic battle sequences, scary images)
Cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys Davies, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Jackson based on novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
Running time: 2 hours, 59 minutes