In 2001, Peter Jackson's adaptation of "The Fellowship of the Ring" earned him numerous Oscar nominations, a half-billion dollar money chest to fall back on, and an instant establishment as an accomplished director. A year later, he returns with the second installment, "The Two Towers," looking to beat the magnificence that was created in the first part of the trilogy.
Whether it be hype due to the raving reviews from critics or the pure expectations that the second film must be as good as the first one since they were filmed together, "The Two Towers" does not seem as good as "The Fellowship of the Ring." It still is excellent, but not nearly as perfect as Part One was.
"The Towers" begins where "The Fellowship" left off, with Frodo and Sam working their way towards Mordor, with Legolas, Aragon and Gimli hunting for Pippin and Merry, and with Pippin and Merry getting carried off by orcs. Gandalf is dead - or is he? - and Saruman is building an army that will destroy the world of men. There is very little introduction, very little reminder of what happened before, other than a few flashbacks. This is truly the fourth, fifth and sixth hour of "The Lord of the Rings" story.
Sadly, much of the flaws in this film are out of Peter Jackson's hands, but they are flaws nonetheless. As with the first movie and all stories based on books, there will come complaints about parts left out and parts changed. Unless a movie only resembles a book by its title, I am usually forgiving about modifications for a big screen adaptation. "The Two Towers" has a much greater scope than "The Fellowship of the Ring," and thus has much more that needs to be cut out. Fine. However, not everything is well.
"The Fellowship of the Ring" was long but focused; it always remained centered on one group of people as they traveled together. The story was "small" and claustrophobic. Thus, compared to the other two books, it was quite easy to adapt. However, "The Two Towers" is the exact opposite. Where "Fellowship" was focused, "The Two Towers" is so broad that the action takes place over what appears to be thousands of miles, following several groups as they go about their own adventures. There is Frodo and Sam, and then there is Legolas, Aragon and Gimli, and also Merry and Pippin. All three groups never once speak to one another throughout the course of the film. This is very challenging.
In the books, J.R.R. Tolkien decided to cut up the action completely. He first follows Aragon and the others on his adventures, and when he is done telling that story he cuts over to Frodo and Sam, returning to the ending of "Fellowship" and starting over. It was an odd approach, but one that worked well. Obviously, that wouldn't work nearly as well on the big screen, but then again, after seeing how the action is cut up and so forth, maybe it would have been a better idea.
The biggest problem with "The Two Towers" is how it interlaces the different stories. Jackson jumps from one to the next, as he should, but something just doesn't seem right. Tensions will be escalating for one party, but then he jumps to another group without suitably finishing the scene or sequence. The result seems a little rough around the edges. "Fellowship" was so good at being consistently exciting and suspenseful, but since "Towers" jumps around so much, it is impossible to even meet a tenth of that quality. If Jackson had been daring and kept to one group at a time for longer periods of time, the movie might have been a little better.
The ultimate example is the Battle of Helm's Deep, the big battle of the film that consumes much of the final hour of the film. It is an exciting and awe-inspiring fight, but it looses some of its momentum when the movie cuts off to follow the other characters, who's adventures are nowhere as thrilling.
To put everything into a few sentences, the chronology and editing of the film don't seem nearly as perfect as they did in "Fellowship," though I will admit that mastering a film like this would be quite challenging. My only other problem with the film was the love story between Aragon and Arwen; it worked in "Fellowship," but the dream sequences in this one just bring the film to a standstill and really don't do anything to progress the story. I have nothing against a little romance here and there, but the only reason I can think of as to why Jackson decided to include these scenes would be to entice a few more women into showing up, as the audience was primarily males (virgins) on opening night.
All that being said, the majority of the film is still wonderful. The beauty of the scenery and so forth is still awe-inspiring, as are the action sequences. The special effects should win an Oscar, especially for Gollum, the do-or-die creature that could make or break a film like this.
In the very first scene that Gollum appears, I was struck with fear because he didn't look all that real. However, after about a minute he became as real as the live actors standing next to him. His movements and facial expressions are perfect; the guys who made Jar-Jar Binks should take a long, hard look and figure out how to make a likeable, realistic character from CGI. Anyway, Gollum is creepy yet pitiful, and believable to the bone. He was surprisingly funny as well, which I liked - in fact, Jackson added a lot of comedy to all of the characters, especially Gimli and even Legolas.
As for the Ents, I think Jackson did about as good of job as possible. No matter what, walking and talking trees are going to be a little cheesy, but Jackson keeps that to a minimum. He also cut out a lot from the book, knowing that too much of these creatures would take away from the realism of the film. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Treebeard and other Ents, and thought they were well done.
"The Two Towers" stands as one of the best movies of the year, but compared to "The Fellowship of the Ring," though they are two very different movies, it is not as good. The pace isn't as good and the editing is a little rough around the edges; nonetheless, the battle scene at the end makes up for many of the shortcomings, and I am sure that the second time around, now that I won't be consumed with expectations that can't possibly be met, I will enjoy the whole film much more. "The Two Towers" could have been a fraction better, but Peter Jackson has a near-masterpiece on his hands.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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