LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (**½)
Movie Review by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair
Based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen,
for epic battle sequences and scary images
"...Jackson's approach to
"The Two Towers" is even more uneven and by-the-numbers than its predecessor."
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is almost
precisely the same length as its predecessor, "The Fellowship of the Ring," yet
seems notably longer and with little of worth occurring in its three-hour
running time. Based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, the most disheartening thing
about this middle installment of the vastly popular, epic fantasy trilogy is its
lack of focus, character nuance, and storytelling fluidity. Director Peter
Jackson's approach to "The Two Towers" is even more uneven and by-the-numbers
than its predecessor. He hops back and forth between subplots and characters
and, while the visuals are still amazing, there is no joy, little energy, and a
"stop-and-start" pace to the proceedings this time around.
Having clear knowledge of the plot points and characters introduced in
"Fellowship" is essential for understanding the follow-up. Instead of offering
up a tidy summary of what has already occurred, Jackson courageously drops
viewers in the middle of three separate storylines, at the point where each of
them left off in the past film. Having not been a fan of the first film, I must
say that it was not surprising then that the followup left me just as cold. The
setting of Middle-Earth is lacking any sense of discovery and wonder; the
majority of characters simply go through the paces rather than evolving; and the
pacing is inconsistent and choppy.
As "The Two Towers" gets underway, hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean
Astin) continue their journey to the city of Mordor in order to destroy the
corruptive ring in the fires of Mount Doom. When they lose their way and start
going around in circles, a chance meeting with emaciated creature Gollum (Andy
Serkis)-a former ringbearer who has been driven mad by its powers-places him in
the role of guide to Frodo and Sam.
Meanwhile, the human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and
dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) set out to find hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan)
and Pippin (Billy Boyd), who have been kidnapped by the evil Saruman's
(Christopher Lee) ghastly Orc henchmen. Their search is sidetracked to the city
of Rohan, where Aragorn hopes to convince King Theoden (Bernard Hill) that an
impending war is about to fall on his kingdom. At the same time, Merry and
Pippin manage to escape into the Fanghorn Forest, where they meet and befriend
an Ent known as Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), who acts as shepherd to
the rest of the living trees in the forest.
Not surprisingly, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is a visual dazzler,
and the amount of sheer technical artistry that went into the production is
staggering. The sweeping cinematography, by Andrew Lesnie, is sumptuously
triumphant, and the visual effects are first-rate. The work put into Gollum is
most impressive of all, as the role was voiced and performed by Andy Serkis, and
then transformed into perhaps the most believable computer-generated character
to ever grace the silver screen. Not only is Gollum the most three-dimensional
figure in the Middle Earth universe, an alternately frightened and frightening
creature whose personality has been split into two, but Serkis delivers a
terrific performance. The CG Ents are less successful, if only because of the
challenge in personifying a plant. They look fine, but too often resemble Rock
Biter from "The Neverending Story."
"The Two Towers" feels aimless and overlong. While the predecessor centered on
young Frodo, here the central focus is handed to warrior Aragorn, a bland hero
who has few interesting character traits. The seemingly endless section set in
Rohan, which introduces several new characters to the trilogy and sets up a
half-hearted love triangle between Aragorn, fellow human Eowyn (Miranda Otto),
and immortal elf Arwen (Liv Tyler), halts the film to a veritable stop. The
subplot concerning Merry and Pippin's relationship with Treebeard is also
undernourished. Their sparse scenes throughout are thoroughly disposable until
the climax, in which Treebeard is given a reason for his appearance in the film.
The final hour, already affectionately known as the Battle at Helm's Deep, casts
Saruman's hundreds of thousands of forces against the people of Rohan, with aid
from Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. Prematurely being labeled as the most
brilliantly orchestrated sequence of combat ever captured on film, the battle
scene has a suspenseful and arresting build-up and then feels anticlimactic when
it finally arrives. While it is, indeed, technically proficient, it forgets to
build any sense of momentum or true danger. Every time the scene gets going, the
film monotonously cuts to characters not involved in Helm's Deep. The lackluster
music score, by Howard Shore, also may be a major culprit; aside from the
majestic theme, the orchestrations leave something to be desired.
There are more flaws in "The Two Towers," to be found. Here, vague story details
and plot holes bombard the action. When Gandalf the Gray (Ian McKellen), who was
believed to have died, miraculously returns after defeating a fire demon, he
seems and acts different, and not only because he is now called Gandalf the
White. The details involving his personality and physical changes (not to
mention his very survival) are hurriedly tiptoed over with nearly no
explanation. Perhaps a future director's cut will shed some light on the many
unclear elements; the current incantation feels like more of a cliff's notes
version of "The Lord of the Rings."
In the performance arena, the aforementioned Andy Serkis (as Gollum) steals the
film. His co-stars Elijah Wood, as Frodo, who spends the bulk of the film
looking forlorn and Sean Astin as Sam, whose character exists only to be the
ever faithful friend are one dimensional ciphers. As dwarf Gimli, John
Rhys-Davies has been given more to do than he did in the original, but most of
it is of the lame one-liner and comedic relief variety. The constant jokes about
Gimli's short height are appallingly unfunny and inappropriate. In just ten
minutes of screen time, Liv Tyler is completely wooden as Arwen. Returning as
prophetic elf queen Galadriel, Cate Blanchett might as well have not bothered to
show up; she has one scene, and it is instantly forgettable. And as the
diabolical Saruman, the daunting and powerful Christopher Lee has also been
resorted to a cameo part that requires nothing of him but to sit and, for the
most part, talk to himself.
Because "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is the middle film in a trilogy,
the picture has no official beginning or end. While this may seem like an
automatic hindrance, do not forget that 1980's "The Empire Strikes Back" was the
middle section in the "Star Wars" trilogy, and the best. Where "The Two Towers"
fails is in its disposal of natural character development in favor of action,
and in its confusion over where to go. The film is gorgeous to look at, the
production design and visual effects are unmatched in their complexity, and
Gollum is a complicated and intriguing character. Unfortunately, "The Lord of
the Rings: The Two Towers" is just one minute short of three hours and, thinking
back on the entire film, almost none of the individual stories have progressed
any further along.
Tolkien's gentle and literate tales are being severely Jacksonized. Transformed
into mere action adventure films made for those who are perhaps frightened of
Shakespeare and wouldn't dare approach Wagner's Ring Cycle. The films so far are
a crushing disappointment of ill-advised missteps and misplaced opportunities.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO
TOWERS © 2002 New Line Pictures.
All Rights Reserved
Review © 2009 Alternate Reality, Inc.
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