The immediate question, of course, is whether The Two Towers lives up to The Fellowship of the Ring, and the answer is … not quite.
But that’s not a complete answer, since The Two Towers is, in many respects, a very different film than its predecessor in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s much more of a Grand Epic, so it’s somewhat less thoughtful than the first film by its very nature. As a result, it lacks a good bit of Fellowship’s emotional intensity. There is nothing in The Two Towers, for instance, that carries the same emotional resonance as the first film’s final scene of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) in the boat, nor is there anything to conclude this new entry that bears the same kind of punch as the The Two Towers’ closing shot. Those reservations aside, the second film is a remarkable achievement — and a groundbreaking one.
The Two Towers follows Frodo and Sam’s further attempts to return the ring of power to the fires from whence it came, while the film separately details the adventures of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and also deals with the resurrection of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the fates of hobbits Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominc Monaghan). It’s a huge canvas — and there is more to it than even this list of principal characters indicates — but Peter Jackson details it all so lovingly and so carefully that the movie never confuses. Moreover, the timing of individual sequences — the nature of the narrative requiring much cross-cutting between characters — is beyond reproach. At no time do you ever get the sense that you’ve stayed away from one story line for too long; Jackson and his co-writers have scored a major triumph in this regard. And in so many others as well.
There is simply no way a review can begin to discuss or even catalogue the immense riches of The Two Towers, so I’ll settle on discussing a few of its finer points. First of all, it’s a movie that is both very much of its time, and one that is steeped in the history of film. For example, scene after scene in the court of Theoden (Bernard Hill) — especially those featuring Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) — look for all the world as if they came straight out of Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. For that matter, Wormtongue might well have been visually modeled on Eisenstein’s Ivan. Also, check out the film’s amazing battle scenes — possibly the most stunning and beautifully logical of their kind ever committed to film — and you’ll see filmmaking obviously grounded in the combat scenes from Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight.
Yet The Two Towers is ultimately very modern; a work of this scale could only have been possible through technological advances in the CGI realm — the film, in fact, offers the most convincing work of its kind to date. Forget the computer-generated Yoda in Lucas’ Attack of the Clones and all previous efforts to meld CGI characters with real actors; The Two Towers delivers the goods. The movie’s CGI-created character Gollum is wholly believable as a real entity interacting with the live actors. Indeed, Andy Serkis (who provides the voice of the hyper-paranoid Gollum, and who also served as the model for the character’s movements) is so convincing and so powerful in the role that Serkis — who doesn’t actually appear in the film — is being suggested for Best Supporting Actor consideration!
Possibly even more remarkable is the film’s depiction of the enigmatic tree creatures the Ents. The image of ambulatory trees — no matter how well done — could easily have toppled over into the risible, but Jackson and his co-writers have deftly sidestepped this possibility by taking a tip from Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien, and making the creatures amusing from the onset. By having it take nigh on forever for the Ents to conclude that Pippin and Merry aren’t the enemy Orcs, and by reworking Tolkien’s dialogue concerning the length of time it takes the Ents to say anything in their own language (“We do not say anything … unless it is worth taking a long time to say and to listen to” ), the film invites us to deliberately laugh with it so that we don’t laugh at it. It’s a brilliant stroke, and it pays off handsomely.
But it’s just one of many brilliant strokes by a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to run the risk of looking foolish — and as a result, almost never does. Instead, Jackson reaches out and touches on true greatness. The Two Towers is, after all, a huge movie, and everything about it ought to be huge. What is perhaps most remarkable is the film’s position as the developmental center of the Lord of the Rings saga Jackson is telling; as such, it lacks both a proper beginning and ending in itself. And yet it never feels incomplete. The movie is whole unto itself, even though its lacks the first film’s sense of concluding on an emotional high point.
Go see The Two Towers for yourself — and then see it again. Let it amaze you with its wonders, its size and its rich complexity. There is so much to admire in this film that you could see it a dozen times and come away from each viewing with something new.