The Two Towers review by The Grim Ringler

The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers

Rare is it when a director, any director, is given the gift of controlling their own fate, and rarer is it that they essentially get to control the fate of an entire studio. But somehow New Line Cinema saw something in Peter Jackson and in his treatment for an adaptation of the classic fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings by Brit writer J.R.R. Tolkien, saw so much in fact that the two films Jackson had proposed were given more breathing room in the form of a third film that would encompass the last of the books. Sure, Jackson was set at three hundred million total for the entire trilogy, but beyond that (and some other quibbles I am sure, I mean, they are a studio and as such are not known for being the greatest patrons of Art), Jackson pretty much controlled his fate, and the fate of the studio. For had the first of the three films, Fellowship, failed, then the other two were sure to fail as well and the damage done to New Line, Peter Jackson, and really, risky filmmaking would have seeped like oil far into the future, perhaps even ruining Jackson and New Line. Luckily for everyone nothing of the sort happened, and we were all lucky enough to be treated with what, in my mind, is the greatest fantasy film put to film in Fellowship, and now the long wait is over and the second of the trilogy, the meat in the Middle-Earth sandwich, is out, and praise be to all involved because this film is the kind of thing that made me a movie nerd in the first place.

Picking up immediately after the first film, Two Towers is more focused and immediate than Fellowship, the time truly running out for Middle Earth as dark wizard Saruman and villainous enchanter Sauron are gathering their armies for what could bring the end of Middle Earth if their power remains unopposed. Those set to oppose the dark powers rising to conquer Middle Earth, a fellowship of nine consisting of four Hobbits, two men, one elf, one wizard, and a dwarf, has broken, having lost two members to death, two more who have been kidnapped by the armies of darkness, and the remaining Hobbits Sam and Frodo, have left the others in order to take the One Ring, the one possession Sauron needs to bring darkness to the lands and to control all that he surveys, into the very heart of Sauron’s land to destroy it. The power to seduce those around it has forced Frodo and Sam to take the ring themselves and to find a way to destroy it alone. And so Two Towers follows three storylines that begin to converge again near the end – the story of Sam and Frodo as they enter the dark land of Mordor and seek out Mt. Doom in order to destroy the One Ring – the quest of Aragorn the human and heir to the human throne of capital Gondor, Gimli the dwarf, and Legolas the elf, as they search for Merry and Pippin, the other two Hobbits that were taken during the climactic battle in the first film – and finally the story of Merry and Pippin as they escape their captors and find themselves in a grim forest and pursued by the dark forces.

Now, as usual, it’s hard to really say much about the film without giving too much away, thus ruining the magic that is experiencing the thing yourself. But essentially, this film charts the course of the beginning of the War of the Ring, as Saruman turns the army he has raised onto the human city of Rohan in hopes of quashing any resistance that Sauron will face later. And as Frodo and Sam get closer to their destination they realize that they are being followed by Gollum, the former owner of the ring, a wretched ruin of life that has lost its mind to the powers of the ring. Merry and Pippin are faced with an old ally (whom I won’t name, but you’ll see quick enough in the film) and what turns out to be a new one in the form of Treebeard, an Ent, or treeherder, that is essentially a living, talking, walking tree. All three groups have a different mission, a different objective, but all are working towards the same end – to destroy the ring and to destroy Sauron and Saruman before they can put an end to Middle-Earth.

Sketchy on plot aren’t I? Well, suck it up kid. What this is, in relation to the first, is a war film. The first was more of a ‘quiet’ and intimate fantasy adventure, where Two Towers is more of a war film, a matching of the powers for and against Sauron facing off in what will go down as one of the most amazing and immense battles placed on film. And the fact that it is more action oriented is really a blessing and a curse to the film. A curse to the film itself in that it lessens the emotional impact of the film and distances us from these characters that we’ve grown to love, but it’s a good thing in that it moves the series along and really ramps up the drama of the saga of the ring, showing what is truly at stake. The biggest thing I can fault the film on is that it moves so fast that we really don’t get a lot of time to know the new characters very well, which again, lessens the emotional impact it all has. The other gripe is that the romance between Aragorn and Arwyn the elf is sort of resolved, in a way, but not in a satisfactory way, which in all honesty is not completely Jackson and the writers’ faults. Tolkien hints at, at most, the relationship between these two and Jackson felt it needed to be magnified, and sort of made a relationship out of nothing, so he is not fully to blame for its stilted and almost emotionless resolution, but it still hurts the film.

Those really are small quibbles though when faced with the wonders this film as to present to the viewer. First and foremost being Gollum himself, a feat that I truly think is amongst the greatest achievements in film history – a perfect melding of man and machine, of computer effects and acting. When you first see him, you see Gollum the effect, and wow, it’s pretty cool, a lot better in fact than everything out there, even Lucas’ stuff, but as the film progresses and we see more of the character of Gollum and my god, you suddenly don’t see a digital effect, you see a real, living, breathing person. You see a monster with a human soul. You see what Frankenstein was in the hands of Karloff and what Bill the Butcher is in the astounding Gangs of New York. And I tell you what, whatever the naysayers will say (and I can already see them lining up, ready to take pot shots at the movie for every reason under the sun, especially because it’s such a big damned deal and for some people movie nerds hate that, which, well, that’s a column unto itself, let me tell ya), you cannot deny how amazing it is to see Gollum come to life as he does. And yes, the special effects work in the film is wonderful, as it was in the first, and really, it’s better than the first. Everything is epic, is ‘real’, and pushes the film onward (a problem Lucas has not conquered as his films, neat as they are, almost stop when the special effects get hauled out), though there are a few warts here and there, a few effects that don’t work as well as they could. Or will on the third film. And the plight of Frodo works for me, while the struggle he has isn’t necessarily great stuff from an acting standpoint, the interactions between he and Sam, two friends that would live and die for one another, is really gripping, showing the dark powers the ring has and that not even Frodo can resist its grip much longer. And holy mackeral the battle of Helms Deep, a battle between the fores of Saruman and the forces of Man (with an assist from some old allies) is amazing stuff. The battle unfolds slowly, the forces gathering, a rain storm erupting and with it the battle being born in an instant and lasting through a night, decimating the humans and seeming as if all hope is lost for those that have survived the night. The hell of it is that the warriors, a lot of them in the longer shots, are digital, and you would never even think it to watch it, you are just knee-deep in blood and waiting to see who will die next. When I say the war has to be seen to be believed, I mean it, and this is coming from someone who has see the amazing stuff in Saving Private Ryan, Spartacus, and Patriot. While not as intense as Private Ryan, it’s about as breath-taking as you can ask for.

So how is the movie? It’s a pretty damned good movie. Great? I’m not sure yet. It is when compared to any number of movies that you can place against it, but then there is always the argument that it’s not a ‘real’ movie, it’s a fantasy, to which I say bollocks. I get sick of reading about how this movie is swell, but the better movie is the one with two heads talking in a bar for three hours about relationships. Whatever. This is a great film, but great compared to Fellowship, eh, not quite. Though Fellowship had the advantage of having a beginning, where really, Two Towers is all creamy middle, but damn is it ever creamy! I am hoping to see the movie again as soon as I can to get a better look at and feel for it (due to some issues in my life I kinda saw the movie at a bad spot emotionally, eh, what can ya do?), and in all honesty, the movie will look different 1. when the extended cut is released (something that changed Fellowship for the better after having seen it several times now) and 2. when seen in context of the rest of the series.

As movies go, you will find few that will keep you as breathless as this does. And few that will grip you as much as it will. It has its problems, moreso than the first film, but all in all this is why you become a movie nerd and start to wait for a movie to come out months and years in advance. This is the kind of movie that makes people like me tick, that keeps us up late talking to fellow nerds about what it all means. No, it’s not perfect, and if you had no interest in the first film then guess what bucky, you won’t find a damned thing to like in this one either, but for those of us that love movies, and love seeing someone hone and indeed perfect their craft while taking us to places we’d never even imagined could exist, well, you’ve come to the right place. …cr…

9 out of 10 Jackasses

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