Film Reviews: Wednesday, December 19, 2002
Ring! Ring!

The Tolkien saga stumbles in the middle of The Two Towers, but finishes strong.


Peter Jackson’s second film in his J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, doesn’t bother recapping the first film, but instead plunges us right into the action. If you haven’t read The Fellowship of the Ring or seen Jackson’s film of it that came out last year, you won’t understand the second part — or much of this review. Fortunately, this description will apply to relatively few people.

As we pick up the story, the hobbits Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and his friend Sam (Sean Astin) have broken away from their erstwhile companions and resolved to destroy the Ring of Power by taking it into the enemy land of Mordor themselves and casting it into the volcanic pit from which it was forged. Meanwhile, their hobbit friends Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have been kidnapped by a platoon of orcs, so the warrior prince Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) follows their trail with the elven archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the axe-wielding dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). Merry and Pippin later make their escape, but Aragorn finds more pressing business, as the forces of evil are raising a huge army of orcs to wipe out the human race in Middle Earth.

Like Gangs of New York, (also reviewed in this issue), this movie begins well and ends well, which is better than beginning and ending badly but having a good middle. We finally get a good look at Gollum (voiced by Andy Serkis), the creature who once owned the Ring and is now consumed by the thought of getting it back, despite being deformed by its power. The translucent-skinned, pop-eyed, nearly hairless thing makes his first appearance attacking Frodo and Sam in their sleep, and he’s every bit as loathsome a creature as Tolkien envisioned. Gollum is a completely computer-generated character, and he’s far more successful a creation than Jar Jar Binks or Scooby-Doo. His presence is every bit as real as the hobbits and humans he interacts with, and he’s even somewhat pitiable. He represents a prodigious achievement in the field of special effects.

Sadly, the film bogs down shortly after he’s introduced, perhaps because not much actually happens over the next hour. The entire first half of the movie groans under the weight of expositional dialogue, and writing dialogue isn’t a strength of the filmmakers here. (“You are alone, dear lady. Your bowery walls close in upon you!”)

Once the battles get going, the movie rights itself. The protracted rain-soaked nighttime climax has the orcs laying siege to a fortress where Aragorn and friends make a stand with the inhabitants of Rohan, one of the last remaining kingdoms of men. The fighting ranges all over the fortress, inside and out, and Jackson never loses any of the various threads. Particularly impressive is the way the massed armies are rendered from a distance — a boulder is dropped from a parapet into a crowd of orcs below, and the impact scatters bodies around like crushed bugs. Only slightly less spectacular is an intercut sequence in which another army, this one of tree-beings , attacks an orc city. The film isn’t a walkover as you might expect, but in these final scenes, The Two Towers finally triumphs over its earlier flaws and reclaims its epic status.

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