The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Review
By Joe Lozito
Peter Jackson demands nine hours of your life. And he's not going to waste any of it. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" picks up a few minutes before the end of the previous film, "The Fellowship of the Ring", then thrusts the viewer somewhat hastily back into the story. No time for recaps or summarizations, Mr. Jackson has a lot of story to tell. Like its predecessor, "Two Towers" may lose you if you're a Tolkien novice. If you don't know Éowyn from Éomer, Théoden from Theodred or Gondor from Rohan, you won't grasp the full impact of what's happening on screen. Luckily, there's very little gray area in Tolkien's world - it's pretty obvious who's good and who's bad - so it won't detract from your enjoyment of the stunning spectacle Mr. Jackson and his crew have created.
Unlike the more linear "Fellowship", "Towers" follows three distinct plotlines and, where the novel was structured into two separate chapters which unfolded in tandem, here Mr. Jackson expertly and effectively inter-cuts the stories. This technique has the virtue of making the film's pacing quicker (though it's actually one minute longer than the first) and more suspenseful than the comparatively straightforward first installment. While Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) continue on to Mount Doom, with the Ring of Power and the aide of the sinister Gollum, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli join the fight against Saruman. Meanwhile Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd) are stuck in an unenviable subplot involving the Ents (the Tree-people of Middle Earth). While the Ents are realized as fully as everything else in these films, Mr. Jackson makes the odd decision to cast John Rhys-Davies as the voice of Treebeard. Yes, Mr. Rhys-Davis has a great vocal talent, but occasionally Treebeard sounds too distractingly like Mr. Rhys-Davies' other character, Gimli.
Other than that vocal faux pas, Mr. Jackson has a knack for perfect casting. Aside from the returning Fellowship, Bernard Hill is a wonderfully grave and noble Théoden, King of Rohan, and Brad Dourif fits the role of Gríma Wormtongue almost frighteningly well. Every time he opens his mouth you can see the delight he has playing the role. As for our returning heroes, they all grow into their roles admirably, even injecting a welcome amount of humor into the action. Viggo Mortensen continues to brood gallantly as Aragorn and Mr. Wood shows a bit more of his teeth as the Ring continues to take hold of Frodo. Ian McKellan is back, but not for long enough, as Gandalf. Orlando Bloom's Legolas and Gimli start to develop the camaraderie that is a highlight of the novels, even though the latter is used to comic effect once too often. Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler continue to add some estrogen to the proceedings, and Miranda Otto is a welcome addition as Éowyn.
Much has been said about Gollum being the most fully-realized CGI character ever put on screen. Happily, I can tell you to believe the hype. Gollum, as imagined by Mr. Jackson and the team at WETA Digital, looks like a hobbitized Peter Lorre, with the acting chops of Willem DeFoe in "Spider-Man". The Gollum scenes are a thrill, particularly when he is alone battling, Green Goblin-style, with his inner demons. It is one of the many pitch-perfect choices made by Mr. Jackson and co-writers Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair.
The writers have taken more significant liberties with this story than with "Fellowship" and I'm sure many Tolkien purists will have something to say about that. Largely, I think Mr. Jackson's choices are sound. And even when he makes an occasional misstep, it's forgivable in the grand (and I mean 'grand') scope of things. There is just something exciting about watching cinematic history unfold. This is "The Godfather" of swords-and-sorcery epics (except in this case, the third installment will probably be great). Mr. Jackson and his team are making the definitive version of Tolkien's trilogy, period. And they're doing it better than we could have hoped. Yes, Peter Jackson demands nine hours of your time. But I can't think of a director more deserving.