The Lord of the Rings Movie Review
The Fellowship of the Ring - Part 1
The Fellowship of the Ring - Part 2
The Fellowship of the Ring - Part 3
The Two Towers - Part 1
The Two Towers - Part 2
The Return of the King - Part 1


The Lord of the Rings
Part II: The Two Towers
A film by Peter Jackson
Based on J. R. R. Tolkien's Fantasy Classic
Part Two of a Review by John D. Rateliff
Warning: Contains Spoilers

The long wait is over. After nearly fifty years, J. R. R. Tolkien's masterpiece The Lord of the Rings has finally gotten the film treatment it deserves. We left the first part of the review on the topic of how new characters were shown in the movie, and now we start of this second part by exploring the portrayal of the returning characters.

Returning Characters

The addition of new characters obviously threatens to spell reduced screen time for the continuing characters, the surviving members of the Fellowship, who after all are the heroes of the story. Aragorn continues to be the movie's main figure; despite one rather silly scene when he's missing in action and rescued by a kiss from a horse (a misguided tribute to the Lone Ranger?), he's a compelling and impressive figure throughout, who definitely earns his status as the star of the show. Legolas the super-elf is back again in typical over-the-top form, surfing down stairs on a shield, mounting a horse with an underhand backwards flip, and killing orcs at an amazing rate: The Orlando Bloom fan club should definitely be pleased. Unfortunately, if the elf's prowess is exaggerated to ridiculous lengths, the dwarf suffers by contrast. Gimli at least had his moments showing he was truly dangerous in the final fight in the enhanced version of the first film; with the second movie, he's reduced to purely a figure of fun who tends to fall down a lot and constantly needs rescuing by Aragorn or Legolas.

As for the Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin all get a good deal of screen time, though their scenes begin to feel as if they're interruptions in the main action of the film (whereas the Ringbearer's journey IS the main action of the story, not the battle scenes). The wizards also have fewer scenes. That Gandalf would be absent for most of the film is no surprise, but it is odd that Saruman also seems to have fewer scenes, and shorter, when Isengard serves as the main villain for this part of the story. The elves (Elrond, Arwen, Galadriel) are brought onscreen mainly through flashbacks (note the fall foliage in most of Aragorn's scenes with Arwen, our visual clue that these take place before the Fellowship's departure from Rivendell). Some of the original characters have dropped out by this point, such as Bilbo (who doesn't even appear in a flashback) and, of course, Boromir. By and large, Jackson does a good job of keeping the continuing characters active as their fates sunder and they are scattered across Middle-earth; seeing the by-now familiar faces again is a welcome part of this installment's appeal. And of course Middle-earth itself (the stunning New Zealand scenery) and Howard Shore's excellent score also establish continuity between this middle section of the story, what has gone before, and what is yet to come.

Final Quibbles

Although Jackson did an admirable job in getting most of the scenes and themes of the second volume into his second installment of the film, a few elements did fall out of the story and are sorely missed, such as the whole concept of the ents as a doomed people, most of the population of Rohan, and the city of Minas Morgul (conspicuously absent from Faramir's map). Why does Theoden have only three hundred men for the final desperate defense of his entire people, and why when Eomer rode off with two thousand horsemen (!) did he ride north, not south (where those chaffing at exile and inaction knew they'd be welcomed into Gondor's hard-pressed army)? Why introduce a muddled glimpse of the battle of Osgiliath that gives no hint of the massive forces Sauron brought to bear against the ruined city? Why have Gandalf and others criticize Theoden's decision to evacuate Edoras, with its wooden walls and generally undefendable position, in favor of the stone fortress of Helm's Deep, the only place where the few men at his command had any chance of holding out against the oncoming horde? Why, during the Battle of Helm's Deep, fight desperately to win time to shore up the main door, then immediately evacuate the area protected by that door once they'd succeeded? How can Frodo, who had been disarmed when captured, suddenly draw Sting when under the spell of the Ring? Most of all, why bring a company of three hundred elven archers to join the defense at Helm's Deep?[5] Blending Dunharrow with the Glittering Caves behind Helm's Deep makes sense in cinematic terms, collapsing places and chronology to heighten dramatic impact, but if fidelity to the original was not an issue, would not arming the women of Rohan instead be a more satisfactory solution and a better development of themes already introduced?

Conclusion

Despite many and unnecessary departures that violate the spirit of the book, Peter Jackson's The Two Towers remains an immensely entertaining, impressive, and enjoyable movie. If not quite up to the standard set by The Fellowship of the Rings, it nevertheless shares with that first installment the distinction of being the best fantasy movie of the year. The release of the extended edition/director's cut will probably improve the abrupt transitions, but we will need to wait for the final installment (due in December 2003) before we can fully judge the effect of the changes made here. Will the chickens come home to roost? Can the Battle of Pelennor Fields surpass that of Helms Deep, as it must? Will all the tangled themes and plot threads be satisfactorily resolved? If so, Jackson will triumph yet again.

Notes

[5] Ironically, introducing the elves into Rohan's war undercuts the scope of the greater story; when in Volume III Aragorn is joined by his kinsmen, the Rangers of the North, Gimli asks Legolas why the two of them didn't think to send for a company of their own folk to fight in the great battle before them. The elf replies that their kin have no need to march to a war, since the war has come to them -- a reference to the battles between elves and orcs in Lorien going on even as they speak, and the defeat of the Men of Dale and near-defeat of the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain by orcs and Easterlings. The worldwide nature of the current war is diminished by the changes Jackson's film introduces; we can only hope the theme is somehow reintroduced in the final installment.

See the review of The Fellowship of the Ring movie.

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