I recently watched "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" again and
I was struck by its emotional density. Every character is given a human
dimension and every tragedy is treated with cosmic significance in a world far
removed from our own. Though not a great film, the first "Lord of the Rings" has
real power to it. "The Two Towers," the middle section of the trilogy, is not
nearly as sweeping or grandiose as the first epic. It has action and zest to it
but the intimacy is gone. Director Peter Jackson is intent on throwing
everything in except the kitchen sink.
When we last left the J.R.R. Tolkien world, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Josh
Astin) were prepared to go to Mordor where Frodo would destroy the all-powerful
ring forever. Along for this journey is the skeletal-looking creature Gollum
(Andy Serkis), who initially attempts to steal the ring from Frodo. This ring
exudes a magic and a will of its own, and can make men of nobility change into
traitors and murderers. After a major struggle with Gollum, the three acquiesce
and head to Mordor using Gollum as their guide.
A war is starting to brew in Middle-Earth. Saruman (Christopher Lee), the evil
wizard, has amassed an army of 10,000 Uruk-Hai, basically creatures with ugly
eyes and distorted, wizened faces. There are also the Orcs, another race of
creatures we had seen in the last film. They are all warriors who are ready for
battle, and see no harm in pulling trees off the ground. Aragorn (Viggo
Mortensen), our hero who is destined to become king one day, has to warn the
real king, Theoden (Bernard Hill), of the growing armies of darkness. Brad
Dourif is Grima Wormtongue, a pale-skinned, vampiric-looking servant to Saruman
who betrays Theoden with the help of Saruman's spell. Naturally, Aragorn cannot
go at this alone. He teams up with the elf, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the feisty,
competitive dwarf, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and the wise wizard Gandalf (Ian
McKellen), who was last seen battling the demon Balrog (this battle is briefly
reprised with a different outcome). Just when Gandalf was thought to be dead, he
survives and becomes Gandalf the White, a more powerful wizard who can stop
anyone in his tracks with forces of blinding white light.
Meanwhile, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), two hobbits who had
to let Frodo go his own way, are captured by the Orcs. They eventually flee into
the Fanghorn Forest, a forest few ever dare to enter. This forest has living
trees named Ents, who can walk with grace from one edge of the forest to the
other. One particular Ent named Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies) helps
Merry and Pippin on their journey to Saruman's stronghold.
As in "Fellowship of the Ring," every image of "The Two Towers" is forceful and
serenely beautiful. Though director Peter Jackson overdoes the sweeping shots of
the countryside and still shoots the action scenes a little too tightly, the
film does have much to offer. The special-effects are consistently dazzling and
eye-opening. The creatures are all believable and this world of Middle-Earth is
still quite a vision of grand vistas of the countryside, foggy swamps, fiery
castles and mountains. No shot is wasted and no effect is too impossible for Mr.
Jackson - he has created a storybook of fantasy images one can only dream about.
I recently looked through a delightful illustration book of Tolkien's trilogy
and I can say that the images are as crystallized as the ones created in the
film - even the Gollum looks exactly as one could imagine on screen. This is a
world understood on the page by Tolkien, and cinematically understood by
Jackson's own vision.
There is action to spare, especially during the climactic Helm's Deep battle,
but the intimacy and emotional weight of "Fellowship of the Ring" is clearly
gone. The hobbits are taken matter-of-factly, as is our unshaven hero, Aragorn,
and the elf and the dwarf. A return by Liv Tyler as Arwen, the elf who fell in
love with Aragorn, springs some emotion but, alas, is too brief to strike any
chord. Likewise the cameo by Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, the queen of the
Elves. The one character that brings some pathos is Gollum, the enervated
creature who may or may not have been a hobbit named Smeagal. His wide eyes of
confusion and hate indicate the undying need for the ring he once possessed ("My
precious!"). This creature was created by CGI and yet, despite some reservations
I have about this technology, this character remains the most convincing
animated creation I have yet seen on film. He moves, gyrates, spits, talks and
jumps like a real being. The exception is that this creature seems like a real
actor, emoting between looks of fright and anger with equal aplomp. Andy Serkis,
who voices the creature and was on the set to match the motion control through
CGI, brilliantly captures a lost, schizophrenic soul of Middle-Earth - he
remains the most human character in the film by far, as if he was thrust into
this world to live a life of pain and regret.
"The Two Towers" is recommended for its visual beauty and for the amazing,
memorable Gollum character. The rest of the film will likely make no sense to
anyone who has not read the books or seen the first film in this epic series.
There is no beginning, middle or end - this is clearly the middle chapter and no
recap of past events has been implemented. Overlong and overcooked, "The Two
Towers" is still worthwile entertainment and remains stunning mostly in terms of
what it accomplishes visually. I still miss the intimacy.
Copyright © 2003 Jerry Saravia