Even while “The Fellowship of the Ring” was still on it’s theatrical run in late 2001 and early 2002, loved by critics and audiences the world over and almost instantly finding its way onto most best film lists, we were quick to realise that this awesome three-hour epic fantasy was but an opening salvo. The true scale and the real battles of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy would only become apparent in the second two chapters. And while any doubts in Peter Jackson’s filmmaking talents were quickly cast into Mount Doom, “The Two Towers” is still considered the somewhat difficult middle chapter, lacking both the strong opening and conclusion present in the trilogy’s bookends.
Launching us straight into the action, with literally no introduction or summary of what has previously happened, Jackson treats the film exactly as it should be: One long story, simply subdivided. And from the outset it becomes clear that the continuation is altogether more complex and considerably darker. Where “Fellowship” functioned as a road movie of sorts, “The Two Towers” sees our heroes take on separate journeys. And unlike the book where the plots are clearly separated, it makes sense to have the different strands be intercut. Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) continue their long journey towards Mordor, tracked and then joined by the twisted and deceitful Gollum, played to perfection by motion capture pro Andy Serkis. Thus, using a combination of performance, voice and computer magic courtesy of Weta, Gollum aka Smeagol is without a doubt Jackson’s trump card for “The Two Towers”. Not only does the gangly creature look and behave in a manner that is photo-real, it is also the sort of pioneering work that has permanently changed the parameters of what is possible. And while the technical aspects of Gollum’s inception will be praised by most, it is important to note that like the rest of the trilogy, Jackson never gets carried away with a gimmick like this: Gollum is a fully fledged character, and one of the trilogy’s strongest pulling points in terms of different emotions. All kudos to Serkis here – it’s an utterly fantastic performance. The One Ring also is growing more powerful. It begins to take hold of Frodo who sees, in Gollum, what he may become if he should fail in his task.
Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd) meanwhile, after managing to escape captivity, find their way into Fangorn forest and befriend one of Tolkien’s greatest creations: a walking, talking tree. Not a tree technically, an Ent. The Hobbit duo still provide most of the film’s humour but are now forced to fend for themselves, no longer are the other heroes around to protect them. Together they must persuade the Ents to go to war and aid their friends, a task proved difficult by the fact that Ents are by nature very slow and thoughtful. It’s in these scenes in particular that “The Two Towers” sometimes loses the edge and exhilarating sense of adventure that “Fellowship” possessed. The pacing is slowed right down, through the Ent bits but also through Frodo’s encounter with Faramir (David Wenham), brother to the deceased Boromir (Sean Bean). There’s a lot of walking hither and thither, without ever getting any closer to destroying the Ring. Jackson is being highly faithful to the book of course, which isn’t a bad thing and viewers will be so caught up in the story, that the three-hour run-time will still fly by. “The Two Towers” is by no means above criticism in this regard but the problems are minor and it should be remembered that with a film before and after it, it fulfils its purpose excellently. In fact keeping these meandering storylines in check is testament to the writing genius of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
Finally, we follow the journey of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli who track the Uruk-hai holding Merry and Pippin captive and are thus introduced to the world of men, namely the kingdom of Rohan. Aided by the new and improved Gandalf (Ian McKellen returns from his “death” in Moria as Gandalf the white), they travel to Edoras to aid the besieged Rohirrim in their battle against Saruman’s ever growing threat. Several new faces join the cast here including Bernard Hill as King Theoden, Karl Urban as Eomer, Miranda Otto as Eowyn and the ever creepy Brad Dourif as Wormtongue. It’s an outstanding ensemble. Development comes also with the introduction of a love-triangle of sorts, with Eowyn making eyes at a Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who is troubled ever by his love left in Rivendell who, if Hugo Weaving has anything to say about it, will sail to the Undying Lands and be parted from him forever. Fans of the book (and the appendices in particular for most of the love story was mined from there) will eagerly lap it up. As a result, the pacing the the middle act slows somewhat before it all culminates in the all-action battle of Helm’s Deep when all minor problems will be forgiven. Like Gollum, there are some really jaw-dropping effects and pure cinema on show here, really upping the ante and raising the bar higher yet again. We didn’t think that was possible but well, we have been wrong before…
As everything in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is consistent, so is its music, composed by Howard Shore. There are not enough superlatives out there to describe just how good, well researched and executed his music for the series is. Taking the the very solid and Oscar winning base of music from “The Fellowship of the Ring” Shore develops these themes and adds in new ones as well. There is a theme for Eowyn, another for Gollum and, perhaps most significantly, Rohan’s signature theme: As the whole Rohan society is based around ancient Scandinavian cultures, Shore writes for the Hardanger fiddle and a beautiful theme that soars above the images. It just feels like the music was always there, belonging to that world. The action music is developed further also: Isengard’s 5/4 pounding is relocated even further into the bass and some of the Lorien themes reappear for the elves at Helm’s Deep in a much more militaristic manner. Once again, there are two versions of the soundtrack available: The regular album and the Complete Recordings four disc set. While the casual listener may be satisfied with the single disc offering, film score fans should really shell out for the Complete Recordings which presents all the music in the film – there’s plenty of material that didn’t make the cut on the regular album.
Unlike the first chapter “The Two Towers” has a few minor problems, which are all ironed out by the end. In overall consideration however, these will make little impact on “The Lord of the Rings’” place among the greatest trilogies and films of all time. And because it is all one story, “The Two Towers” does an excellent job of building on “Fellowship’s” opening and sets us up perfectly for “Return of the King’s” dramatic finale. Genius filmmaking.
How does “The Two Towers” rank in the LotR trilogy for you? If you have any thoughts on my review or anything at all please do leave a comment, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to the RSS feed. Much appreciated – thank you! Until next time, all the best.