by New Line Cinema 

December 2002

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Creating the middle film of a trilogy is a difficult prospect, since it must assume that not everyone has seen the first film, and it must wrap up enough storylines that the viewer does not feel cheated, while leaving things open for the ending. In creating The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, however, director Peter Jackson followed closely in the footsteps of his source material by J.R.R. Tolkien. Beginning in media res, it is clear that Jackson intends for the three films which will make up his interpretation of The Lord of the Rings are meant to be watched as a single entity. He does not provide a flashback to the events of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring except for an extended sequence of Gandalf's battle with the Balrog, instead following the disparate portions of the fellowship as they fulfill their own quests.

Those quests are intriguing in their differences. The primary quest of the hobbits, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise (Sean Astin) is, perhaps, the most cerebral, while the misadventures of Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) is played more for comic relief. The non-hobbit quest, featuring Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is where the majority of the action occurs.

Although action and activity dominate the film, Jackson does allow a great amount of character building to appear. The viewer can see Pippin's character begin to transform from the practical joker from the first movie into a more responsible person by the end of this film, much of it demonstrated by a mixture of Boyd's portrayal and Monaghan's reactions. Interestingly, the largest portion of characterization belongs to a character who appearance is completely computer generated, Gollum (voiced by Andy Serkis). The scenes in which Gollum's personalities confront each other is handled extremely well by both the special effects team which created the images and Serkis. Similar, in many ways, to the scenes in which Norman Osborn confronted himself as the Green Goblin in the earlier Spider-Man, these scenes have a very different feel and set themselves apart.

A preponderance of the film is set around the mechanizations of Sauron and Saruman against the Riders of Rohan. Although the scenes which feature Theoden as an aged king under the thrall of his unctuous advisor Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) are excellent, the real highlight of that plotline is the siege and resulting battle of Helm's Deep. Jackson manages an appropriate mix of action and humor in the extended battle sequence, although Tolkien purists will certainly wish that Rhys-Davies's portrayal of Gimli had been less comical throughout. Aragorn, however, shows growth as he comes to accept his fated role in life more and more.

Jackson does veer from his source material more in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers than he did in the first film, perhaps highlighted the most when Frodo comes face to face with a dragon-mounted nightwraith. An event not in the books, nor in a place where Frodo visited, yet the meeting works because it allows Faramir (David Wenham) begin to atone for the sins of his brother, Boromir (Sean Bean) from the first film. Jackson also ends the film before the end of the source volume, although by doing so he permits himself a great sequence for the beginning of the third film. More importantly, the relatively peaceful final scene of Frodo, Sam and Gollum permits him to foreshadow the events which will, presumably, open the third film.

However, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, while presenting epic spectacle, does not, in fact, have either a self-contained beginning or an ending, instead merely setting the viewer up for the third film after building on the first film. Unlike some of the best middle films of trilogies (such as The Godfather, Part II), it cannot be watched on its own without knowledge of the previous film or anticipation of the subsequent film.


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