Mark Reviews Movies


4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Christopher Lee, Miranda Otto, Brad Dourif, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban, Bernard Hill, David Wenham, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis

MPAA Rating:  (for epic battle sequences and scary images)

Running Time: 2:59

Release Date: 12/18/02

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Review by Mark Dujsik

There are two mindsets at battle when considering the success of The Two Towers, the second installment of the filmed adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which I am now fairly convinced that when seen as a whole will be one of the most important and potent films in the history of cinema. First, how does this chapter stand on its own? Second, how does it continue the story? To both considerations, I have strong reservations (especially toward the former), but it’s important to remember the nature of this story. Director Peter Jackson establishes from the start that this is not a sequel but a direct continuation of The Fellowship of the Ring and that The Lord of the Rings will be one gigantic film once The Return of the King is released next year. So, no, the film does not stand on its own, but it is a better film as a result. As for the matter of its success as a continuation of the story, it’s difficult to assess because this second part of the film proper has a much larger focus. This is not the story of specific characters but of the world in which they live. The main character of the film is not any one member of the fellowship that began its quest to destroy the Ring of Power but all of them separately on their own journeys and Middle-Earth itself—its politics, its inhabitants, and its eventual fate.

When we last left our heroes, they were left separated and desolate. We last saw Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) walking down a mountainside toward Mordor, the realm of the dark lord Sauron, who is making one final and sweeping attempt to regain his stranglehold on Middle-Earth. The quest is taking its toll on Frodo, whose struggle to fight the power of the Ring is becoming overwhelming. Just when things seem hopeless, the two happen upon help from a most unexpected companion—one who has been following their journey with much interest from the start. Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) are in the clutches of the ferocious Uruk-Hai, soldiers of the traitorous wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee). In pursuit of their friends are the remaining members of the fellowship, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), heir to the throne of men, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), an elf, and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), a dwarf. Their path will change upon meeting a long-lost friend and discovering even more treason in the country of Rohan, where the king Théoden (Bernard Hill) is under the influence of Saruman through the work of his servant Wormtongue (Brad Dourif).

Jackson and fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Stephen Sinclair have a lot of ground to cover in this film, which means a more plot-heavy story. Fortunately, the time spent wandering with these characters in The Fellowship of the Ring keeps us grounded in their own personal journeys. The Two Towers is an entirely different film from its predecessor. This is a time of war for Middle-Earth, and the central themes of the film are the ways in which people and nations react to such a threat. Despite Tolkien’s adamant argument against the existence of allegory in his novel, it’s difficult to watch the film without thinking of the world political climate before and during the first years of World War II. However, it’s easy to assume that such a climate exists at any given time of conflict and that the main themes are universal allegory not specific. There’s Théoden, who once freed from the grip of Saruman seems just as prone to leading his people to destruction. His willingness to run and hide in the cul-de-sac sanctuary of Helm’s Deep leads to a spectacular assault in which hundreds are pitted in defense against ten thousand. Then there are the ents, a type of walking, talking tree who sit around and deliberate while missing the issue entirely.

On a technical level, Jackson has crafted a film of scope and vision on par with the first installment. The cinematography by Andrew Lesnie once again captures the elegance of the New Zealand topography while establishing a unique look for each new location to which the heroes travel, from the bleached and ruined former splendor of a city of Gondor (home of men) to the claustrophobic, rain-drenched Helm’s Deep. The visual effects once again combine a variety of techniques, from traditional miniatures to computer technology. A few computer-generated creatures make appearances, and they’re rendered with much care. But more importantly, there are two characters created with digital effects that show how far technology has come. First are the ents, particularly Treebeard (voice of Rhys-Davies), who are admittedly rough around the edges but interesting enough to compensate for it. Then there’s Gollum, the pitiful, mangled creature who held onto the Ring for far too long. Andy Serkis performs Gollum, meaning he acted out the part and was later digitally painted over. Gollum is not a special effect but a living, breathing character. He’s a pathetic, wholly sympathetic wretch, and Serkis’ work is extraordinary.

The Two Towers leads up to the exhausting Helm’s Deep sequence, which is really only the beginning of the film’s finale. This is one of the most technically brilliant battle sequences ever captured on film. Jackson has outdone himself here, building up to a battle for an entire film and then truly delivering on his promise. Dissecting the battle, one finds multiple levels of superiority. The effects here are seamless. Thousands of Uruk-Hai march to the outset of the fortress walls. Jackson holds the moment of their arrival just long enough for tension to escalate. He uses the same trick at the turning point (to avoid spoilers, a massive catastrophe for the fortress), when everything and everyone seems to simply stop dead in their tracks to grasp what has just happened. Humor comes through as Gimli and Legolas compete for kills. It’s only the beginning as well, and Jackson eventually intercuts this battle with two other vital ones.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a monumental technical achievement. If forced to decide between this and The Fellowship of the Ring, I would probably choose Fellowship, if only because it’s a thematically complete film. However, now that Jackson has clearly established that his “trilogy” is really one film, no one should be forced to make that choice. We should simply be delighted to have seen two-thirds of this unfolding story and anticipate the conclusion with great hope.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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