In the three-part edition of J.R.R. Tolkien
's book The Lord of the Rings
, The Two towers is the middle volume. In Peter Jackson
's three-film adaptation of this work, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
is the full title of the middle chapter.
This writeup discusses the film, and how it relates to the book.
As you may know, all three films were shot back to back, and released (after extensive post-production work) a year apart. The Two Towers was released on December 18, 2002.
In short, this is the exciting middle chapter of a magnificent nine-hour film. It's not as novel as the first chapter, and it advances the story but doesn’t resolve it. It too, is around three hours long. Perhaps it is just familiarity, but I don't rate it quite as highly as The Fellowship of the Ring. Some of my friends rated it higher, mainly due to the battle scenes.
It strikes less notes than Fellowship of the Ring, but strikes them far more forcefully. It doesn't have the narrative drive of Fellowship of the Ring, but it does have thousands of orcs in a stunning battle scene.
The autumnal colours of brown and tan veldt are used a lot. I felt that the colour palette was colder and harsher than in The Fellowship of the Ring. I noticed again that many of the characters had dirty fingernails. This one of the elements of gritty realism.
The momentum of the series has been maintained. All of us are very much looking forward for the final part next year, and I’d like to own The Two Towers on DVD, to go with The Fellowship of the Ring.
In general, the critics love the movie. Consider what Salon says:
It's not just that Jackson is succeeding on an epic scale here, it's that he's working on a scale most directors wouldn't dare.
It is praised with faint damns here
It may lack the first-view-thrill and natural dramatic shape of Fellowship, but this is both funnier and darker than the first film, and certainly more action-packed.
Let me put forth my prejudices about these films now. I thought that The Fellowship of The Ring was a great film. Sure, a few minor things were not to my liking. But an astonishingly large number of aspects of it were superb; with special effects, strong story and great acting woven together into a captivating experience. To my mind, this is the superseding of special effects as special effects. You simply don’t notice them and just accept the reality of what you are seeing, even when it involves four-foot hobbits next to a six foot wizard and a 20 foot Balrog
. The DVD edition particularly is a wonderful, well rounded film. It is subtle and nuanced, watchable again and again, beautiful and bold.
The Two Towers as the middle part of a trilogy has a harder task than Fellowship of the Ring: It neither sets the scene, nor has a resolution. It begins and ends in medias res, despite the contrivance of minor endings and beginnings.
The Two towers has three main separate stories: Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee trekking into Mordor, Merry and Pippin’s adventures, and the trio of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli.
With Fellowship of the Ring, the casual punter at least gets the first third of a story, complete with introduction, even if it doesn't end properly.
The Two Towers must, even more than Fellowship of the Ring, walk the line between mass accessibility and fan-credibility. There is minimal flashback and exposition, and so it doesn't really stand alone. Much of the story will be lost if you are not familiar with what came before.
There is also less of Gandalf, who serves almost as a narrator for much of Fellowship of the Ring. Even when he doesn't say anything, his expression tells you so much.
However there is rich material to show to us: a massed battle, Shakespearean courtly intrigue, flying Nazgul, walking trees.
But they must stop it becoming a creature feature, not let the special effects take over. With the possible exception of the ents, I think they have succeeded.
Also they will have to start turning Pepsi and Moxie, I mean Merry and Pippin (played by Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan, no idea which was which) from one-note comic relief into characters that can take centre stage.
The cast is largely unchanged from The Fellowship of the Ring. Sean Bean is gone (Boromir copped it at the end of the first film), and main new characters introduced are the court of Rohan: Theoden, Eowen, Eomer. Boromir’s brother Faramir also makes an appearance.
On the CGI front, the digitally animated characters are Gollum getting a more than cameo role, and the Ents, Treebeard particularly.
Andy Serkis plays Gollum. Gollum is animated graphics, but Andy Serkis provides the voice, and did the motion-capture – Gollum’s movements were mapped to his. He is as much in the movie as John Rhys-Davies' Gimli the dwarf is. John Rhys-Davies has just his eyes peeking out from behind the latex mask, helmet, braided hair and fake beard. Gollum is mesmerising, and almost but not quite real. The campaign is already underway to nominate Andy Serkis as best supporting actor.
The human visual mind has special circuits for judging other human beings. The measure of the quality of CGI is how close you can get to human and still make the creature believable. From Yoda and Jar-Jar Binks, and now, we have gotten as far as devolved hobbit.
Below here, there are spoilers. Don't read unless you want to know what happens in film, and how it differs from the book.
As I said, the girls liked the movie even more than The Fellowship of the Ring. They cited the valiant, sweaty Aragorn, thrusting his sword into orcs at Helm's deep. The battering ram breaking down the door, the walls being breached, Aragorn tossing Gimli as they go out the back passage, valour, hot spurting body fluids, a virginal white elvenstar stained with black blood, mighty harpoons plunging helm-deep into the fortress, a mighty erruption in the drainage tube, Aragorn and Theoden drawing their swords together, dozens of orcs being squashed ... I'll go lie down now for a bit.
The film is largely the story of Rohan, and battle of Helm's deep is the film's central focus. You may have heared a lot about it. Yes, it goes on for a while. Yes, it is captivating for all that time, and is technically astounding.
In The Two Towers, Gandalf's role is smaller, and Gandalf is changed. Ian McKellen doesn't have as much opportunity to show off his British stage thespian skills.
There were turnarounds for Tolkien fans, things we didn’t expect. Were they playing with expectations, or just establishing a different plot arc? I don’t know. Here are all the changes that I saw:
Arwen appears to be leaving for Valinor. Say it isn't so! We know it isn't really so, but it builds romantic tension and keeps her in the story.
Faramir is not as noble as in the book. He desires the ring. Why this? I see no valid reason for it.
The ent-moot initially goes the wrong way. This may be a bit of cinematic showing, not telling – Treebeard must see the devastation wrought by Isengard and change his mind in front of us.
Aragorn's accident on the way to Helm’s deep.
I'm told that the arrival of elvish archers at Helm's deep was not in the book. They seem to be elves of Lothlorien as they are lead by the rather camp elf who met the party as they entered Lothlorien in The Fellowship of the Ring. Anyway, as a minor character, he cops it.
These following changes didn't make much of a difference to the plot:
The ents were toned down, I think because they do jar a bit with the rest of the story. When the orcs are finally defeated at Helm’s deep, there are no ents in sight, just Gandalf and the cavalry.
The bit about dwarven females, beards and mating habits seemed a bit off-key to me – more like a teenage Dungeons and Dragons game than Tolkien's Middle Earth. Also quite odd that Gimli says "dwarves don't just spring from pits in the ground" when we are shown uruk-hai being born in precisely that manner.
Anyway, there are complete lists on the net where obsessive fanboys have enumerated and discussed these to death.
Elrond and Galadriel seem to have this telepathy thing going: Firstly it allows them to expound on the story unfolding, which raises questions in the audience, especially when she says words to the effect that "Frodo will be beginning to realise that this quest will claim his life" and secondly it keeps them in the story. Whereas Tolkien is quite happy for characters like Elrond or Galadriel to play a major role for a chapter or two, and then exit, this film likes to keep character continuity.
I suspect that the further we go, the more minor liberties will be taken with the plot.
Fellowship of the Ring had six stunning sets: The shire, Rivendel, Isengard, Moria, Lothlorien, The Argonath.
The Two Towers had stunning sets too: Helm's deep, with brief shots in the depths of Moria, Fangorn, Osgiliath, Isengard again and the gates of Mordor. Somehow it felt like less. Perhaps the sets were dirtier, gloomier, more scuffed, broken by war or stained with evil.
There was a cliche – the wizard mixes chemicals in lab, his ignorant sidekick peers over, holding a candle. The wizard nervously pushes the flame away from his alchemical pyrotechnics.
Well, there's only about three hours of screen time left for The Return of the King, and a lot still has to happen. So please let us see the following in the last one:
- Gollum's back-story. It would dehumanise the wretch a bit if the story of Sméagol and Deagol was omitted. However it may be an easy target for the cutting-room scisors, and it's likely that the little back-story that we've had on him is all we'll get.
- Eowyn vs. winged Nazgul
- Frodo vs. Gollum on the lip of the crack of doom, and the fall of Sauron
- The return of the king: Aragorn comes to Gondor
The scouring of the shire has been cut from The Return of the King - what you see Galadriel's mirror is all you're going to get of that - which will leave some room for all this, and Denethor too.