Ere iron was found or tree was hewn,
When young was mountain under moon;
Ere ring was made, or wrought was woe,
It walked the forests long ago.

This film was released on December 18, 2002. However, on December 5, 2002 I had the pleasure of attending the World Premiere screening, along with Imprecation and yclept, at the prestigious Ziegfeld Theater in New York City.

(How did I get the ticket? I'm not really sure myself. I guess I just know people who know people.)

In attendance from the crew were:

Also, all the stars of the film came EXCEPT Which left:Plus a few characters who were not in The Fellowship of the Ring:

Before I describe the film, I'm going to summarize the plot of the book we know and love, so you can better understand how the story was altered in places. (Since The Lord of the Rings is one long story broken up into six "books" and three physical volumes, Books One and Two appear in The Fellowship of the Ring.)


I. The Departure of Boromir
Boromir, just before dying from arrow wounds, tells Aragorn that orcs have kidnapped Merry and Pippin. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli send Boromir's body over the Falls of Rauros on a funeral bier. They discover that Frodo and Sam have made off for Mordor on their own, and decide to honor their decision and hunt the orcs of Isengard instead.
II. The Riders of Rohan
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli follow the trail of the orcs for three days and nights without rest. Along the way they find a brooch from one of the elven-cloaks the Fellowship was given in Lothlorien, meaning Merry and Pippin must be alive and dropping clues. The three warriors encounter a large band of horsemen of Rohan led by Eomer, who informs them that the orcs they seek have been slain and no hobbits were with them. He lends them horses and they part on good terms. The three journey to the edge of Fangorn forest and make camp. They glimpse an old man in white who they think is Saruman, then discover their horses are gone.
III. The Uruk-Hai
Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin are held captive by a mobile group of orcs. Pippin deliberately drops the leaf clasp from his cloak hoping that Aragorn will find it. The Riders of Rohan attack the orc camp. In the melee, the hobbits' guard is slain, and they escape into Fangorn.
IV. Treebeard
Merry and Pippin encounter an Ent (a race of massive, tree-like beings) named Treebeard. He takes them to a gathering of many Ents, who, due to the ongoing destruction of their forest by orcs, decide to march on Isengard, to make war against Saruman.
V. The White Rider
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli enter Fangorn forest and again encounter an old man in white, who is not Saruman but Gandalf. Gandalf tells them the story of his defeat of the Balrog, and his own subsequent death and resurrection. They exit the forest and Gandalf summons their steeds, along with his own, Shadowfax. The four ride for Edoras, chief city of Rohan.
VI. The King of the Golden Hall
Upon arrival at the hall of Theoden King, the riders are met with hostility and forced to leave their weapons at the door, though Gandalf is allowed to keep his cane. Theoden, bent with age, does not welcome them, nor does Wormtongue. Gandalf raises his staff to cast a spell that knocks Wormtongue sprawling and restores strength to the king. Gandalf convinces Theoden to ride to war against Saruman, and Wormtongue, who will not ride, is revealed as a traitor and cast out of the kingdom. The company sets off, numbering more than a thousand, including Eomer, while Eowyn stays behind to lead the people in the king's absence.
VII. Helm's Deep
The company rides to Helm's Deep, a great fortress in the cliffs, to defend themselves against the coming orc onslaught. Gandalf leaves on a secret errand. Aragorn and the rest arrive at Helm's Deep to discover that Erkenbrand, master of the citadel, has ridden away and is missing. Mere hours later, at nightfall, thousands of orcs attack. The enemy cannot successfully climb the wall or batter down the gate, so they sneak in through a culvert. Legolas and Gimli repel the invaders but the waves of assault continue. At dawn, Theoden and his riders exit the gate to meet the forces. Gandalf reappears with Erkenbrand and a thousand foot soldiers, and caught between the two armies the orcs flee.
VIII. The Road to Isengard
Theoden, Eomer, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn take a group of twenty warriors and ride to Isengard to confront Saruman. They see a group of Ents, who have herded trees to replace a forest Orcs razed. They arrive at the ringed wall around the tower Orthanc to find it flooded, and Merry and Pippin lying on a rock and smoking.
IX. Flotsam and Jetsam
The ex-members of the Fellowship regale each other with what they've been doing while separated. Pippin describes the Ents battling orcs and destroying their machinery, then breaking dams to drown the caverns.
X. The Voice of Saruman
Gandalf confronts Saruman, who comes to the window above the door of Orthanc. Saruman tries to placate our heroes with pleasant lies through the magically melodious tones of his voice, but they are not deceived. Gandalf breaks Saruman's staff and expels him from the Council of Wizards. Wormtongue, from inside the tower (and without Saruman's approval) hurls at Gandalf the object closest to hand, which happens to be...
XI. The Palantir
...which is a mystical glass ball that the Dark Lord Sauron has been using to give orders to Saruman. The company, on the move again, encounters a Nazgul, servant of Sauron, on a great winged beast. Gandalf takes Pippin and they ride on Shadowfax for Minas Tirith, the great chief city of the kingdom of Gondor.


I. The Taming of Smeagol
Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam wander through the rocky maze of the Emyn Muil, drawing closer to Mordor. Gollum, who owned the Ring before Bilbo Baggins, finally catches up to the hobbits but they overpower him. They make him swear on the Ring to lead them safely through the hideous Dead Marshes between them and the mountains of Mordor.
II. The Passage of the Marshes
The hobbits follow Gollum through the desolate swamp, unsure if they can trust him. Corpses lie just below the dank water, beckoning with ghostly lights. The three hide from a winged Nazgul. Sam awakes one night to hear Gollum debating with himself whether to kill the hobbits and take the Ring. He concludes he couldn't do it alone, but that "she might help".
III. The Black Gate is Closed
The three arrive at the massive gate to Mordor to find it guarded by countless armed orcs. Though they will surely be caught if not killed, Frodo is ready to forge ahead nonetheless, until Gollum claims to know a secret way in, at Cirith Ungol. And the hobbits have little choice but to follow though they mistrust him.
IV. Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
They journey south along the mountain range, passing into the pleasant woods and waters of Ithilien. To cook a rabbit, they make a fire, which Gollum warns against. By the morning, the smoke has drawn the attention of a brace of warriors from Gondor led by Faramir. Gollum has slunk away in the night. The next day the hobbits see the soldiers of Gondor fighting the Easterling men and their oliphaunts.
V. The Window on the West
Faramir reveals to the hobbits that Boromir was his brother and is now dead. (Faramir had dreamt of the funeral bier and found the Horn of Gondor cleft in twain.) He then questions them thoroughly about the true purpose of their quest and where exactly the treachery in the Fellowship lay. Faramir deduces they guard an object that Frodo and Boromir quarrelled over, and after he promises not to take it, Frodo reveals to him their goal: the cracks of Mount Doom.
VI. The Forbidden Pool
Faramir catches Gollum stealing fish from the pool by his secret waterfall headquarters. Frodo begs that Gollum's life be spared. Faramir reluctantly lets the creature live, and allows the three to set off again for Cirith Ungol with his blessing.
VII. Journey to the Cross-roads
Frodo, Sam and Gollum trek to the crossroads near the town of Osgiliath. Gollum sneaks off once but returns, and luckily they encounter no enemies.
VIII. The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
The three approach the city of Minas Morgul and see a host of the enemy, commanded by the leader of the Nazgul, riding out to war with Gondor. Gollum leads them up high staircases through the mountains. All the while the burden of the Ring weighs heavier on Frodo.
IX. Shelob's Lair
Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the foul-smelling pitch black tunnel of Torech Ungol. Frodo and Sam reach a fork and realize Gollum has abandoned them. Frodo uses the phial of Galadriel to light their way, and to make the many-eyed beast stalking them retreat. They hack through the thick cobwebs blocking the tunnel's end and are attacked by Shelob, a hideous giant spider. Gollum returns and wrestles Sam to the ground, but Sam overpowers him and escapes.
X. The Choices of Master Samwise
Frodo lies paralyzed, stung and bound in webbing. Sam uses Sting (Frodo's Elven sword) and the phial to defeat Shelob, and she retreats once more. Sam cuts the cords but Frodo does not move, and Sam believes him dead. He takes the Ring and reluctantly leaves Frodo's body behind, but then a troop of orcs captures the body and Sam (wearing the Ring to make himself invisible) follows them back to the guard tower of Cirith Ungol. He overhears them say that Frodo is in fact alive. Then the gate to the tower is locked in front of him.


Whew. Okay. Now the movie. I want to be clear about this:


Not just some spoilers. ALL of them.
You really should not read this until you see the movie.
Peter Jackson will give you the story much better than I can here.

Ready? Here's the dirt.

Probably the most ingenious thing about the way Fellowship was adapted is that the events in front of us were not restricted by the viewpoint of a character; the entire breadth of the War of the Ring could be told through parallel action. We can simply cut to the Black Riders leaving Minas Morgul, or to Saruman rallying the Uruk-hai, or to Gandalf in Minas Tirith reading the account of Isildur, as it's happening, and we're not bogged down by flashbacks and exposition. This injects the story of Fellowship with much more momentum, especially in its first half, before the Fellowship gathers at Rivendell.

Two Towers extends this philosophy, interweaving three story threads which climax simultaneously. If you'll recall, the contents of Book 3 Chapter I were included at the end of the first film, to give closure to the character of Boromir. Missing altogether are the contents of Book 3 Chapters VIII-IX (Gandalf's second confrontation with Saruman) and Book 4 Chapters VIII-X (Sam's battle with Shelob). These events will have to occur in the next film, The Return of the King, which won't be finished until December 2003 (and must be at least four hours long, by my estimate).

Essentially, the film is about Rohan, with the Ring and the Ents as subplots. There are many subtle deviations from the book concerning how things happen, but as in the first film the primary who and where has not been tampered with, and slavish attention has been paid to the tiniest physical details. I'm going to give you the events of the film in roughly the order they are intercut.

The film does not open with a conventional recap of the first chapter. After the main title ("The Lord of the Rings") we fade up on a snowy mountain range. We recognize Caradhras, the peak the Fellowship could not scale. We float closer to the crags, hearing voices from far within. Suddenly we slip through a fissure in the rock to see what may well be the most memorable scene from the first film:


Again the Bridge of Khazad-dum cracks. Again the Balrog falls. And again the whip of flame catches the wizard around the ankle and he too plummets into the chasm. But this time, instead of staying with Aragorn, the camera pinwheels down into the black abyss to follow Gandalf's descent.

Gandalf sees his shining Elven sword Glamdring falling beside him. He reaches out toward it...

...seizes it...

...and hacks at the Balrog with mighty blows even as he drops to his own death.

The two battle and rage, the demon's inner fire lighting the terrifyingly deep canyon. Then entering a monstrously huge underground cavern, they plunge into dark water at the bottom. The Balrog's flame is extinguished--

--as Frodo awakes from a nightmare with a start. He and Sam begin to wander the perilous cliffs of the Emyn Muil. Title fades up, white against the rough gray rock: "THE TWO TOWERS".

We spend a while with the two hobbits here, catching up on the characters and the particulars of the quest. Gollum sneaks up on them in the night, trying to steal the Ring. Frodo makes him swear on it that he will help them navigate the labyrinth (In the book, they didn't need his help until the Marshes), though Sam just wants to tie him up and leave him.

The character of Gollum is created entirely through computer-generated animation, though actor Andy Serkis (who also performs the creature's voice) stood in for the scenes, wearing a special suit onto which Gollum's digital anatomy could later be mapped. The same method was used for Jar Jar in Star Wars: Episode One, but Gollum is much more fun to watch. That's not because of any technical achievement, though Gollum looks stunningly solid when he grapples with Sam; it's because he's a complex character fully realized. He has to be both frightening and pitiable, dishonest yet loyal, monstrous but almost cute. The dramatization of his true insanity, his split personality ("Slinker and Stinker", as Sam calls them), is so successful it's wildly hilarious. I really enjoyed watching Gollum, whereas when I read the books, like Sam, I just want him to go away.

We cut to the furiously marching troop of Uruk-hai (fiercely strong mutant orcs), with Merry and Pippin slung on the backs of two orcs. Pippin overhears the orcs say humans are behind them. He manages to wrest the wrought-gold leaf-shaped clasp from his Elven cloak with his teeth and spits it on the ground for Aragorn the tracker to come across.

We cut to Aragorn, ranger of the Dunedain, running across the plains of Rohan, following the trail of the Uruk-hai who have captured Merry and Pippin. His companions are Legolas Greenleaf of the Elves of the forest of Mirkwood and Gimli son of Gloin, Dwarf Warrior of the Lonely Mountain. There is a bit of comic relief here with Gimli running, who has heavy armor and legs that aren't quite as long. This bit is a little like the beginning of Conan the Barbarian. Aragorn locates the clasp and deduces the hobbits live. (I think the suspense here is better constructed than it is in the book; once we see Aragorn finding the leaf we don't need to waste time flashing back to it being dropped.)

Then we get a scene not in the book: Meanwhile, a group of wild men of the hills, stirred to a fury by the treacherous wizard Saruman, march on a village with torches. A mother sets her two children on a horse and has it ride for Edoras. She does not accompany them because she cannot bear to slow them down. This is a cheap heartstring gambit, but it's shot mostly in one long handheld take, and damn if it didn't work on me.

Then another scene not in the book, to establish the royal hall at Rohan. Theoden King is deathly pale on his throne, barely able to mumble let alone move, while at his right hand the hideous Grima Wormtongue whispers spells then barks orders at the king's subjects. Theoden's sister-daughter Eowyn tries to tell him of the death in battle of his son Theodred but he does not react. Eomer her brother attempts to contest Wormtongue's evil counsel and is banished from the kingdom.

Eomer and his company of a hundred or so ride past the three. Aragorn asks for news from Rohan and they stop and exchange words about the orcs. Our heroes ride to the site of the battle and inspect the heaps of bodies for more clues.

Now we flashback to the previous night to see Merry and Pippin lying bound in the orc camp. What I miss from the book in this scene is that three orc tribes were working together (poorly): the Uruk-hai from Isengard led by Ugluk, the Mordor orcs led by Grishnakh, and a much smaller group from Moria who had been chasing the Fellowship for months. Here, the orcs still argue loudly about whether they can eat the hobbits, but since they are all from Isengard, they do it without a sense of nationalism. The riders of Rohan attack the camp and the hobbits crawl away. Pippin accidentally maneuvers under a horse. The hooves rise above his head, just about to come down and crush him and we cut away.

Now some of that was intercut moment-to-moment with Aragorn: As Pippin leaves a mark on the grass or a bit of rope behind Aragorn immediately picks it up the next day. Pippin rolls away just in time. He and Merry manage to find a knife, cut their bonds and (knowing none of the perilous legends about the area) run into Fangorn forest. In the film Grishnakh follows them, still hungry for man-flesh. They hide from him in a tree which, in a wonderful reveal (a yellow eye opening in the bark), is actually Treebeard the Ent. After a little history about his species (much less than in the book, we lose everything about the Entwives and the healing drink) Treebeard brings them before a wizard in white who we only see from behind.

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli enter the forest. They do not see a wizard in white beforehand--the whole stolen horses inicident is gone. But it isn't long before they find Saruman-oh-wait-it's-not-Saruman-it's-Gandalf. Gandalf mentions Merry and Pippin passed that way. He also tells them about his defeat of the Balrog.

Flashback to the final stage of the battle high atop Celebdil, the tallest peak of the Misty Mountains. The Balrog has burst into flame anew. Gandalf summons a lightning bolt which strikes Glamdring and he stabs the Balrog with the energy of the thunder. (That ain't in the book but I wish it was.) The demon falls dead, and so, in exhaustion, does the wizard. Then he journeys through bizarre galaxial clouds, sent back.

The four exit the forest and Gandalf performs an elaborate whistle to summon Shadowfax, chief of all horses. As his white steed with no saddle or bridle comes galloping toward them in slow motion, it should have been cheesy as hell, but I found it really beautiful. They ride for the plateau city of Edoras, capital of Rohan.

Upon arrival at Theoden's royal hall Meduseld, as you know, the heroes leave their weapons outside. As Gandalf becomes brilliantly radiant, performing a counterspell to Wormtongue and Saruman's, the royal guard rush forward to subdue him and Legolas and Gimli have to kick their asses barehanded. (This is not in the book.) You'll notice the pattern: There's much more physical fighting in the movie, like the added scene in the first one where Gandalf and Saruman engaged in kung-fu wizardry. Continuing the theme, when Gandalf has finished driving the evil out of Theoden and he slumps back in his throne, Saruman flies across his chamber in Orthanc in a terrific graphic match.

The visual aspect of Theoden's rejuvenation is magnified for the screen. The color comes back to his face as years peel away, and his long white beard even trims itself to a brown goatee! He takes up his sword Herugrim once more and kicks Wormtongue out of his hall for good.

Gollum, Sam and Frodo exit the Emyn Muil and begin the trek across the horrible Dead Marshes. Sam removes his Elven rope leash from around Gollum's neck so that the creature might better guide them. Not in the book: Frodo is hypnotized by one of the dead faces in the water and falls in, quickly surrounded by hideous ghosts. It's Gollum, not Sam, who pulls him out. This helps to motivate Frodo's later demands that Gollum's own life be spared.

We hear the keening cry of a Nazgul, one of the Nine Ringwraiths who once were men, and the three hide under a bush, terrified. Frodo's shoulder wound, given to him by a Nazgul, pains him horribly. The Nazgul is introduced to us EXACTLY as he was on the outskirts of the Shire in the first film: A closeup of his hood from the right. A closeup of his spiked gauntlet gripping the reins of his steed. Only it's not dark woods behind him; it's an appalling red sky, and we pull back to see that he rides not a horse but a vast winged black beast like a dragon. Flap. Flap.

I am sorta trying to keep my opinions of the film out of this part of the writeup, but I have to say that sequences like this and the two Balrog battles demonstrate Peter Jackson's mastery of the tools of cinema. His fevered imagination ensures that his "reveal"s will thrill even those of us deeply familiar with the books.

Also not in the book: Theoden holds a funeral for his son Theodred, and the horse with the two children comes over the hill, bearing ill news. Gandalf has to leave on a mysterious errand (In the book this happens during the ride to Helm's Deep) but tells Aragorn that he will have to accept his responsibility before the War of the Ring is over. Aragorn discovers Eowyn has skill wielding a blade. When a consensus is reached that the town must be abandoned, Eowyn comes with them, and she never gets to wear mail as she does in the book.

Frodo, Sam and Gollum come to the Black Gate. Here's what doesn't happen in the book: The gate opens to let a troop of warriors inside. Frodo runs for it even though it is hopeless, but Gollum stops him. The cliff under Sam crumbles and he falls down near the troops. Frodo saves him by covering him with his Elven cloak, camouflaging them like part of the rock. There is an incident like this in the third book.

The caravan begins a long journey across the plains of Rohan. Gimli jests with Eowyn, telling her whether Dwarven women have beards, and Aragorn notices how beautiful and strong she is--what an excellent queen she would make when he one day claims the throne of Gondor which is his birthright. She asks him where he got the Evenstar jewel around his neck, and we flashback to his memories of Arwen in Rivendell.

Essentially, this part acts as deleted scenes from the first film, spaced out to keep the love story strong throughout the entire trilogy, whereas in the book it is only dwelt on in the Appendix. Her immortal Elven people are leaving across the sea for the paradise of Valinor, but she has sworn to stay with the man she loves. He tells her she should go despite their love, and she appears insulted. We see the Fellowship leave Rivendell once more, and the estranged looks on the faces of the lovers. Aragorn tells Eowyn that Arwen did choose to leave Middle-Earth, though readers of the book know that's not what happens.

At this point in the book, a scout reports that wolf-riders are abroad in the valley. Here, Theoden takes his best warriors and rides out to fight them while Eowyn (who wishes to fight as well) is ordered to lead the civilians to Helm's Deep. The giant wolves, or wargs, are entirely digital and frightening as hell. This is a tremendously exciting battle sequence. Aragorn is dragged off a cliff, and the company believes him dead. That's new too.

So probably around now, Frodo and Sam reach Ithilien. Sam and Gollum debate the merits of cooked rabbit versus cold fish. They see mighty oliphaunts (twice as tall as the present-day variety) and dangerous Easterling warriors. Then Faramir's soldiers attack the servants of Sauron with arrows. Frodo and Sam try to escape but are cornered and kidnapped. Gollum is nowhere to be found.

Merry and Pippin are taken to the council of the Ents. Each Ent is completely different, and the animators did a wonderful job creating creatures that only get a few seconds of screen time. The hobbits are unable to convince the Ents to go to war, and it is decided that they should return to the Shire.

We return to Aragorn, alive, on the banks of a creek. He dreams of kissing Arwen. No, wait, it's another flashback from Rivendell. Interestingly, it's not really from Aragorn's POV: We get a long scene between Arwen and her father Elrond, reestablishing her conflict. Elrond urges her to leave, saying that she will bring herself only pain. Then we flash forward about a hundred and forty years to see her weeping at Aragorn's funeral. Aragorn awakes to find his horse Hasufel licking his face. Yes, it's a silly joke, but it worked, I don't know why.

As Aragorn rides to Helm's Deep he sees the forces of Saruman approaching. They number at least ten thousand. He enters the stronghold triumphantly, and everyone, especially Eowyn, is overjoyed to see that he's not dead. In the film, there is no character of Erkenbrand, and Theoden's soldiers number only three hundred. (In the book, it was one thousand, not including Eomer's one hundred and five riders.) They begin to prepare for war, which they know will come by nightfall.

Frodo and Sam meet Faramir and learn he is Boromir's brother. This sequence mirrors Book 4 Chapters V and VI very closely until the end: Faramir and his warriors answer a call for reinforcements at the ruined town of Osgiliath, and they take the hobbits with them. In the film, Faramir wants the army of Gondor to have the ring, just as his brother did.

It's night. All defenses are up at Helm's Deep and the orcs can be seen in the distance with winding lines of torches. Haldir leads a group of Elven archers from Lothlorien up to the gates and demands to fight alongside the mortal men. (This is DEFINITELY not in the book.) Rain begins to pour. The elves array themselves along the high wall just as the orc army arrives.

Now in the book, the orcs simply leap at the wall as soon as they're in sight of it. Here, they formally arrange their regiments before the wall and attempt to frighten the men into submission with noise. Until an old man's finger slips and sends an arrow straight into the neck of an orc. Then the musical score comes back in as the orcs rush at the fortress. The elves and men send a volley of arrows into them. As orcs raise ladders against the twenty foot wall and leap onto the battlements, Legolas and Gimli have a contest to see who can kill the most.

At the center of the base of the wall is a small culvert, the only weak point of the fortress. The orcs pile two huge spiked bombs inside (we were given an earlier shot of Saruman playing with chemicals) and a massive Uruk-hai sprints toward them with a torch in slow motion. Legolas shoots him twice but cannot bring him down. A huge breach in the wall erupts in a hail of rock and dust. Foot soldiers led by Aragorn rush to meet the orcs, but they are overrun and must retreat to the inner keep. A troop of Orcs marches up the main ramp hiding a battering ram inside their collective shields. Aragorn and Gimli sneak out a side door and disperse the forces. (In the book this part included Eomer as well.)

Pippin thinks they should give up and go back to the Shire, but Merry insists that the evil of Sauron will engulf the land and there will be no Shire. They convince Treebeard to take them back through the forest and end up in a section that was levelled by orcs. Upon seeing the devastation, Treebeard is so enraged that he calls the Ents to march to war.

The Uruk-hai beat at the very door of Theoden King's inner sanctum. Aragorn convinces the king to ride out and meet the threat. The horsemen sweep down the main ramp into the horde, with no hope of survival. But dawn breaks, bringing the return of Gandalf, who appears on a hilltop with Eomer and all the two thousand riders of Rohan behind him. The warriors and their horses rush down into the canyon and rout the orcs.

The Ents stomp the orcs of Isengard and wreck their machinery. One breaks a dam and floods the great circle, water hissing into the caverns. An Ent who caught fire (that detail IS in the book) calmly puts himself out in the flood.

Meanwhile, Faramir's troops battle the scattered orcs hiding in Osgiliath's broken stones. A winged Nazgul approaches and Frodo, under the thrall of the One Ring, walks up a staircase to meet it. Sam wrestles him to the ground at the last moment. Frodo draws his sword in fury and nearly slays Sam (NONE of this is in the book), but he returns to his senses, overcome with despair at the enormity of his task.

Faramir decides to let Frodo, Sam and Gollum continue on their quest even though that means his life is forfeit by decree of his father Denethor Steward of Gondor. As the hobbits approach Cirith Ungol they muse that they may one day be heroes of tales that others will tell. (Another detail from the book, meant to refer to both the Hobbit, supposedly laid down by Bilbo Baggins, and the text in your hands.) Then we get a stunning tracking shot sweeping across the forest floor as Gollum debates with himself whether to murder and/or betray the hobbits. His conclusion is that he couldn't..."but she could." And we crane up to fade out on the grotesqueries of Mordor (Mount Doom and the Barad-dur) just as the first film did.

So as you can see, there's no major variations to the plot, but there are many many minor ones. A startling amount of dialogue is perfectly intact, like Gandalf's "Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth!" and "The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late" in Meduseld. I miss some stuff that got cut out, like Ent culture, like orc tribe infighting, like Aragorn and Eomer's promise on the plains that they shall draw their swords together, and the fulfillment of that promise at Helm's Deep.

Overall, though, I am not complaining about alterations. Some people love The Lord of the Rings so much that no film interpretation could be anything more than pointless. I respect that opinion, as a rabid endorser of the books myself, but I cannot share it. Here's why.

This is easily one of the greatest adventure films of our time.

I say that not as a hyperbolic fanboy but as a goldurn legit student of cinema. This is a meticulously crafted and monumentally powerful masterpiece. Look, I adore the first film. I saw it five times in the theater and maybe another six on DVD. But this one is somehow simply better. Looking forward to it all year could not stop my brain from continuously exploding with pleasure.

Let me inhabit a few cliches for you. For at least two of the three hours I was perched on the edge of my red velvet seat, back curled forward and neck straining. I don't believe I was ever able to shut my jaw. Every time the film cut away from the battle at Helm's Deep, Imprecation and I would slump back in our chairs and audibly exhale, exhausted. And when the cavalry poured down the cliff, I literally hyperventilated. Then as the Ents wrought justice I got dizzy and could no longer lock my eyes on the screen. If this total overwhelming delirium doesn't sound like fun, it was. It was new for me.

Wait, I need to say more about Helm's Deep. NEVER have I seen a battle sequence more precisely and dramatically orchestrated. Not in Braveheart or Akira Kurosawa's Ran or even Lawrence of Arabia. (Saving Private Ryan is of course a whole different animal, that's hellish chaos on purpose.) This is clearly the film Peter Jackson has been waiting his whole life to prove he could make.

So what else can I say? Go. If you just got home go back. There's stuff you missed. This film is VAST.

It's all about bravery, folks. Do you keep fighting even when you know you'll lose? You need to know what's important.

Arise now, arise, Riders of Theoden!
Dire deeds awake, dark is it eastward.
Let horse be bridled, horn be sounded!
Forth Eorlingas!

--J.R.R. Tolkien