Posts Tagged ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally posted December 29th 2002:

As you may have noticed if you’ve read this column before, I go to the cinema rather a lot. And at the cinema I’ve seen films provoke many different responses: most often, cheers when the BBFC title card finally appears after the adverts and trailers (most noticably before Attack of the Clones – and, yes, we all felt slightly embarrassed for doing it once we’d actually seen the film). But also I’ve heard screams (most recently during The Others) and seen people walk out in confusion and/or disgust (that’d be in the middle of David Cronenberg’s Crash). But only once in a British cinema have I seen the audience give a film an ovation as the closing credits started to roll: and that film, as you’ve probably guessed, was Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

I must admit I was a little bit sceptical about this middle bit of Middle Earth, recalling that for quite a long time in the book not much happens – and most of the interesting stuff happens towards the ends of the various stories, which I already knew had been shifted back to next Christmas’ concluding installment. And after the powerhouse opening sequence, briefly reprising the duel at Khazad-Dum before moving on to depict Gandalf (Ian McKellen) putting the smackdown on the Balrog amongst the foundations of the world, my worries seemed briefly founded. This is the entirety of the recap that Jackson provides before plunging us back into the various travails of the different elements of the Fellowship – Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are struggling towards Mordor, alternately stalked and guided by the ruined creature Gollum (a remarkable fusion of actor Andy Serkis and CGI), while Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), having being been grabbed by the Uruk-hai (sounds painful), are being carried off to the clutches of renegade wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) – but not if their comrades Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) have anything to say about it! The movie assumes this is all already clear in the minds of the audience, so the early stages can seem a little unwelcoming. But as time goes on and the rhythm and power of the film seduces the imagination, Jackson unfurls the fullness of his vision, and the result is a heroic fantasy of the highest quality.

All the pleasures of the first film are here again to be enjoyed – Mortenson’s macho posturing and slightly strangulated Numenorean accent, McKellen’s formidable wizard (regenerated in true Dr Who style into a arse-kicking new incarnation), Howard Shore’s majestic score, and much, much more. And there are, of course, new characters and locations by the bucketload – Bernard Hill gives a quietly powerful performance as King Theoden, Miranda Otto lights up the screen as shieldmaiden Eowyn, helplessly drawn to Aragorn (intrigued, no doubt, by the impressive length of his pipe), and Brad Dourif1 oozes unpleasantness as Wormtongue. And while The Two Towers inevitably lacks some of the impact of The Fellowship of the Ring, there are still gobsmacking visuals on a regular basis: armies of darkness on the march, the opening fight sequence, the gates of Mordor grinding open, Nazgul on fell beasts flying over ruined cities…

Even moreso than the first time round, Jackson and his fellow writers have taken liberties with the text in order to make this work cinematically. Most obviously, this film only covers the events in fourteen or so of the twenty chapters in Tolkien’s book (so anyone expecting the abhorrent Shelob to appear, or Pippin and Merry to be reunited with their friends, is in for another year’s wait). The timing and order of events have been significantly rejigged beyond this, though, so that things occurring days apart in the book happen simultaneously at the climax of the film. Personally, I didn’t have too much of a problem with this, but you don’t have to surf too far across the internet to find a message board full of Tolkies seething and screaming their outrage – ‘Peter Jackson is a second-rate director with no imagination and he should be slapped!‘ is one of the milder things I’ve read. It does seem that the more familiar you are with the book, the more likely it is you’ll find something to object to in the movie.

I’m only really a dabbler when it comes to Tolkien but even I think there are needless flaws here and there in this film. The Aragorn-Arwen romance is once again inserted into the film with all the subtlety of a shot from a trebuchet, there’s a pointless subplot about one character being missing presumed dead, and Gimli’s role as the sole source of comic relief in the film perhaps deviates a little too far from the Professor’s vision for my taste. And while Jackson’s decision to shift the last six chapters of the books into film three is doubtless justified, it does mean that many of the most popular characters from Fellowship get surprisingly little screen time in this installment.

But these are minor, minor flaws in what is – to my mind at least – an almost incomprehensibly good film. The above excepted, it delivers on nearly every level – as pure spectacle, most obviously, but also in terms of the performances, the handling of the themes, the production design, the score… and most of all, in terms of Jackson’s contribution. The script deftly juggles anything up to five different plotlines at once, while still managing to evoke the story’s Shakespearean parallels (Henry V, Macbeth, and King Lear are all alluded to). The progress of the siege of Helm’s Deep is expertly handled and always clear. But his direction encompasses the moving, personal stories as skilfully as the epic battles – frequently switching from one to the other within the same scene.

Short of Peter Jackson dropping the ball in a major way in the course of the next year (or going under a bus), I’m certain that – when complete – The Lord of the Rings will come to be seen as the greatest achievement in the history of popular cinema. As things currently stand – well, longterm readers may be forgiven a sense of deja vu, but The Two Towers is quite literally awe-inspiring cinema, and, if there’s any justice in this world, the recipient of next year’s Academy Award for Best Picture.

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