Should I Watch..? 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers'
What's the big deal?
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers is an epic fantasy adventure film released in 2002 and is based on the second volume of J.R.R. Tolkien's series of novels The Lord Of The Rings. It was filmed simultaneously with its predecessor The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and its sequel The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King in director Peter Jackson's native New Zealand and like the first film, it became a box office smash. As a trilogy, global earnings are estimated at around $3 billion which makes the series one of the most successful of all time. It also garnered considerable critical praise and secured six Academy nominations, winning two of them, along with countless other awards.
What's it about?
Following on directly from the events in the previous film, this movie follows three separate narratives within the story. The first follows Frodo Baggins and his companion Samwise Gamgee as they make their way towards Mount Doom in Mordor to destroy the One Ring. Realising that they are being following by the Ring's previous owner, the warped creature known as Gollum, Frodo and Sam are forced to work with Gollum in order to survive the perilous trek.
The second follows Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli as they pursue the Uruk-hai across Middle Earth who they believe have captured Merry and Pippin. They soon find themselves in Rohan and in the court of King Théoden whose mind has been corrupted by Saruman's accomplice, Grima Wormtongue. But reuniting with a resurrected Gandalf, the trio are soon forced to flee to the fortress of Helm's Deep to face Saruman's vast Orc army in an epic last stand. The final narrative follows Merry and Pippin as they make their way through the great Fangorn Forest to safety. Encountering the living Ent known as Treebeard, they attempt to persuade their powerful allies to declare war on Saruman's fortress, Isengard.
Gimli / Treebeard (voice)
Gandalf The White
Éowyn, Theoden's niece
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson *
Release Date (UK)
18th December, 2002
Academy Award Nominations
Best Picture, Best Set Direction, Best Editing, Best Sound
Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
Anyone familiar with The Fellowship Of The Ring will recall the sense of awe at certain points in the film - the opening battle scenes at Mount Doom or the flight from Moria with the Balrog's flames glowing ominously in the distance. This second film does not disappoint either - the Battle of Helm's Deep is probably the greatest portrayal of siege warfare ever depicted on screen. It's dark, brutal and stunningly real and for me, is a highlight of the series. But the film is about more than CG-enhanced battles - the stories, whilst separate, all retain an element of reality that brings the saga to life just as well. The ensemble cast are all fantastic - Mortensen especially turns in a heroic performance as Aragorn while Serkis' portrayal of Gollum sets the standard for motion capture that still has yet to be surpassed.
The film lacks the brightness of the first film, settling on a darker and paler palette befitting the film's turn towards the futility of war and Frodo's quest towards Mordor as well as emphasising just how far from The Shire they have journeyed. The Ring's influence over Frodo also starts to materialise and Wood's tortured, haggard appearance underscores their tale with not just tragedy but also underlines the importance of their quest. Jackson's meticulous attention to detail makes all three films so believable that at no point to you stop to ponder how or where they filmed it. It is a truly beautiful movie to watch.
- Mortensen's scream of anguish at the Uruk-hai funeral pyre is genuine. Seconds earlier, he kicks a helmet in frustration and broke two toes but continued to act through it. Jackson was so impressed that this take makes it into the film.
- When they arrive at Osgiliath, Sam says "By rights, we shouldn't even be here!" This was a nod by Jackson to fans of the book where Frodo and Sam never visit Osgiliath.
- The Battle of Helm's Deep took four months to shoot - all of it at night. It involved so many extras and took so long that T-shirts were produced for the cast that read "I survived Helm's Deep!"
What's not to like?
The film takes some liberties with the source material, more so than the first film did. Again, this may infuriate Tolkien purists but it's understandable given the film's pacing. Purists might also take umbrage with the many fight scenes which aren't afraid of using modern choreography such as Legolas surfing down some stairs on a shield. But frankly, it's too good to watch to get that upset - I wasn't.
Obviously being the second of three movie, The Two Towers suffers by not having a really punchy beginning or by having a definite conclusion - it simply feeds into the next film. The film also suffers from variations in pacing - Frodo and Sam's tale felt like it takes a lot longer than the other narrative featuring Aragorn and the others while Merry and Pippin's encounter with Treebeard is painfully slow. It's never boring but I struggled to follow the plot at times, although readers of the book shouldn't suffer too much (I only read the books after seeing the films so there!).
Should I watch it?
Only if you've seen the first film beforehand, otherwise the multiple narratives might confuse you somewhat. But Jackson's superb achievement is a staggering tribute to imagination, determination and power. It is a much darker film than before and lacks the excessive action scenes of the final film but personally, this is my favourite of the three. It's complex, beautiful and utterly bewitching. This is how all fantasy films should be.
Great For: fantasy geeks, fans of cinema, New Zealand natives, fans of the books
Not So Great For: fans of Harry Potter or Twilight, people with short attention spans, people without an HD TV at home
What else should I watch?
All three films in the series are equally as enjoyable and breath-taking and continue to set standards for cinema in general, even today. But if you prefer fantasy films with a contemporary edge then you'll probably enjoy the Harry Potter series which are much more enjoyable that you may suppose. I was also recently reminded of the 80's cult classic Willow which has a campy charm to it. And if you're a teenage girl dreaming of some socially awkward hunky vampire sweeping you off your feet then there's always Twilight, I suppose.
But the simple fact is that these films by Jackson are so far and away the best fantasy films ever made that traditional efforts like Conan The Barbarian and Red Sonja look shockingly amateurish by comparison. Indeed, Red Sonja looked amateurish when it was released. Stick with Tolkien and you can't go far wrong.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox