Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (screenplay), J.R.R Tolkien (novel)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Sean Astin
Empire Strikes Back. The Godfather Part II. Terminator II. These are all great middle entries in a trilogy, either on par or better than the first entry. Add to that list The Two Towers. With the quest(s) set up and the characters introduced, it’s time to have some fun.
Though this trilogy is one of the greatest literary adaptations, what really makes Lord of the Rings immortal is how it redefined special effects in movies. While you may be taken on a largely character driven adventure across beautiful scenery in the first one, in this entry Jackson gets to show us even more of his new toys. The Battle at Helm’s Deep, the giant Ents of the forest, and, of course, Gollum.
When we last left our many, many characters, they were all in some kind of trouble. The Fellowship has been broken, all of the members either dead or doing some kind of work to benefit Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor. The other characters also have their important tasks once the movie gets going. Suffice it to say that each of the three main quests in this movie involve one of the special effects marvels mentioned earlier.
The Battle at Helm’s Deep is the centerpiece of the last half of the movie, and even though the Return of the King offers much bigger battles, none in the series can match it. The way it allows its characters to shine even amongst tens thousand or so computer generated Uruk hai baddies may be its greatest acheivement.
The forest ents are another brilliant creation from the novel brought to life by the modern movie age. Tolkien’s heafty industrialization parallels shine when Saruman (Christopher Lee) begins burning down the forest to create his army for Helm’s Deep. When the ents realize what he’s done thanks to the hobbits Merry and Pippin and take vengeance, it’s one of the most eye-popping and gratifying things you’re ever likely to see in a movie.
Of course I’ve saved the biggest achievement of this series for last. The computer-generated creature Gollum may be the smallest special effects marvel in movie history. Make no mistake, this is the greatest fusing of special effects and acting to date. Andy Serkis’ performance goes beyond letting the green screen doing it for him. He inhabits the character completely, and has set the bar sky high for other motion-capture performances.
Though Serkis showed us something new and exciting in acting with Gollum, the rest of the performances in this movie are completely adequate. Elijah Wood grows into Frodo even if he can’t take him to the emotional heights other actors could. In a way, this is good because the storytelling doesn’t much allow for him to have a mental breakdown. The great Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf, and Viggo Mortensen has even more fun playing Aragorn in his now-juicier role.
In the roles of the villains, Christopher Lee returns with great menace to play this movie’s central villain, Saruman. His deep voice bellows across Middle Earth as he embodies the soul-selling captain of industry. At his side is the slithery Wormtongue. Brad Dourif plays him with such anapologetic filth that it will make your skin crawl.
Visually, this movie fits right in with the rest of the trilogy as one of the most breathtaking accomplishments in cinema. Raise the stakes and add an extra layer of urgency and several more special effects marvels, and Middel Earth’s middle entry may just be the best in the whole series.