“Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (aka “LOTR 2″) is an astounding film. I am utterly amazed that director Peter Jackson could have constructed such a film at all, but taking into account that the movie was shot back-to-back-to-back with two other parts, and it’s quite impossible not to look on the name Peter Jackson and marvel at the man’s commitment and talent. Like its predecessor (“LOTR”), “The Two Towers” is a mammoth undertaking, a film that is epic in scope and gloriously breathtaking in visuals.
The movie opens where the first film left off, with hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) separated from their comrades (the “fellowship” of the original) but still determined to destroy the ring in order to keep it away from the resurrected Sauron. Meanwhile, Sauron and his human ally, Saruman (Christopher Lee), seek to wipe out mankind from Middle Earth, and have created a massive army of Orcs to do it. It’s up to the other half of the fellowship — the exiled king Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the elven bowman Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and the battling dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) — to stop the Orcs or man’s days are numbered.
“LOTR 2″ is split into 3 different segments, all taking place in roughly the same couple of days (or is that weeks?). It follows Frodo and Sam on their journey, which becomes even more perilous when Frodo shows signs of succumbing to the ring; Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli as they marshal up a force to oppose the Orcs; and the other two hobbits, Pippin and Merry as they flee their captors (they were captured by the Orcs at the end of the first film), only to meet up with a race of giant talking, er, trees.
Going into “LOTR 2″ for the visuals alone is worth the full price of admission. Besides spectacular portraits of real world mountain vistas and lush countryside, there are giant set pieces like a whole city built on a hillside and a fortress carved into the side of a mountain. In all probability much of the sets are miniature models merged with digital effects merged with some true-to-scale sets. The point is, I couldn’t tell the difference.
In this day and age, cutting edge cgi work is nothing new, but that doesn’t seem to stop the “LOTR” films from continually outclassing George Lucas’ “Star Wars” franchise. Like Lucas’ “Star Wars Episode 2″, “LOTR 2″ is nearly half cgi, but its cgi moves about in the real world (okay, not “real”, but real in the sense of physicality) as oppose to Lucas’ so-futuristic-that-it-looks-silly worlds. In “LOTR” the digital work have weight, even if not a single inch of those flying dragons, walking trees, or hordes of attacking Orcs is real. The bulk of “LOTR 2″ was shot outside, in real fields and dirt, as opposed to the production stages, and it shows. Far be it for me to advice Lucas, the unquestionable pioneer of digital advancements in film today, but perhaps Georgie needs to take some lessons from Jackson and realize that technology is great, but technology for technology’s sake is boring and lifeless.
“LOTR 2″ runs nearly 3 hours long and is captivating from beginning to end. Because there’s very little exposition available, the film might confuse anyone who hadn’t seen the first. And even if you had seen the first, the film might still be confusing to those who have never read Tolkien’s works, especially since a slew of new characters are introduced. Just who is who exactly? Yes, it’s a bit daunting, but it is all worth it. I dived headlong into the movie’s intricate world; its different storylines and wealth of characters and how they all related to one another, or didn’t. It’s a challenge, to be sure, but it’s a challenge well worth the effort of undertaking. The reward is a rich story that encompasses a grand scale that will undoubtly pay off with the third and final part.
What little exposition there is are provided in voiceover by characters from the first film, some showing up for cameo appearances only. Liv Tyler’s character, Arwen, shows up briefly in a flashback, but otherwise doesn’t figure into the film, although her people, the elves, do. Not having read the book, I had no knowledge of what was coming, or who was who. Thankfully characters in the movie make a habit of introducing themselves by name as well as lineage.
Of special note is actor Andy Serkis, who provides the voice for the completely digital character Gollum, a former owner of the ring Frodo is trying to destroy. Still hopelessly entranced by the powerful weapon, the Gollum accompanies Frodo and Sam on their quest to destroy the ring, all the while harboring dark fantasies about re-possessing the soul-tainting jewelry. Serkis is incredible, and so is the Gollum. I have never seen a CGI character work so well onscreen. The Gollum may very well be the most lifelike and realized CGI character ever to exist, but not really exist, if you know what I mean.
It’s hard to express how much I admire “The Two Towers.” It’s simply a stunning film, and the trilogy as a whole is sure to surpass every franchise that’s come before it. (Sorry again, George.) “LOTR 2″ will be followed by a third and final installment called “Return of the King”, which I know nothing about, just as I knew nothing about “The Two Towers” going in. Although I think it’s safe to assume (and probably the surest bet in the galaxy) that “King” will be breathtaking to look at, grand in scale, and wow from beginning to end.
Is it possible that this series could actually get better? I shudder at the thought. (But in a good way, natch.)
Peter Jackson (director) / J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson (screenplay)
CAST: Elijah Wood …. Frodo
Ian McKellen …. Gandalf the White
Viggo Mortensen …. Aragorn
Sean Astin …. Sam
Billy Boyd …. Pippin
Liv Tyler …. Arwen
John Rhys-Davies …. Gimli
Dominic Monaghan …. Merry
Miranda Otto …. Eowyn