The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers [DVD]
Director : Peter Jackson
Screenplay : Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Stephen Sinclair & Peter Jackson (based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Elijah Wood (Frodo), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Sean Astin (Sam), Billy Boyd (Pippin), Liv Tyler (Arwen), John Rhys-Davies (Gimli), Dominic Monaghan (Merry), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Miranda Otto (Éowyn), Brad Dourif (Gríma Wormtongue), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Karl Urban (Éomer), Bernard Hill (Théoden), David Wenham (Faramir), Andy Serkis (Gollum)
Unlike The Fellowship of the Ring, which opened with an information-packed prologue and then slowly eased itself into an extensive and leisurely introduction to all the major characters in the film, The Two Towers, the second installment of Peter Jackson’s gloriously ambitious adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s sprawling fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings, dives right into the action. A few painterly shots of snow-capped mountains open the film, and then it’s off, following the three broken strands of the fellowship as they make their way through Middle-earth on an increasingly dangerous mission to destroy the One Ring of Power.
The two hobbits, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), are making their way toward the evil land of Mordor, the place where the Ring was forged and the only place in which it can be destroyed. They are joined by the strange, sinewy creature Gollum, who was once a hobbit-like creature, but was twisted and deformed—mentally and physically—by his possession of the Ring for 500 years. Hissing about "my precious," he lurks around Frodo and Sam as they form an unlikely and tenuous alliance, with Gollum leading them to Mordor and Frodo becoming increasingly sure that he can help the poor creature, whom he grows to pity.
Meanwhile, the would-be warrior-king Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are tracking the other two hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), who have been taken prisoner by a band of snarling Uruk-Hai, the nasty orc-goblin mix brewed by the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), who is plotting with Sauron, lord of Mordor, to destroy Middle-earth.
Much of the narrative in The Two Towers centers on the defense of the land of Rohan, which is under siege by Saurman’s forces of more than 10,000 orc, goblin, and Uruk-Hai warriors. The king of Rohan, Théoden (Bernard Hill), has unwittingly been under the mind control of Saruman, who works through a slimy, Rasputin-like royal advisor with the wonderfully appropriate name of Gríma Wormtongue (cult favorite Brad Dourif).
This all leads to the film’s climax, the Battle for Helm’s Deep, which is quite simply one of the most impressive large-scale battle sequences ever committed to celluloid. Director Peter Jackson and his team of special effects artists have managed to create an extended battle (it lasts for almost a third of the film) that is epic in scope, yet never devolves into spatial incoherence. Using newly invented computer software specially designed to produce photo-realistic battles involving thousands of digital figures, the filmmakers give us extreme long shots that situate the battle spatially, then take us right into the muddy, bloody thick of things, giving you the sense of being trapped in the maelstrom. It’s a singular cinematic achievement, one that reverberates in your mind for hours afterward.
If that were all it had, The Two Towers would be an exhilarating, but one-dimensional ride. However, carrying forward from The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson and company maintain the emotional resonance of the characters, deepening each one and adding new dimensions that are revealed during the increasing trials through which they are put. While Frodo is somewhat sidelined here in favor of the narrative arc that culminates in the Battle for Helm’s Deep, Elijah Wood still manages to underscore the frail hobbit’s deep inner strength, as well as the conflict that is growing within him due to his possession of the Ring. As Sam, Sean Astin gets more to do this time around; rather than simply following after Frodo and offering moral support, he becomes Frodo’s crutch, bringing him back from the brink on several occasions.
As Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen truly comes into his own, showing his grit as a full-throttle action hero, but also exposing his soft side in several flashbacks that flesh out his relationship with the elf Arwen (Liv Tyler), who is trapped in the age-old fantasy dilemma of being an immortal in love with someone who will eventually grow old and die. Things are further complicated with introduction of Éowyn (Miranda Otto), Théoden’s beautiful and tough niece who clearly has an eye for Aragorn.
There were a number of conceptual hurdles for Jackson and his team to leap in The Two Towers, the biggest being the depiction of the ents, which are essentially giant, walking, talking trees who are the keepers of Middle-earth’s forests. The idea of a talking tree has an inherently goofy quality on the page, much less as realized on the screen. Thus, credit should be given to the filmmakers that the ents are not only not goofy and distracting, but are genuinely interesting creatures, particularly the old Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), who spends most of the film carrying Merry and Pippin around in his branches. Through the ents, the story takes on a fairly didactic environmentalist tone, as Treebread waxes philosophic about the evils of destroying nature, which is one of Saruman’s specialties. (Remember his destroying all those trees in The Fellowship of the Ring to power his underground industrial war machine? He’s still at it here, and the ents make sure he pays for it.)
At almost exactly three hours in length, The Two Towers maintains Jackson’s epic scope and, if anything, improves on the pacing of The Fellowship of the Ring. The screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Jackson takes more liberties with the source material this time around, but it’s in the interest of streamlining the story for a more cinematic vision. The narrative rarely lags, and even when Jackson makes the potentially disastrous decision to cross-cut among the Battle for Helm’s Deep, Merry and Pippin trying to convince the ents to go to war, and Frodo and Sam in captivity, the momentum keeps chugging forward.
In keeping with Tolkien’s original vision, The Two Towers is very much a story of clear good and evil, the sides unambiguously drawn and the stakes clearly marked. The only wrinkle here is in the character of Gollum, who is brought to life entirely through computer-generated imagery. Gollum’s voice and body movements were supplied by actor Andy Serkis, but everything else is the artistry of digital wizards who have created what is by far the most convincing and emotionally resonant CGI creature ever.
Granted, in his many close-ups, the wide-eyed Gollum can look a little cartoonish and two-dimensional, but Serkis’ digitized performance is brilliant, turning this sad-sack Ring addict into a twisted, schizophrenic, but terribly sympathetic wastrel who grabs at our hearts as much as he repulses us. Torn between two selves, one who hates Frodo and the other of whom cherishes him, Gollum is a unique creature in Tolkien’s work, one whose allegiance is vague and open. That the final shot of the film shows him leading Frodo and Sam into unknown territory without clear intentions is a strong sign of what is to come in The Return of the King.
|The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Audio|| English Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Surround |
English Dolby 2.0 Stereo Surround
|Supplements|| On the Set: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers making-of documentary|
Return to Middle-earth documentary
The Long and Short of It short film directed by Sean Astin
Original theatrical trailer and TV spots
Behind-the-scenes preview of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
“Gollum’s Song” music video
Preview of Electonic Arts’ video game The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
|Distributor||New Line Home Video|
|Release Date||August 26, 2003|
|No real surprise here that the new widescreen anamorphic transfer of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is pretty much pristine. New Line once again delivers an outstanding visual image, one that maintains the richness of detail that makes these films worth coming back to again and again. Black levels are dead-on and colors look beautiful throughout, from the bluish-tinted flashback sequences, to the stunning green hues of the open plains, to the dark tones of the battle sequences. Also available is a pan-and-scan version … shudder.|
|The Dolby Digital EX 5.1 surround soundtrack is likewise excellent (as expected), thoroughly enveloping you in the clamor of battle. The low-frequency track delivers a heavy rumble when needed, but the soundtrack is most notable for the depth of its aural detail and the effectiveness of the surround channels.|
|As with New Line’s two-tiered DVD release of The Fellowship of the Ring, the supplements included on this disc are fairly light, consisting mostly of previously broadcast material and promotional featurettes, with the real meat to be found on the four-disc extended edition DVD in November. Still, what’s available here is not bad, including two in-depth making-of documentaries, eight featurettes originally produced for lordoftherings.net, a music video, and, most importantly, a 12-minute behind-the-scenes preview of The Return of the King, which Elijah Wood boasts quite confidently will be better than the first and second movies put together. If it’s even half that good, it will be more than worth the price of admission.|
©2002, 2003 James Kendrick