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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers  

2002

Directed by: Peter Jackson 

Main Cast:

Elijah Wood - Frodo Baggins
Ian McKellen - Gandalf
Viggo Mortensen - Aragorn
Sean Astin - Samwise "Sam" Gamgee
Billy Boyd - Perigrin "Pippin" Took
Liv Tayler - Arwen
John Rhys-Davies - Gimli
Dominc Monaghan - Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck
Christopher Lee - Saruman
Miranda Otto - Eowyn
Brad Dourif - Grima Wormtongue
Orlando Bloom - Legolas Greenleaf
Cate Blanchett - Galadriel
Karl Urban - Eomer
Bernard Hill - Theoden
David Wenham - Faramir
Andy Serkis - Gollum

Rated PG-13  

Stupid fat Hobbit! He ruins it!! 

To sum up: Gandalf and the gang are back for the continuation of their thrilling adventures as Middle Earth debates the justification of war with the Dark Lord Sauron or whether they should give the Elvin inspectors more time to do their job.

     What's that you say? Did you read correctly? Did I say Gandalf was back? A surprise that should be a surprise but the only surprise is that they PUT IT IN THE PREVIEWS!!! What's that about? Sure, if you read the books (or guessed as I did, heh, heh) you know that he returns but to reveal this took away the pleasure of a key revelation and betrayed the surprising elation on would feel in seeing him return from the abyss. 

     Man. What a difference a year makes. A year ago I was clueless about the particulars of Middle Earth and the Lord of the Rings saga. I never read much fantasy; never a big fan. Loved fantasy movies, however, so it was certain that I was going to see "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (the first film for those of you under a rock). I loved the film and since then have read the book. And a great book it was. As a result, I have moved from a clueless filmgoer who had no idea where the story was going to someone who was curious how they would translate the text to screen.

     The plot. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. The Fellowship is broken. Frodo and Sam are heading to Mordor in an attempt to destroy the One Ring. They are being followed by the vile Gollum who wants it back. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are chasing after the super Orcs, the Uruk-hai, in an effort to rescue the two Hobbits, Merry and Pippin, who are being taken to Saruman. Saruman in turn is about to unleash an huge army to destroy the world of men, starting with the kingdom of Rohan. At the same time, Sauron is beginning his attack on Mordor. Got that?

     Now, just a word of advice. If you did not understand at all what was just said, if you have not seen the first film, if you have not at least read the books, don't bother watching this one. You will be thoroughly lost. Director Peter Jackson has said that he wanted to pick up right where the last one left off and that's just what he does. While there have been other films in which it helped to have seen the previous one, "The Empire Strikes Back" for example, this is the first film that I had ever seen that just plops you right in the middle of the story with no recaps, no name introduction, and not so much as one bit of dialogue like Sam saying: "So, Frodo, humble Hobbit and nephew of Bilbo Baggins, the finder of the one ring, forged by the Dark Lord Sauron, which according to the Wizard Gandalf, who was sadly lost on the bridge of Khazad-dum, must be taken where it was forged, into the fires of Mount Doom, and only there can it be destroyed, I think we're lost." That would have been too much like a comic book; too much like "Speed Racer". It's as if the first film ended and an intermission took place but instead of a fifteen minute intermission where one heads to the lobby, smokes, goes to the bathroom and gets more popcorn, this was a yearlong intermission where we did the above but also worked, slept, and reproduced.     

     As I understand it, "The Two Towers" contains the most alterations to the books of all the films. But though I could nit-pick the alterations I feel that I should start by admitting that I'm more interested in the fact that the basic spirit of the book is faithfully translated than whether each little character or plot detail is included. In that respect, for the most part I am pleased. There were changes that I do not understand the reason for, such as the hardening of the character of Faramir, the slight redefining of involvement of Treebeard, and the U.S. Calvary inspired ending, but none of this took away from my enjoyment of the film. When I saw the trailers for this film after I read the book, I was easily able to tell what scenes where what. If I can do that to a trailer, in my mind, that's a pretty faithful adaptation.

     All of the characters and some new ones are given their fair share of time and development. No one is short changed.      

King Theodin, the wretched shell of a king who is under the spell of Wormtongue (slimily played by Brad Dourif) who is himself the servant of the wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), must rise to the occasion of self preservation for his people as he comes to realize the imminent  threat of the Uruk-hai as they march to exterminate mankind. Ironically, Aragorn (Mortensen) is thrust into the more prominent role of keeping the troops together in the face of impossible odds. It is he who proves to be more "Kingly" than the actual king, Theodin. 

     The respect of Gimli and Legolas deepens and even culminates in a sort of competition as each tries to outdo the other in the number of kills they each have, a trait from the book that I really liked and was glad to see included in the film.

     The saga of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) takes on a more mellow turn since their journey requires them to try to stay in "stealth mode" as they attempt to gain entry into Mordor. It is clear that in spite of his pure nature, the Ring is taking it's toll on Frodo. Sam, as ever, is totally devoted to his friends well being.

     On a side note, I was also looking forward to see Shadowfax, the horse that was "borrowed" by Gandalf and is the swiftest creature in Middle Earth. I could not help but laugh, however, when his grand entrance was revealed in slow-motion. I expected to hear sound effects from "The Six Million Dollar Man". 
      
     This film also comes with the introduction of Treebeard, the Ent, the oldest and most respected of the inhabitants of middle earth. He was also a character that I had great difficulty picturing as I read the book. I know he was essentially a great big living tree but I couldn't be sure what that looked like. The only other living trees I had ever seen were the ones in the "Wizard of Oz" and they weren't very threatening and certainly not noble. So I had no idea if he were an oak, apple, or would have little Ewoks crawling around his head. Treebeard is voiced by John Rhys-Davies who also plays Gimli, cause when you're making a multi-million dollar picture, you want to use the voice of an actor who already plays a major character in the film. Actually, the filmmakers do a pretty good job disguising his voice, but was it just me or did he sound an awful lot like "God" in "Star Trek 5"?

     Make no mistake, in spite of all of the other fine performances that are in the film, it is Andy Serkis' Gollum who runs away with the picture. This Computer Generated character is a marvel to behold. It is well known that Andy's performance was carefully mirrored to make the character as real as possible. The end result is a fascinating creation. A creature who is at once vile, disgusting and dangerous but thanks to the computer animators and especially, Serkis' performance is a multi-layered character who also manages to be pitied. Every time he is on the screen, you won't be a able to take your eyes off of him.

     The Two Towers is a sprawling, masterful continuation of "Fellowship", well worth the time invested to watch it oh, say about 5 or 6 times. It survives the dreaded middle film, second act drawbacks and leaves the viewer amazed, giddy, and complaining that we have to wait a whole year for the conclusion of this amazing saga.

     I'll take Two, please.

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