The Lord of The Rings: The
Two Towers (New Line Productions)
SFRevu: The Fellowship Of The Ring
Directed & Written by: Robert
Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times called "Towers", "one of the most accomplished holding actions ever." and I couldn't agree more. as the reviewer points out, this movie is basically a bridge between the first and final installments, but few have held a bridge with such style...or courage.
Director Peter Jackson's reverence for the original material constrains the plot, but allows him to jump back into the story with the barest of reviews to bring the audience up to speed. Filmed as a trilogy, the whole moves from film to film with nary a pause, making it a unique sort of mini-series. While I noted a few folks puzzled at the end of the first film, folks who had not read the book, nor been warned that there were three parts, the director's decision to move along and let them keep up should be rewarded by the revival of interest that the first film sparked, and the heavy DVD play that it's had. Someone may not know what's going on...but the person next to them surely does.
You know that the "Two Towers" has nothing to do with 9/11, and I know it, but it is quite a coincidence that as the second installment of The Lord of The Rings comes to the screen American forces are massing within striking distance of "The Axis of Evil". Not that it should be surprising that Tolkien's work should resonate in modern times, when the stories told by ancient Greeks still ring a bell.
When we left out hobbit hero, he had separated from the other members of the Fellowship of the Ring, save Sam, to take the ring to it's destruction, and no doubt, his doom. This is the middle film, and like any middle child, it has to reconcile the beginning and the end, without arriving at any conclusion of its own, save that we have to tune in for the final chapter. Tough work, but from what we've seen so far, brilliantly done.
Gollum appears as a much larger character in this film, as moves towards his pivotal contribution to the ring's fate. A fully CGI character, like the unfortunate Jar-Jar Binks, he is brought brilliantly to life by animator Andy Serkis, who lends both his voice and his movements to the character. Unlike the annoying Star Wars character, Gollum is a foil of a different sort, a pre-visage of the cost of giving in to the ring, dreadful and pitiable at the same time. He is perhaps the most complex and fully realized character in the film, which is a lot for a little man who isn't there.
The Two Towers is free from the nagging doubt that all other middle films leave me with, that they were conjured up solely to ride the latent interest in a first film. No matter how strongly they may protest that a trilogy was in the plans all along, you can be sure that the pitch was based on what percentage of the previous film's profits can be had the next time around. Relieving me of this bad feeling frees me to enjoy the movie for what it is, a superb piece of bridge building, an epic work of novel realization, and filmmaking that achieves as high art as any epic produced.
For all that praise, Director Jackson has played with the balance of characters to create a more physical action adventure movie, starring the human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), rather than the Hobbits, and the only criticism's I've heard from others stem from this change of focus. Roger Ebert chides the director for this, saying that, "To do what he has done in this film must have been awesomely difficult, and he deserves applause, but to remain true to Tolkien would have been more difficult, and braver." While that's no doubt true, I don't think it would have riveted the audience the way this 3 hour film does, and in the end, I doubt it would have served either director or author better. The subtext of the story is about the coming age of man, so perhaps some inflation of our part in the story is acceptable. I would have preferred it be Gandalf of course, though Christopher Lee's Saruman is a brilliant piece of work.
If the original manuscript were less important to the director, or if Lord of the Rings were written today, the balance of the sexes would shift to accommodate fans of Buffy and Zena, and the motives of the characters would no doubt become deeper and more convoluted. It probably wouldn't be as strong a story though, trying to serve too many masters at once...when only one can rule in the end.
Regardless, this precious piece is a fine gift for the holidays, and a blow for faithful adaptation of classic novels. Hold true to your course, friend Hobbit, and we'll see this thing through to the end with you yet.