The first thing you notice is that Peter Jackson's epic trademark hasn't changed. Sweeping vistas paired with Howard Shore's familiar-by-now score are magnificent and appropriate for the film's setting. These were moving cinematic gestures, but at times I longed for Jackson to get to the juicy parts in the book. Lest you thought you were coming to see some fluffy movie about elves and hobbits, make no mistake about it: The Two Towers is an ACTION movie. Yes, the battle scenes are so breathtaking and overwhelming that lulls in action are permitted and sometimes welcome. The Battle of Helm's Deep and the destruction of Isengard were exactly as I envisioned them: arrows raining all over the place, seemingly endless waves of orcs. Everything about the production is meticulous and well-crafted, from the Elven armor to the crowded, dirty trenches where those too old and those too young are preparing for battle. I mention these two scenes because they are the climax of the film, but the level of detail and care is obvious throughout the film (and was so in Fellowship). And when Gandalf the White appears to the East? There are no words. If you've seen it--and I hope you've seen it if you're reading this review--then I need not say anything more. But can I just mention here the sheer ass-kicking coolness of Legolas, physics-defying feats aside? Yes, I think I shall.
One of the reasons I liked The Two Towers (book) better than Fellowship (book) is because, well, now we get to learn more about the characters. And I'm glad they showed that in the movies. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are a priceless trio, and their friendship hasn't been hurt by the film's decision to turn Gimli into comic relief material. We get to see the growing friendships between dwarf and elf, between elf and human, and this is one of the most important concerns of the story: the unification of all races in facing evil. We get to see Gimli's humor (that in abundance), Legolas's playfulness, and Aragorn's heartache (I'll refrain from ranting about the changes in the Elrond/Arwen/Aragorn storyline -- they weren't too distracting). We get to see MORE of Middle Earth, more of why it's such a fascinating universe: Gondor, Rohan, Fangorn Forest, Mordor. The film touches upon various races and factions: the wild men, the Ents, the Rohan men, and the Gondor men. The film truly takes us into a world of its own. Ian McKellen is once again the most outstanding actor (and deserving of a supporting actor nod) as the powerful Gandalf the White, and the rest have robbed me of the ability to discern whether I'm being biased. I might as well admit that I am. These people have grown on me, and I really don't care how the actors do as long as they remain Legolas, Gimli, Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Samwise. And they do. And I guess that means they're doing a good job. Newcomers Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, and David Wenham are, well, fitting as Éomer, Éowyn, and Faramir. But I must admit I was disappointed with the wooden and rather shallow performance by Bernard Hill who portrays Théoden. Brad Dourif was awesome as Wormtongue, every bit the slimy sycophant. As for characters I am still rather skeptical about, Treebeard and Gollum are among their number of course. I guess it's always hard for me to swallow pure CGI characters not named Yoda. It doesn't that the image of a certain bouncy (poorly-created, at that) house elf was still fresh in my mind. I think the greatest thing about Gollum was its voice and motion-acting. I'm not so sure about the CGI rendering. It's unfair to ask them to be perfect with a technology that's still evolving, and besides no one really knows what Gollum looks like. But still. The same thing goes for Treebeard, who looked a bit too--how do I put this--Scooby Dooish. Not that he looks like Scooby Doo. But the animation and the voice combined for a character that seemed too cartoonish for its epic settings. The Ents on the whole could have been done a lot better, I think.
Two Towers the movie follows very much in the footsteps of Fellowship, stylistically speaking. This I have mentioned before. Breathtaking action, poetic, new agey and sometimes too-long lulls that serve, I reckon, one good purpose: We get to admire the beauty of Middle Earth. Which perhaps is the plan. To truly appreciate Sam's grand speech at the end, we need to immerse ourselves in their world, share their pain and their wonder. The continuity also meant, unfortunately, that we had to endure more of Arwen's character. I really don't want to sound like I hate Arwen or Liv Tyler. I don't. I think Liv Tyler is beautiful and fitting as Arwen, and I don't mind so much her extended presence as her scenes' awkward placement in the film. Not to mention the fact that the film completely twisted the Elrond/Arwen/Aragorn relationship around. But I already said I wouldn't talk about that. In the interest of continuity, certain flaws also had to continue in the films. But I guess it is for the best, because nothing would trouble me more than a completely change of style between the first and second movies. As with the previous movie, this one can sometimes seem bloated and self-indulgent. There are sometimes awkward moments in this one when Jackson tries to achieve a balance between the details the average movie-viewer wouldn't care about (Sam's rabbit-roasting moment) and cinematic flourishes Tolkien die-hards might cringe at (for example, Aragorn's cliff fall was never in the book). There are too many instances here to enumerate one-by-one. Most likely ones will be brought up that I haven't even noticed. I don't envy his job, and I think he's done a remarkable job given the difficulty of trying to squeeze so much into three and a half hours (and yes, kids, that is short when you realize how much has been left out or pushed to the next movie, which might end up being five hours long if I have anything to do with it).
My reservations with regards to Jackson's choices in his adaptation have prevented me from enjoying this movie to the fullest. It's something that I can't help, and yet I have to be honest with myself when grading this movie. But I can't help but also forgive all of the film's flaws because I am utterly enthralled by Middle Earth, by Tolkien and Jackson's artistic visions. I'm still in awe of the films' cinematic grandeur and the films' grasp of the force of the characters' will and strength. Their collective love and loyalty towards Middle Earth. And I can't wait to see how Jackson brings about the end of all things. God bless you, Samwise Gamgee.
"There's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for."
Rating: A- (First viewing, 12/18/02)