"The World is changing. Who now has the strength to stand against the armies of Isengard and Mordor? To stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman and the union of the two towers?Released a year after The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers is the second installment in Peter Jackson's big budget multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955), which is the most successful film trilogy of all time, as well as the best film series of all time in this critic's view.
Together, my lord Sauron, we shall rule this Middle-Earth."
The film starts off with a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) battling the Balrog (an ancient fire demon) on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum and being pulled off by the falling Balrog into the near bottomless chasm to die while the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring (Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Bean) look on in horror. However, the scene goes on to show what Gandalf did after falling; while falling the wizard catches his sword and continues to battle the Balrog and the scene then cuts just as the pair are about to fall into a lake of water at the bottom of the chasm. This is a truly memorable opening thanks to three components. Firstly, is the effects and mise-en-scene, with the Balrog being an visually outstanding creation and truly fierce and terrifying through the incricate design of its face, and the sheer power of the flames that engulf it; while the chasm is so detailed, with the great rock walls being seriously sharp and eye-catching and becoming the perfect place for such an epic battle, as the whole being walled in brings forth for the two battling the realization that there is no escaping. Secondly, the editing and sound effects make the battle truly fast-paced and gripping with no dull moments, and a lot of visual exhilaration. Thirdly and finally, is the amount of passion with which Gandalf battles; the raw power and determination he puts into the fighting is truly gripping to watch, and displays more passion in battle than almost any other character in film history, and truly shows just how powerful and driven a character Gandalf is. With all of these combined it truly is a powerful, and memorable prologue.
Now for the main strand of the plot...
The film picks up almost exactly where The Fellowship of the Ring left off, with the Fellowship broken, and sees five parralel narratives...
The first narrative follows Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) who are hopelessly lost in their attempts to reach Mordor, with the Ring very gradually gaining a hold over Frodo. In the hills of Emyn Huil where the pair are lost they capture the Ring's former owner, Gollum (Andy Serkis), who had been stalking them for the majority of their journey since they left Rivendell. To have his life spared Gollum swears allegiance to Frodo and agrees to lead them to Mount Doom and it genuinely seems that he is willing to stay true to his word. Along the way they are taken by Gondorian ranger Faramir (David Wenham), leader of a large number of rangers, and brother of Boromir (Bean) and it soon becomes clear that Faramir's intention for the Ring's fate is just like that of his brother's.
The second and main narrative follows Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (Rhys-Davies) as they track the Uruk-Hai that kidnapped Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd) over the vast open spaces of Rohan. In Fangorn Forest they come across the newly resurrected Gandalf the White, who, after assuring them that Merry and Pippin are safe (see third narrative), makes it clear to them that they must help King Theoden (Bernard Hill) and his niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto) evacuate the citizens of Edoras to Helm's Deep, where they lead the armies of Rohan and Lorien elves in an epic battle against an army of 10000 Uruk-Hai that Saruman (Christopher Lee) has built, while Gandalf uses five days to travel cross-country to muster an army of Rohirrim who had been banished (see fourth narrative).
The third narrative sees Merry and Pippin being taken by the Uruk-Hai to Isengard. However, when the Uruks stop to make camp for a few hours they are ambushed by Eomer (Karl Urban) and a group of Rohirrim who had been banished (see fourth narrative) and the two hobbits escape into Fangorn Forest. There they are taken by Ent Treebeard (also Rhys-Davies), who promises to protect them under the orders of Gandalf; and the two hobbits persuade the Ents to march against Isengard after they discover how much of the forest Saruman has had cut down for fuel.
The fourth narrative follows Saruman and his puppet, the traitorous Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Saruman has now got a strong allegiance with Sauron (Sala Baker) and the two towers of Barad-dur and Orthanc are now united. Joining in Sauron's goal to destroy and take over Middle-Earth Saruman forms an army of 10000 Urak-Hai to take Helm's Deep and destroy Rohan's people, after getting vital information from Wormtongue, King Theoden's aid, who uses his authority and a spell Saruman places on Theoden to banish Theoden's nephew Eomer and his soldiers, and kill Theoden's wounded son Theodred (Paris Howe Strewe).
The fifth and final narrative sees Arwen (Liv Tyler) dwell/think back on the long relationship she has shared with Aragorn and, while seeking advice from father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) try to make the hardest decision of her life. Should she stay in Middle-Earth to be with Aragorn and live a mortal life, or should she sail out to the Undying Lands with much of her kin, and live eternal life, but never see Aragorn again?
Once again Peter Jackson has proved that filming The Lord of the Rings in his native New Zealand was an outstanding creative decision on his part. The vast open landscapes truly capture the essence of Middle-Earth and really makes the viewer feel just how epic the trecks the various characters must take are, and are truly eye-catching and stunning to look at, thanks a lot to Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie's well created and very artistic shots. Jackson also truly finds good use for all of the different types of New Zealand's great outdoors, making use/taking shots of open fields, rivines, rivers, mountains and cliffs to help tell his story and create a vast, visually impressive and overall epic Middle-Earth.
Like with The Fellowship of the Ring it will come as no surprise to those of you who have seen the film that the film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, by, if anything, improving on those from The Fellowship of the Ring. Even if you are someone who openly hates the fantasy genre with passion it will be impossible for you not to be awestruck by the incredible effects of the film. The all-time high points in the effects department include the above mentioned opening battle between Gandalf and the Balrog; the Battle of Helm's Deep where a Berzerker Uruk-Hai blows up the wall in a roaring, ground shaking explosion; a Ringwraith-ridden Nazgul attacking the city of Osgiliath; and the Ents marching against Isengard, trampling the orcs and Uruk-Hai, destroying the walls and then breaking the dam, flooding Isengard and leaving Saruman trapped and a lot more defenceless in his tower. The effects are created with great care, detail and stunning power, making them truly memorable and impacting, stunning to watch and bringing you to the edge of your seat.
The Ents are masterpieces of CGI as the amount of care and detail that went into making them both as detailed and tree-like as possible, and making them come to life with creaking and true domination, which causes them to be seriously eye-catching and boldly stick in one's memory.
However, it is Gollum who captures our hearts and attention more than any special effects. Based on Andy Serkis's lizard and cat like motion capture performances Gollum is a wonderful animal like creation of CGI, who is brilliantly disfigured by the CGI and made animal like, and it is so incredible to think that such a character as that can be created to look so visually impressive and the fact that in appearance he still seems fairly human and 100% believable as a character, in light of the distorted, wiry body and grey skin, will make it impossible for our attention to wander.
In spite of the effects, however, the film, like its predecessor, is truly carried by its characters. The human characters of Aragorn, Eowyn, Faramir and Eomer are all such driven, determined characters, and, in the cases of all but Eowyn, fight in battle with passion and bravery and are truly wonderful leaders of soldiers. Theoden, seems to give up after Theodred's death and after being freed from Saruman's spell, as he feels Rohan can't win against the armies of Saruman, but after being spoken to by his Royal body guard Gamling (Bruce Hopkins) decides that he will fight to the death, even if he can't win and becomes a truly determined soldier. As for the rest of the characters, they may be composed of elves, hobbits, dwarves, et cetera, but they are all rather human. The above mentioned Gollum has some excellently written and truly creepy schizophrenic moments, as he tries to turn over a new leaf as he aids Frodo in his quest to help Frodo destroy the Ring, but still can't resist being an a**ehole towards Sam by calling him "fat hobbit" and getting into constant arguments with him. Treebeard is just like an old man in his pace of speech and movements, and in his kindly protective attitude to Merry and Pippin, and, upon his discovery of the trees chopped down by Saruman's orcs for fuels, channels his obvious grief to give him the strength to lead a revenge march straight into Isengard. Frodo shows just how trusting an attitude he has to Gollum, and shows just how merciful he is to Gollum and how heartbreaking and pitiful he finds Gollum's constant suffering following his half-millenia as the Ring's bearer and his torture at the hands of Mordor's orcs, while Sam shows just how loyal and smart he is, and the screenplay shows just how much the effects of what they see in Middle-Earth effects Sam's emotions and how his sheltered upbringing in the Shire has meant he finds it a massive shock being thrown into the real world of war and suffering. Thanks to his little dwarf legs and beer belly Gimli struggles to keep up with Aragorn and Legolas as they chase the Uruk-Hai over the vast open plains of Rohan, but his love for Merry and Pippin and determination to kill the Uruk-Hai after they have taken Merry and Pippin and killed Boromir is what keeps him going and drives him to continue jogging over the plains.
On the other hand, Legolas sprints non-stop over the plains without even getting out of breath, and he is absolutely unstoppable when battling the Uruks at Helm's Deep, killing numerous foes, and using his skill and strength to help others on several occasions, and it is this that makes him appear a lot less human than any other characters, or he did in the film's predecessor, unless of course you compare him to a superhuman such as Spider-Man, which you would be a fool to do. This is a deliciously wonderful contrast to the rest of the characters and the character of Legolas, well, you can't help but be drawn in by him.
Arguably, the most impacting scene of the film is at the end when Frodo despairs that he can't complete his quest, only for Sam to assure him that, although the world is full of death and destruction, that there is some good left which is worth fighting for. This is made as powerful as it is as Frodo's despair is truly heartbreaking to see and causes sympathy to rise from one's heart, while Sean Astin, steals this moment by making Sam's words truly heartfelt and powerful, and you can see the power and determination shining from the actor as he gives it his all with great success. Like with a fairly similar moment between Frodo and Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, this is one of a number moments, touchs and contributing factors that truly elevates the film from blockbuster to a genuine masterpiece.
In short, the serious irony considering how long and detailed this review is, The Two Towers is a beautifully scripted, truly deep, dark and emotional film, that picks up from its predecessor and is of an equal standard and truly builds up the excitement for the spectacular finale The Return of the King (2003).
2002 (Original Edition), 2003 (Extended Edition).
Stars: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Craig Parker, Bruce Hopkins, John Leigh, Cate Blanchett, John Bach, Sala Baker.
Sean Bean, John Noble (Extended Edition only).
Oscars: Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke), Best Sound Editing (Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh), Best Editing (Michael Horton), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee).