Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson; based on The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
Producer: Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Tim Sanders
by Jon Cvack
Continued from The Fellowship of the Ring...
Hours before writing this I finished "The Return of the King" (1955) and am just as pissed that Peter Jackson left out the "The Scorching of the Shire" chapter as when I first finished the trilogy. It’s a book that’s sad to finish, as the world is so vivid and real that it hurts to realize there’s no more to discover. I’ve read "The Silmarillion" (1977) and I returned to "The Hobbit" (1937), and I know his son took some of his unfinished tales, but Tolkien himself had published nothing close to the quality of Lord of the Rings. It was his life’s work where you can feel how much time and craft he invested in creating the world. It reads like a great work of history, to which other works of history could find influence.
The Two Towers takes place after The Fellowship disbands, with Frodo and Sam heading off on their own toward Mount Doom, separated from Merry and Pippin - who under orders from Saruman to grab and not harm any Hobbits - are taken by the orcs, leaving Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn to track them down, leading them to meet the Riders of Rohan led by Éomer (Karl Urban ), nephew of King Théoden (Bernard Hill), who mention the orcs they destroyed the night before. The trio heads over, and a needlessly silly scene takes place as they find nothing but burned orcs, thinking Merry and Pippin were thrown in with them by the riders, Aragorn screams and then sees a random divot in the ground and deduces that a Merry and Pippin must have fallen and then somehow escaped, leading them into the woods where they discover Gandalf the Gray has returned as Gandalf the White, and we get the second needlessly absurd idea of the film (and also the last). First, I don’t understand why they needed to look at a ditch in the ground and assume it was Merry or Pippin, when they could have been attracted into the woods by any others mean; such as seeing a bright light from Gandalf or something. Secondly, I still don’t fully understand Gandalf’s story, as it seems to enter into a strange Heaven/Hell like universe that’s never again addressed or explained, but somehow leads to Gandalf returning hundreds of years later, expressing how he was forced to live in the world forever after killing the Balrog monster. It’s better than cutting to him just catching a ledge of the cliff and hoisting himself up after falling into the fire pit, but it just never felt right. It was a bit too convenient to the story, but given how little it matters, it’s enough to be ignored (and given Game of Thrones endless reliance on magic every time it's in a plot pickle, this now seems insignificant by comparison).
Merry and Pippin go on to meet one of the best characters of the series, Treebeard (actually voiced by John Rhys-Davey who plays Gimli). Given how long Ents have been around, they’ve developed a terrible habit of taking hours to express the simplest thought, such as greeting a fellow group of Ents, who agreed to meet and discuss attacking Saruman (Christopher Lee); reluctant until they discover Saruman had burned many of their friends (that is, the forest) to increase production for his war machine, so beginning one of the coolest battle sequences of any action-adventure film.
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli get into the meat of the story, ending up at Rohan’s capital Edoras, where they discover King Théoden gaunt and seemingly on the brink of death. His mind has been corrupted by the amazing character of Wormtongue (Brad Dourif); Saruman’s minion deliberately sent to Edoras to corrupt the king. Wormtongue embodies today’s world of fake news, alternative facts, and misinformation, demonstrating how it easy it is to corrupt another by spreading fear and paranoia. It would have been so easy to have Théoden retain his regular image of a healthy and strong leader, but to have Wormtongue’s words be toxic enough to decay Théoden’s body is kiss your fingers perfect; such a simple idea and working magnificently.
Gandalf goes on to save Théoden, and for a reason I can’t understand, then let’s Wormtongue go free, knowing how dangerous and powerful his sociopathy and loyalty to Saruman is. While I appreciate what it leads to, it does seem like a plot serving move, hiding behind a generic “Too much blood has been shed” defense; especially given how much blood each of them would go onto shed, not to mention the number of who Hobbits who will die (in the books) because of this decision.
With Saruman’s gigantic army approaching, fueled by his slaughtering of the Fangorn Forest the thousands of Uruk-Hai are no match for Edoras. He orders his people and army to Helm’s Deep, located in the deep pocket of a mountain, meaning they can’t get flanked by the enemy, though they also have no chance of retreat. While the book only spends about twenty pages on this battle, Jackson spreads the scene out, creating one of the best medieval battle sequences since Braveheart ('95; and still better than the Game of Thrones' "Battle of Winterfell"), as again with excellent sound design, we watch as men of all ages are coated in arms, many who have never fought, all while the torches and deafening march approaches their position. While I really hope that they one day remove Legolas skateboarding down the hillside on an Orc shield, the sequence holds up extraordinarily well. And while it’s easy to judge that Gandalf’s last minute save relied far too much on coincidence, this is where I admire Tolkien’s spirituality, where given all of the detail, it's reasonable that characters would believe in faith over coincidence.
While it’s here that the book and the movie most depart, with Shelob being saved for The Return of the King (the movie) and instead follows Frodo and Sam as they discover Gollum and later Boromir’s brother Faramir (David Wenham), who seems similarly tempted by the Ring. We get fantastic flashbacks in the extended editions of Faramir’s father Denethor (John Noble) and his greed for power. While Tolkien teases about man’s weakness, it’s the story of Denethor and Faramir that portray a vivid and honest struggle with what the ring could provide. It offers a reasonable moral dilemma - if facing no other options other than death or enslavement, a leader would likely feel a need to do anything to save their people, in which case Denethor was logical in desiring the ring to save Osgiliath. While I haven’t seen much of Game of the Thrones at the time of this writing (though I’ve now fully caught up), I have read the first book and it seems that both Denethor and Théoden, and even Aragorn all had a significant impact on the series, as what I failed to grasp as a fourteen year old was the extraordinary depth of characters these men were conveying, getting all the better in the final book.
Of course we also see Frodo get weighed down by the Ring, both physically and mentally, and for as much of a swindler Gollum was, Frodo attested to his higher faith that they had to spare him for the role he’d go on to play. It’s here that the film fails to capture what is close to a year’s worth of travel since leaving Bag End. Frodo and Sam exchange some pleasantries and compliments, talking about how they’ll be hailed as heroes, until they’re too caught by Faramir who’s been looking for the ring, struggling over whether or not to take it before fully grasping the consequences of doing so.
It’s difficult to write about a middle film, as it’s beginning the first which contains all of the history that led to the choice and the last film where you can finally discuss what it all means. It’s simply a fantastic movie, of which I’d probably put within the Top Five Greatest Home Video/Audio Experiences Ever. The Two Towers has a few CGI failures (though nearly as bad as Fellowship); in some scenes Gollum doesn’t at all blend with the frame, or when the Wargs attack in the beginning, the movement is so complex it just becomes muddy, making me again keeping my fingers crossed for a remastering.
BELOW: One of the greatest battles ever to graze the screen
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