The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers [retro review]

“We Dwarves are natural sprinters, very deadly over shorter distances.”

The Scoop: 2002 PG-13 directed by Peter Jackson and starring Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellen, and John Rhys-Davies

Tagline: The fellowship is broken. The power of darkness grows…

Summary Capsule: The battle for Middle Earth heats up as men and assorted non-men-things rise to fight evil.

PoolMan’s Rating: You know, I’m finally really starting to understand how people must have felt when Empire Strikes Back was first released.

PoolMan’s Review: I’m not the youngest writer here at the MRFH (Dna’s still being “trained”, if you know what I mean), but I’m still not old enough to have been in any position to have seen or appreciated the release of the original Star Wars Trilogy. I was six months old when A New Hope came out, about three years old for Empire, and six for the release of Jedi. As a kid, I liked the action and effects, sure, but I couldn’t understand the undertones of story and character that those three movies brought to the world of sci fi. A genre that had once been considered fluff material had suddenly been filled with epic qualities and a gravity that to this day makes them beloved favourites, even when compared to their prettier (but duller) prequels. The original Star Wars changed the face of popular science fiction forever, making it something that could be accepted on a mass scale. How glad am I to see that this new Lord of the Rings Trilogy is on track to do all the same things to the genre of high fantasy, and possibly do it better?

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has arrived, and if anyone thought the success and quality of Fellowship of the Ring was a fluke, they’ve now been proven completely wrong. Peter Jackson will no doubt be canonized one day in the Great Hall of Geeks for his continued delivery of unbelievable quality and faith to the spirit (if not the letter) of the Lord of the Rings books. (could you imagine the Star Wars prequels we’d have gotten with this guy at the helm? It is to weep.)

Two Towers is its own movie, but it works in the far greater scheme as a chapter in the 9 hour story that will eventually be the LotR Trilogy. Episodic with a capital E, this movie is completely unforgiving to those who haven’t seen Fellowship yet. The movie hits the ground running, picking up essentially exactly where the last one left off. Gandalf has fallen into darkness at Moria, Sam and Frodo are alone and lost on their way to Mordor, Pippin and Merry are being roughly transported by the Uruk Hai to Saruman, and Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are trying almost in vain to catch up to them. Saruman’s forces are gathering to launch an attack against the magically weakened King Theoden of Rohan in an attempt to gain the greatest possible foothold for Sauron’s forces against Gondor and wipe out mankind.

This movie will be remembered for a great many things. First off, the immensity of, well, EVERYTHING, is almost too much to comprehend. Massive armies darken the land, pounding against the walls of Helm’s Deep like so much water on a beach. The vistas of New Zealand are still breathtaking, almost guaranteeing the future film industry that is one day bound to grow there. And yet with such an attention to the big things, Jackson’s demonstrated once again that he has an eye for detail. Every little thing is thought of. I can’t imagine what it must be like to work for the man. “I said the 573rd Uruk Hai’s socks should CHARTREUSE!!! FOOL!!!” (Heh, just a little joke there, Peter. Peter?)

But what really stole the show for me was Gollum. I can’t dress it up, I can’t hide it. Every time Gollum was on screen, I had to look at him. I never would have believed before seeing Two Towers that a CGI character was capable of the emotional, frightening, and charming delivery of Gollum. Andy Serkis, the man whose voice and body supply Gollum’s every mannerism (via voice acting and motion capture), is to be commended for bringing such soul to a character, and the CG wizards in Jackson’s stable did incredible work, just incredible. I hate to keep dragging Star Wars into this review, but Jar Jar Binks isn’t worthy to kiss the ground Gollum walks on. The way this wholly artificial character had me utterly spellbound was amazing. I couldn’t so much as blink. Watching his inner dialog as Smeagol tries to fight Gollum’s violent impulses is absolutely engrossing, and I found myself pulling for Smeagol to win his tiny war again and again. What was once a hated character in Fellowship here becomes someone you begin to care for, and it’s seamless. Outstanding.

So were there any weak spots? Afraid so. I found myself utterly bewildered by the radical rewriting of Faramir, the brother of Boromir. I had heard something about this going in, but I had told myself that I’d just chalk it up to making the novel fit the screen. But it’s just too much. Faramir’s character was supposed to be the gentler, wiser version of Boromir who should have been with the Fellowship to begin with. Instead, we get an untrusting militia captain, who falls for the seduction of the ring nearly as hard as his brother did. Granted, the story still works, and still makes sense, but I always loved Faramir in the novels. Here he loses the charm he held in print by losing whatever characteristics separated him from Boromir. It’s too bad, but it’s not the end of the world. I guess fans lived with the loss of Tom Bombadil, they can take a drastic change to another lesser character as well.

Fans who hoped to see lots and lots of Frodo are going to be a little disappointed, too. Frodo is here, but this is Aragorn’s movie, and whether that’s a pro or a con is up to the viewer. As the storyline shifts to the world of men and Aragorn’s fate, his time in the spotlight grows by leaps and bounds. I have to say, I’m a bigger fan of Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of Aragorn here than in the first movie (with the possible exception of his last face to face meeting with Frodo). Maybe it’s just the character’s growth, but watching his first steps towards bigger things is wonderful. He’s still all kinds of an ass kicker, and the importance of his destiny is showing at last as he becomes a greater leader than the king, Theoden. So be prepared, from here on in, there’s going to be a lot of the Strider.

But if these minor nigglings are the biggest problem I have this movie, so be it. This series is rapidly turning into sacred ground for me. I could turn this already too-long review into a huge essay on why I love the Ents, my appreciation for the perfect casting of the new characters introduced here, and how much I want to send Peter Jackson a perfumed love note, but I want to leave some room for the other reviewers (I always feel guilty when I go long on a review, it’s like I’m stealing someone else’s print space. Good thing the internet’s limitless!). The Two Towers is incomplete without the first and third chapters to bookend it, but even on its own, it’s an amazing achievement and an epic movie. I can’t say whether it’s “better” than Fellowship, as I have a hard time separating the two as anything but pieces of the same work. I can tell you it comes with my highest recommendations and praise. I have a feeling by the time all’s said and done, that’ll be my feeling for the entire series; it will be among the world’s greatest epic stories brought to film.

Justin’s Rating: Five new notches on my battle-axe

Justin’s Review: Man oh man, do I love dwarves! I know that the “coolest” and most “fantasy-politically correct” thing to like is elves, but frankly, elves have worn out their Vulcan-eared welcome. Sure, they got this whole immortal thing going on (except due to cases of severe sledgehammer damage), and that starts to pay off when they retire at 65 and get to be a senior citizen for the next couple millenia — just think about the menu discounts! They’re one with nature, but nature is kinda dirty anyway, so who wants that? They always have loose, flowing and firmly heterosexual outfits happening… and there’s this supposed Wisdom of the Ages attribute… but in the end, elves of almost any series in fantasy literature or film come across as snooty, holier-than-thou, and in love with wholly inappropriate instruments, such as the flute or lyre.

But not dwarves. No sirree; dwarves are the real deal. Even though saying so will further egg PoolMan on in his “Justin is a dwarf, so we should toss him” campaign, I stick by my shorter, hairier fictional friends to the end. Dwarves are the backbone of fantasy industry; while other species are wasting time with “literature” and “Quidditch” and such, dwarves are preparing their 401K plans by mining enough precious minerals and metals to set them on easy street for the rest of their awesome lives. They don’t go for sissy drinks like “beer” and “ambrosia”, no, dwarves demand ALE, stout and hardy and in steins so large that you could easily fit a small elf baby within, not that it’s ever been tested. Well, proven that it’s been tested.

The Two Towers (aka “Episode 2“) has one dwarf, a gang of elves, a host of tree things, hundreds of men who don’t bathe, and thousands of orcs and orc cousins who don’t bathe AND don’t use anti-persperant. It’s a smelly movie, so be glad it’s just in sight and sound. With all the hundreds of characters milling about (“Quick! Look authentic for a fictional setting! We’re in a Tolkein flick!”), I found myself really rooting for Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) the dwarf. It’s easy to dismiss him as the comedic punchline due to his shortness — ha ha, he’s short, it’s funny, shut up — but out of all of the overly serious characters, Gimli’s clearly having a ball. He talks in a rich and passionate voice as a dwarf should, he uses his beard to wipe up his spilled ALE, he gladly leaps into combat when the wimpy elves are retreating into their summer cottages.

Gimli. It’s what’s for battle.

Dwarves aside, a general askance I have heard often about The Two Towers is whether it’s better or worse than Fellowship of the Ring. Honestly, what a stupid question. These aren’t movies that have different directors, or different writers, or were filmed at various times, or are somehow competing with each other. The beauty of the LotR project was that it was conceived and carried out as a single three-part movie, constant in theme and vision and appearance from start to finish.

I also hear — and this pains me to no end — complaints from the book snobs about how they failed to put this in, or they changed that, or that Aragorn has the wrong color of eyelashes, or something so completely anal and pointless as to rend any casual moviegoer’s spirit in twain. Ye gods. Listen closely, because I ain’t doing this again: This is a movie. They HAVE to take license with the books, otherwise you’re going to have a 40 hour movie that will be, quite frankly, very BORING at many times. People can enjoy both the books and the movies for what they each have to offer in their own unique experience. Thank you.

That said, The Two Towers does offer a much different experience than Fellowship of the Ring. If this was your traditional sequel, we might have to have words here, but I understand that this is how the books went too. FOTR starts out small, with Hobbits and birthdays and a tiny little ring that got more close-ups than Liv Tyler’s lips (please note that she has an overbite), but gradually gets bigger in scope as a party adventures through the fantasy realm of Middle Earth. In short, FOTR was a fairly traditional epic quest that you might see in any D&D role playing session, with a party of characters that go from point A to B while fighting a lot of nasty movie critics who insanely thought that A Beautiful Mind was worth Best Picture instead of a justly deserved spot on the $2 Discount Movie Shelf at Blockbuster.

The Two Towers strays from the linear quest by fracturing the party into three different storylines, each hellbent on bringing us the true scope of the evil that threatens the lands of Middle Earth, and the relative impotence of Men, their Elf mascots, and the one Dwarf from doing anything about it. Merry and Pippin get an extremely dull and brief plotline that has them literally communing with the trees; Aragorn, Lego-man, and Gimli (“New Balin Ale, now with 50% more stout!”) free a kingdom from a puppet dictatorship and go castle-mongering to protect a few shrieking kids and women in a cave; and Frodo and his way-too-earnest pal Sam continue plodding toward Mordor, lost without their AAA maps.

I saw this twice to confirm or deny a few quibbles I had, so here goes. Parts of The Two Towers seemed looooooooong; while I can still watch FOTR without getting ansy, I was begging Saruman’s army to march a bit faster in order to get to the end. Yes, they’re coming, evil’s growing, good people — like the movie concession stand — are severely understaffed, yadda yadda. It’s the middle child syndrome. Without a definite beginning or end, we have a mere continuation that is a lot of fun in its own right, but made me really yearn to see how it turns out more than where we were at the moment. Also, if we could not have any Arwen (Liv Tyler) moping scenes in the last movie, I would be very grateful.

What really knocked me out wasn’t the massive battle sequence at Helm’s Deep (although that was cool, but more on that later), but instead it was the utter success of Peter Jackson and his team to bring the tortured creature Gollum to life. With the voice talent of Andy Serkis and some incredibly fine crafted CGI, Gollum isn’t a mere Jar-Jar filling in space. I found him exactly to be as he should: a hissing, base creature who has a soul crushed by the desire for the Ring, but who shows a glimmer of potential for redemption. Gollum had my loathing and sympathy at various times, and was also, hands-down, the funniest character on screen. Well, him and Gimli.

After a whirlwind tour of Middle Earth in FOTR, The Two Towers seemed to almost take a breather with only a couple of somewhat interesting locales (the Dead Pools were quite effective), and might be a bit confusing with jumping around to various parts of the world between storylines. Still, I did love the battle-mindedness of this flick, and grinned every time something on the screen made this kid in back of me say “duuuuuuuude!” in an impressed tone. More than anything else, The Two Towers continues to explore two themes very much relevant in our world: how evil is a corrupting force that can erode some of the most well-intentioned people, and how there is surprising strength and power in the least likely, in friendship, and in the desire to do the right thing above all else.

Lissa’s Rating: Still not king.

Lissa’s Review: Ah, December 24th. Christmas Eve. A time of last minute shopping, baking, and wrapping, or spending time with your family and friends. And me, I’m stuck here at work, waiting for a thin layer chromatography plate to finish. Merry Christmas.

What really bugs me about this situation is I can’t do what I WANTED to do with my Christmas Eve. Return of the King opened five whole days ago, and I have yet to see it. On the bright side, I promised myself I would get my review for The Two Towers done before I did see it, so I guess this is the movie gods’ way of telling me to get my butt in gear. Especially since we were just granted two hours of administrative leave and I can go home soon. Whoopee!

I’m not going to gush and enthuse about The Two Towers, even though I think it’s worth gushing and enthusing about. Pooly and Justin have already told you in detail why it’s a wonderful movie. If you’re into this sort of thing, you’ll love it, and you know it, and YOU’VE probably already seen Return of the King, haven’t you? Yeah, I thought so. Well phththhthththth.

One thing that my husband and I did discover is that The Two Towers is prime MST3K material. It’s good — heck, it’s GREAT — but the characters take themselves so freaking seriously. That’s not a fault of Jackson or the actors, but of Tolkien himself, I believe. And I’m not even sure it’s a fault of Tolkien, but the fact that this movie was filmed decades after the books were written, and the books are so much a part of our culture that they are no longer new and fresh. But anyway, during our merciless mocking, we came up with a three questions for Mr. Peter Jackson:

If Aragorn can hear the Orcs a day ahead of them, how can he not hear 3000 riders of Rohan (or however many it was) approaching them?

Didn’t anyone else notice the side door that Aragorn and Gimli snuck out of? Or are Orcs really just that stupid?

How does Legolas find the time to wash his hair, and Aragorn can never be bothered to bathe? I mean, really, it’s kind of gross. Even Gimli takes better care of his hair, and I’m sure he’s not the fussy prissy type like Legolas is. (Speaking of Legolas and his hair, has anyone else noticed that elves eyebrows’ and hair don’t match? Haldir’s got the same problem. I suspect dye jobs going on.)

Well, I suppose a guy works with what he can, right? Right. Anyway, add another voice of praise onto this review page, because this one’s a keeper.

Return of the King, here I come.

WITNESS! the horror of PoolMan's kilt!

Intermission!

  • When Frodo, Sam, and Gollum are looking at the Black Gate, there are numerous (intentional?) continuity errors with where Gollum is facing and the position of his hands.
  • Director Peter Jackson can be seen on the tower of Helm’s Deep throwing a spear/rock at the incoming army.
  • Treebeard is voiced by John Rhys Davies, who also plays Gimli.
  • Surf’s up, Legolas!
  • Gandalf’s not only bleached and straightened his hair, he’s trimmed his beard!
  • Sauron’s got one hell of a garage door opener!
  • Shadowfax! Yay!
  • Gimli and Legolas and their ‘scorekeeping’ finally starts fleshing out their mutual friendship and rivalry.
  • Legolas getting on the horse in the middle of the charge against the Wargs is unbelievably cool.
  • The flaming Ent finally finds his relief… whew.
  • Gollum alludes to a mysterious “she” who will take care of the hobbits for him.
  • Hobbit Tree Ornaments – two varieties!
  • Throughout the entire movie, Sam’s cloak clasp is upside down relative to all the others in the party [thanks Tim M.!]
  • Gollum’s eyes in the first movie were yellow, yet in this one, they are blue. [thanks Tim M.!]
  • On the wall of Helm’s Deep during the battle, a one-eyed warrior turns to the camera, revealing his scarred empty socket. The performer who played him showed up as an extra, wearing an eyepatch; director Peter Jackson politely asked to see what was under the patch, and then inquired if the gentleman would be interested in appearing in the film sans eyepatch. The gentleman was reluctant at first and quite self-conscious, but afterward said the experience had made him more comfortable with his condition.
  • The map that Faramir and his aide look at is the map featured in the books, drawn by Tolkien’s son, Christopher.
  • When Frodo and Sam are in Osgiliath, Sam says, “By rights we shouldn’t even be here.” In the original novel, Frodo and Sam never go to Osgiliath as prisoners of Faramir.
  • When Gimli is talking about how dwarf women look a lot like men, he says that it’s a common misconception that there are no dwarf women, and that dwarves just spring up out of holes in the ground. This is a nod to the fact that, before Tolkien came along and changed all the mythological species, that’s exactly what dwarves were. See letter 156 in “The Letters of JRR Tolkien.” [Thanks Justin B!]
  • The Orc battle cries for the Helm’s Deep battle sequence were provided by a stadium of 25,000 cricket fans, who screamed the war chants, spelled out on the Diamond Vision screen, with Jackson himself leading the crowd.
  • For those of you wondering about how Legolas never runs out of arrows: Apparently (or so I’m told by my co-worker), a quiver can hold a good fifty to one hundred arrows, and archers have at least two reserve “canisters” of arrows on them. I’m not sure if Legolas stops in at the Middle Earth Kwik-E-Mart to pick up new arrows, but that explains it a bit.
  • Gollum/Smeagol is a CGI character, but Peter Jackson wanted the character to be performer-oriented, so actor Andy Serkis, the voice of Gollum, played the character in a motion capture suit. Serkis also played scenes with Elijah Wood (Frodo) and Sean Astin (Sam) on set to give the actors a focal point. On those occasions when Serkis was actually in shot Gollum was composited over him in post production.
  • Viggo Mortensen broke a toe while kicking the steel helmet by the orc pyre.
  • This is the first sequel to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture when the original film did not win the award itself, and the third sequel to be nominated for Best Picture. Howard Shore’s score was ruled out for the Academy Awards due to a new rule that doesn’t allow sequels to be nominated for Best Score. However, he was told that if it wasn’t for the new set of rules his score would have been nominated.

Groovy Quotes

Aragorn: It is an army bred for a single purpose, to destroy the world of men.
Théoden: Let them come.

Legolas: [in Elvish] You’re late. [in English] You look terrible.

Gollum: [to Sam] Stupid, fat hobbit!

Gimli: Toss me.
Aragorn: What?
Gimli: I cannot jump the distance. You’ll have to toss me. Don’t tell the elf.

Gandalf: Gandalf? That was what they used to call me. Gandalf the Gray. *I* am Gandalf the White. And I come back to you now – at the turn of the tide.

Gollum: [singing] The rock and pool, is nice and cool, so juicy sweet! Our only wish, to catch a fish, so juicy sweet!

Sam: But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

Gimli: It’s true you don’t see many dwarf women. In fact, they are so alike in voice and appearance, that they are often mistaken for dwarf men.
Aragorn: It’s the beards.

Théoden: I will not risk open war!
Aragorn: Open war is upon you whether you risk it or not.

Théoden: So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?
Aragorn: Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.
Théoden: For death and glory.
Aragorn: For Rohan. For your people.

Gandalf: Be silent. And keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I did not pass through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a witless worm.

Merry: The fires of Isengard will spread, and the bridges of Tuckborough and Buckland will burn. And all that was once green and good in this world will be gone. There won’t be a Shire, Pippin.

Gollum: Don’t follow the lights!

Théoden: Fell deeds await… Now for Wrath… Now for Ruin… and the Red Dawn… [horn blows] Forth Eorlingas!

Haldir: I bring word from Lord Elrond of Rivendell. An Alliance once existed between Elves and Men. Long ago we fought and died together. We come to honor that allegiance.
Aragorn: Mae govannen, Haldir. You are most welcome!
Haldir: We are proud to fight alongside Men once more.

Gimli: It’s luck you live by lad… let’s hope it lasts the night.
Legolas: You’re friends are with you, Aragorn…
Gimli: Let’s hope they last the night…

Treebeard: Saruman! A wizard should know better! There is no curse in elvish, entish or the tongues of men for such treachery. My business is with Isengard tonight, with a rock and stone. Rarum-rum! Come, my friends. The ents are going to war. It is likely that we go to our doom: The last march of the ents.

Gimli: You’ll find more cheer in a graveyard.

Gimli: I am wasted over long distances. We Dwarves are natural sprinters, very deadly over shorter distances.

Wormtongue: Ah, but you are alone. Who knows what you have spoken to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all your life seems to shrink, the walls of your bower closing in about you, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in? So fair, yet so cold like a morning of pale Spring still clinging to Winter.

Gandalf: You would not part an old man from his walking stick?

Éomer: Look for your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.

Treebeard: That doesn’t make sense to me. But, then again, you are very small.

Frodo: You were not very different from a hobbit once, were you? Smeagol…
Gollum: What did you call me?

Gimli: What’s happening out there?
Legolas: Shall I describe it to you… or would you like me to go find you a box?

Saruman: A new power is rising. Its victory is at hand. This night the land will be stained with the blood of
Rohan! March to Helm’s Deep! Leave none alive! To war!

Gimli: Legolas! Two already!
Legolas: I’m on seventeen!
Gimli: What! I’ll have no pointy ear outscoring me!
Legolas: [shoots two more arrows] Nineteen!

Théoden: Look at my men! Their courage hangs by a thread! If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end, as to be worthy of remembrance!

Legolas: Final count – 42.
Gimli: 42? That’s not bad for a pointy-eared elvish princling. I myself am sitting pretty on 43.
[Legolas shoots the orc that Gimli is sitting on]
Legolas: 43.
Gimli: He was already dead!
Legolas: He was twitching.
Gimli: He was twitching because he’s got my axe embedded in his nervous system!

Sam: Captain Faramir, you have shown your quality, sir – the very highest.
Faramir: The Shire must truly be a great realm, Master Gamgee, where gardeners are held in high honor.

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4 Comments

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