The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is perhaps a more impressive achievement than the acclaimed first film installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy. The pace is faster, the visual effect more audacious, and the emotional impact is much richer than before. At just one minute shy of three hours, this adventure epic will satisfy fans eager for more of the same, but novice viewers will find themselves struggling to catch up. With nary a recap, writer-director Peter Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair pick the story up where they left off a year ago.
Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) head toward Mordor to destroy the evil One Ring. Human ranger Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), elf archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and dwarf soldier Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) head off in pursuit of the vicious Orcs that captured their Hobbit companions, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). The narrative alternates between these several different story lines, at the same time introducing new characters and new locations in Middle Earth. The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and Frodo fade slightly into the background, as Aragorn and the malevolent creature Gollum (voiced by Andy Serkis) take center stage.
The performances continue to deepen, a rare thing in a fantasy or action-driven film, as the themes take on a much weightier importance. At one point, the ring bearer Frodo says of his burden, “It’s getting heavier,” and much could be said of this film. There is an underlying hopelessness to the characters’ individual and collective quests that stands in marked contrast to the sense of optimism of the first film. It is not doom-and-gloom for its own sake, but rather the elaborate set-up for the final confrontation to come in the third film, The Return of the King, to be released in December 2003.
For all of its cinematic wonders, the film was criticized in some circles for treading water. It has no real beginning or definitive end, and therefore doesn’t really feel like a complete, whole entity. However, you have to go through the middle before you can get to the end in any story. Upon seeing the spectacular battle at Helm’s Deep or the destruction of Isengard by the tree-like Ents, there is no doubt that we are seeing the next step in the evolution of one of the most massive artistic accomplishments in the whole of film history. Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, the film won 2 Oscars for Sound Editing and Visual Effects.
- by Jonathan Lewis