The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Posted by Joel Copling on December 13, 2014

Tackling a trilogy of long-thought-unfilmable fantasy books is not a feat taken lightly, and therefore, a lot of the complaints about 2002's "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," the second installment in co-writer/director Peter Jackson's series of adaptations, bode true, specifically when referencing whether the film stands alone. There is no clear beginning; we are simply thrown into the middle of a narrative, and that's because J.R.R. Tolkien's novel, "The Two Towers," upon which the film is based, is the middle of a narrative. There is no clear end; the film wraps up with an even cliffhangier cliffhanger than 2001's adaptation of "The Fellowship of the Ring," and that's because this is a bridge to a finale that would not come for another year. In every respect, even taking these facts into consideration, "The Two Towers" is rousing and satisfying on virtually every level.

The fellowship, led by Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) to destroy the Dark Lord Sauron's Ring of Power--into which he imbibed all of his malice and will--in the place from whence it came, has splintered and fragment. Nine became seven when two of them appeared to have made the ultimate sacrifice (one following an attempt at betrayal, no less). Now, Frodo and his best friend Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) have set out as a duo--which becomes a trio when the pathetic Gollum (Andy Serkis, doing phenomenal work through the motion-capture technology that later took the visual-effects medium by storm), obsessed with and demented by the Ring of Power, stalks them and is discovered--to the dangerous, unwieldy land of Mordor and its resident volcano Mount Doom.

The other hobbits, Pippin Took (Billy Boyd) and Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan), have been captured by the Uruk-hai (unholy cross-breeds of Orcs and Elves), but human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are hot on their trail. The smaller companions don't have much more to do in this installment than attempt to persuade a forest of moving trees known as Ents, led by the ancient and regal Treebeard (voice of Rhys-Davies), to join the war against Saruman the White (Christopher Lee) and his army of more than ten thousand. The taller companions, accompanied by a very-much alive Gandalf (Ian McKellen), arrive in Rohan, another realm in this massive Middle Earth whose king, Theoden (Bernard Hill), is being manipulated by Saruman. He refuses to mourn a son's death on the battlefield and casts a blind eye when servant Grima Wormtongue (a marvelously vindictive Brad Dourif) imprisons the other son, Eomer (Karl Urban).

There are clearly a lot of moving parts to "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and even more from where those come. Eowyn (Miranda Otto), daughter of Theoden, struggles with her identity among the patriarchal society in Rohan--grappling with feminine and masculine traits both dormant and active within her and burgeoning, romantic feelings for Aragorn (who still has fond memories of a life never had with Liv Tyler's elfish Arwen) until it appears he has died. Otto is superb at exploring this with her deeply-felt portrayal. For Frodo and Sam, the wicked Gollum acts as a wedge between the two and as a physical representation (in one thrilling case, a literal one) of the simultaneously pure and corrupt nature of the Ring of Power. The politics of action taken by the Ents against Saruman's command station at Isengard and of the significant divide of leadership between Rohan and Gondor are highly effective at establishing a world not only in distress from an evil and ancient power but complicated by something like politics.

And, of course, the film is rife with spectacle, the most significant display of which is the battle of Helm's Deep, a technically astounding exhibition of utter craftsmanship (my favorite bit: Legolas slides down stairs on a fallen Orc's shield while letting arrows fly from his quiver and counting victories in a competition with Gimli, and yes, it's unlikely Tolkien would have approved) that goes on for more than a half an hour and could have gone further without this viewer minding in the slightest. Gollum is still, 12 years later, a technical astonishment made richer by Serkis' embodiment of pitiful vanity, and Astin's sentiment near the end regarding the betterment of society following what they will accomplish is stirring and moving. Really, the whole of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is a political allegory of a high and resonant order--not merely spectacle but rich with yet more aching humanity and depth.

Film Information

Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Sean Astin (Samwise "Sam" Gamgee), Liv Tyler (Arwen), John Rhys-Davies (Gimli/Voice of Treebeard), Billy Boyd (Peregrin "Pippin" Took), Dominic Monaghan (Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck), Christopher Lee (Saruman the White), Miranda Otto (Eowyn), Brad Dourif (Grima Wormtongue), Orlando Bloom (Legolas Greenleaf), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Karl Urban (Eomer), Bernard Hill (Theoden), David Wenham (Faramir), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Andy Serkis (Gollum).

Directed by Peter Jackson and written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens.

Rated PG-13 (epic battle sequences, scary images).

179 minutes.

Released on December 18, 2002.