The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
There are sequels that just happen, mostly because the first film brought in such a large amount of money. Then there are multiple films that were actually planned that way, where the story arcs are allowed to flow through more than one film. The later is the case for Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers. It was planed and in fact shot as a trilogy, roughly reflecting the novels by the same name. For those that have been in a Hobbit hole for the last couple of years, Two Towers picks up where the first film left off. The Fellowship of the Ring (that magical gold ring that can rule the world), have been split and are now off on their own adventures. The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is shown once again in mortal combat with the fierce Balrog, winning and becoming even more powerful. The royal human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) with the Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) are off in search of the two hobbits Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) who have been captured by the evil orcs. Then, of course, there are the other two hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his ever faithful friend Samwise (Sean Astin) trying to bring the ring to be destroyed in Mount Doom. With any three act play the second art is always the most difficult, you have to maintain the momentum and audience involvement created in the first part yet you really canít resolve any of the major story lines that must be left for the conclusion. Because of this Two Towers may appear unresolved and by its nature a bit darker than the first installment. Since the ensemble cast has been split by the circumstances of the story the focus tends to drift a little bit. Just as you really find yourself getting into one set of characters the scene shifts to another set. The film has the unenviable task of bridging two other major films. One notable addition to the cast is the CGI generated Gollum. While the easy way would be to just make this character purely evil and the constant antagonist to Frodo and Sam, the writers here remain true to the vision of Tolkien. He created with Gollum a truly pathetic creature, a split personality that fights more with himself than the heroes. The audience can actually find itself felling sorry for this misshapen thing. Speaking of CGI the extra time spent since the three films wrapped principle photography was worth it. The battle scenes are massive; the unusual creatures that inhabit Middle Earth come to life, just as I imagined them when reading the classic novels.
With few exceptions the original cast returns for this foray, just one of the many advantages afford to the director for his foresight of filming all three films together. Such an approach appears to have helped the actors remain in characters and get to know each other as their characters did. There are so many excellent performances here it is difficult during a review to really give all the credit that is due. Viggo Mortensen as the king in exile Aragorn provides the viewers with a man of honor, a noble man that brings with him the air of royalty although he is not seated on his throne. Astin continues one of my favorite characters from any of the many works of fantasy I have enjoyed. His Sam is the epitome of friendship. He is always loyal to Fordo, willing to lay down his life for him. Few characters in any work have shown these admirable character traits so well. While Tolkienís hobbits where small and unassuming in stature they where honest and trustworthy. He showed that the Biblical passage, Ďthe meek shall inherití to be a truism. McKellen is perfect, once again, as Gandalf. Tossed into a battle of epic proportions he must not only fight the evil of Suron but also his long time friend and head of his order of wizard Suraman (Christopher Lee). He presents Gandalf as weary from extreme age yet dedicated to doing his best. Lee has made a long career of playing the over the top villain. With most of his portrayals there is little doubt why you love to hate his characters.
I first enjoyed the work of director Peter Jackson when he introduced the world to a young Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures. There he was able to realistically present the viewpoint of a young girl. As a father of a teenage daughter I can state that this is a viewpoint as unknown to men as the world of Middle Earth. Jackson was completely dedicated to this project, insisting that he be budgeted up front for all three films. By filming all three in one long stretch he was able to keep the momentum high for all three films. The cast and crew apparently really bonded together and it shows. Jackson didnít shoot this film like the typical CGI generated movie. He took the live action scenes seriously not just something to fill the time between the incredible computer shots. He allows the love affair between Aragon and Awren to be touching, the polarization of good and evil muddled by human and non-human frailties. He did get the very best CGI programs available today. The battle scenes are something that will capture your attention completely. Each generated figure seems to move with its own volition. The pacing here was excellent. With a middle act like this where the action moves between different storylines pacing is everything and here it is better than I expected.
I thought it would be difficult to create a DVD up to the lofty standards set by the first release. They did it. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video was precise, crisp and revealed every detail possible. The Dolby EX audio was booming, putting all the speakers through their paces. The battle scenes are not something to view late at night unless you know the local police very well. It shook my living room yet remained clear. There are so many extras that an entire second review would be necessary to consider them all. Almost every aspect of the design and implementation of this film is laid out for your consideration. This is the theatrical version of the film and like the first one I found my appetite whetted, I look forward to the expanded version. I donít say this often but collect them all. Now, are we ready for Return of the King yet?