The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Cert 12A.

Director - Peter Jackson.

Writers - Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens & Fran Walsh.

Starring - Viggo Mortensen, Sir Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, David Wenham & Andy Serkis.

 

Premise - The second book in Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings Trilogy gets the big screen treatment. The Two Towers picks up where 'Fellowship of the Ring' left off, with Merry & Pippin being taken to Isengard by the Uruk-Hai, whilst Gimli, Legolas & Arragorn track them. Meanwhile Frodo and Sam are making their way into Mordor to try and destroy the ring of power, still being tracked by the mysterious Gollum.

For my (and most other peoples) money 'The Fellowship of the Ring' was the finest film to come out of last year, so therefore the weight of expectancy that accompanied 'The Two Towers was considerable. Could Peter Jackson pull it off again? In a word, yes, and then some. Everything about The Two Towers screams bigger, better, more. The film is darker than its predecessor (in particular the scenes with Frodo, Sam & Gollum), but is also at the same time funnier. Peter Jackson also imbues the film with a nice emotional tinge. We see the effects of the war on not only the main characters, but also on the standard man in the street. Fathers and sons are forced to take up arms whilst mothers cower and hold their children. It gives the film a depth that many big budget films wouldn't bother to depict.

Given that all three films were shot at the same time it's no surprise that the returning cast are all as good as they were in the previous film. Some development in the characters is to be found though, most notably in Elijah Wood's Frodo. Think back to the carefree Hobbit of the first film and the change is stunning. Here Frodo is slowly slipping under the power of the ring; Wood conveys the distance of Frodo brilliantly.

The other major change is the return of Gandalf (now The White rather then The Grey). Gandalf The White is essentially the same wizard, but Sir Ian McKellan manages to put just enough of a twist into the performance to make the new Gandalf seem like a different character. Although Gandalf's screen time is slighter than in The Fellowship, McKellan makes him ooze power when he is on screen. Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan return as Hobbits Pippin and Merry. A lot of people (not me I would add) disliked them before, feeling that they were unnecessary comedy relief. Here, they have less screen time, but they are critical to the plot and a good bit more serious. If the next film stays true to the books then expect this trend to continue.

Gimli the dwarf was a character that had little screen time in the first film (although the extended DVD did address this slightly) so it's nice to see him come into his own in The Two Towers. His camaraderie with Legolas is explored wonderfully and he is flat out the funniest thing in the film. I hasten to call him the comedy relief because it conjures up images of Jar-Jar Binks. Gimli IS funny, but without coming off as being goofy or silly. Put simply, the comedy that Gimli has doesn't feel out of place when you look at the film, where as Jar-Jars 'comedy' was woefully out of place in the Star Wars universe.

Other new additions include Karl Urban as Eomer, a Rohan warrior and nephew of the Rohan king. His part is small, but he has much more to do in the next film. Similarly Miranda Otto as Eomer's sister Eowyn has a larger role to play in 'Return of the King'. Bernard Hill plays the Rohan King, Theoden. Hill brings a great nobility to the part and has very commanding presence, perfect for the role. Boromir's brother Faramir is played by David Wenham and he shows a strength that will again be built upon in the next film.

Brad Dourif was an excellent choice to play Wormtounge. Dourif has a fantastically unique look that suits Wormtounge down to a tee. He's conniving, sniveling and underhand; Dourif seems to relish playing him and also looks the part thanks to some excellent make-up.

As good as Dourif is he isn't quite the most impressive of the new additions to the cast. This honour goes to the completely CGI creation Gollum. Simply put, he is the most impressive special effect in a motion picture ever. Voice/motion actor Andy Serkis and the team at WETA digital have created the first CGI creation to convince as an actor. Sure, the CGI isn't perfect, as in it's not 100% photo realistic, but damn if it isn't close. The real beauty of Gollum is that after a few minutes watching him you completely forget that he is an effect.

The emotion that flashes across Gollumís face is amazing. You completely buy into the character, feeling for him. When Gollum debates with Smťagol (his other personality) you actually feel sorry for him. It's testament to what has been achieved here that I actually felt sorry for a collection of pixels created inside a computer. I can only hope that the Academy has the cahones to nominate Andy Serkis & WETA digital for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, because I really, honestly believe that it is one of this years stand out pieces of acting.

The superlative effects work is however not exclusive to Gollum. The opening scene, which depicts the rest of the Balrog vs. Gandalf battle (begun in the last film) is simply breathtaking. The miniature work throughout the film should act as a wake up call to George Lucas and his incessant fascination with blue screen and CGI sets. Likewise the combination of puppets and CGI for the Ents' (living trees) is nothing short of convincing. You will believe that trees can walk and talk. Of course, then there's Helms Deep.........

Helms Deep is the fortress where Theoden leads his people to defend against the attacking Orc army. It also serves as the backdrop for what is one of the most breathtaking battles that I have ever seen on the big screen. The sheer scale and audacity of what Peter Jackson has achieved here is insane. Using a computer program called 'Massive' WETA are able to have thousands of unique warriors fighting on a battle field. The results are, to say the least, incredible. A taster of what Massive can do is seen in the first films prologue, but Helms Deep blows that away.

Since The Two Towers follows three different stories, there is a fair bit of intercutting between the threads. If handled badly the pacing of the film could have been thrown off by ill judged editing between scenes. Peter Jackson gets it just right however, giving the audience a break from Helms Deep every now and again by cutting to Frodo, Sam and Gollum or showing the more laid back, but no less impressive Ent attack on Isengard.

I could go on and on about things I love in this film. The new steeds for the black riders, the competition between Legolas and Gimli, the attack on the Rohan by the Warg riding Orcs, Gollum fishing in the sacred pond, Sam and Frodo hiding under the Elven cloak, Howard Shores amazing musical score(Another Oscar please!), etc, etc, etc. The film is stuffed silly with amazing moments. Oh, the ending, what Joy. I was worried how they would end the film, but itís perfect. It Gives satisfactory closure to the current films events and brilliantly teases us with elements of the next.

Any complaints? Well I would say that the sheer amount of place names and character names that are thrown at you could become confusing, however as the film moves on it does become a little clearer. If you haven't seen the first film then it will be like dutch to you. There is no 'previously on The Lord of the Rings' recap to bring newbies up to speed. I would therefore suggest that you see the first film first, in-fact, make an effort to see the extended DVD as some of the new elements in that come into play in this film (Sam's Elf rope and the Lembas bread).

The Two Towers is a truly wonderful film that more than lives up to its predecessor. Good story, script, acting, direction and effects make a film that is truly unmissable on the big screen. Find a theatre with a huge screen and a kick ass sound system sit back and let yourself be taken to another world for three hours.

The question now is, how can WETA and Peter Jackson top this film with 'The Return of the King'? Isn't it next December yet?

 

/10.

See The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers if you enjoyed - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings (animated).

Poster Quote - Two films to rule them all.