Directed by Peter Jackson Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis, Sean Astin, Bernard Hill, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Brad Dourif Review by Emma Hutchings Review by Emma Hutchings
Following the breaking of the Fellowship, the three groups go their separate ways. Merry and Pippin escape their captors and are befriended by Treebeard the Ent. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ally themselves with the people of Rohan and aid them in the battle of Helm’s Deep. Frodo and Sam continue on to Mordor, led by the mysterious creature Gollum, the One Ring’s previous owner, who futilely battles against its thrall.
OSCAR WINNER for Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects
OSCAR NOMINEE for Best Art Direction- Set Decoration, Best Editing, Best Picture, Best Sound
The second film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy had a huge mountain to climb after the success of The Fellowship of the Ring, one of the greatest cinematic achievements ever. The middle film always threatens to falter in terms of its lack of a real beginning or ending, with audiences often impatient to reach the climax. It must develop the plot of the first film and prepare them for the final chapter whilst trying to keep viewers involved and stopping them looking ahead too much. Not a simple task. Fortunately, The Two Towers was in safe hands with Peter Jackson and his team working their magic.
Some say it is detrimental that familiarity with The Fellowship of the Ring is mandatory. However, it is my belief that the six people who didn’t watch the first film probably aren’t going to want to watch this one anyway. It’s a long film; wasting time explaining all that happened previously would just make it pointlessly longer.
Therefore, the film starts with a short flashback of Gandalf and the Balrog, which then shows them falling and continuing their fight. With the Fellowship broken, the narrative itself is also fractured; split into three different stories and constantly flitting between them.
Merry and Pippin escape from their captors, thanks to an attack by Éomer and the riders of Rohan, and flee into Fangorn Forest. There they meet Treebeard the Ent (voiced by John Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli); a large, talking shepherd of the forest. Their attempts to get Treebeard and the other Ents to join the fight are hindered by the fact that the Ents take a very long time to speak to each other in the old Entish language. When they finally come to a decision, they say they wish to have no involvement in the war. After Merry opens Pippin’s eyes to the fact that they won’t be safe in the Shire, because the war will destroy everything they love, Pippin tells Treebeard to take them South, past Isengard. There Treebeard sees the destruction Saruman has wreaked. Much of the forest has been torn down to fuel the furnaces for forging the arms of war. Saddened (“Many of these trees were my friends. Creatures I had known from nut or acorn”) and angry, Treebeard calls upon the Ents, who attack Isengard by throwing rocks and releasing the river. One of my favourite moments in the film comes when an Ent is set on fire but then is later seen running to the freed river in order to douse the flames. Such a small, insignificant moment, but showing what a brilliant eye for detail the filmmakers have.
Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli keep their vow by tracking the Hobbits to Fangorn Forest. There they discover a wizard; it is Gandalf, now no longer the Grey but the White. The four ride to Edoras in Rohan where Gandalf exorcises Saruman’s hold over King Théoden. Grima Wormtongue, Saruman’s spy, is banished and returns to his master who, knowing he can no longer manipulate them, decides to destroy the people of Rohan. Gandalf leaves to find Éomer and his riders; the Rohirrim. King Théoden decides everyone should flee to Helm’s Deep, a large fortress that has protected his people before. Saruman’s army of 10,000 marches on Helm’s Deep where only 300 men must face them. A large number of Elves, led by Haldir, arrive to assist them and a huge battle ensues. All seems lost as the Keep is breached and Aragorn and the others ride out to meet the enemy (“For death and glory”), but Gandalf returns with Éomer and the Rohirrim who turn the tide wipe out the last of Saruman’s forces.
Frodo and Sam continue their long journey to Mordor, with the Ring becoming heavier and visibly effecting Frodo, who looks drawn and weaker. They are attacked by Gollum, a creature transformed and disfigured by his time in possession of the Ring who now wants to reclaim his “precious”. Frodo takes pity on Gollum and, not knowing the way to Mordor, asks him to lead them. They are taken captive by soldiers of Gondor, led by Boromir’s younger brother, Faramir. Learning that Frodo has the One Ring, Faramir decides to take them to Gondor in order for him to prove himself to his father. Later, they narrowly escape a confrontation with a Ringwraith on a flying fell beast and Sam tells Faramir how his brother was corrupted by the Ring and that it must be destroyed. Faramir proves his strength by setting them free to complete their quest, forfeiting his life by letting the powerful weapon slip from his father’s grasp. Resuming their journey, Gollum reveals his evil nature by deciding to lead the Hobbits into a trap with a creature he refers to only as “her” and then taking the Ring for himself...
People are often critical about the Pippin and Merry segments, claiming they are boring and they detract from the excitement of the sequences with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. But this is a human tale. We’ve grown to love all the members of the Fellowship and want to know what becomes of all of them. They can’t all be taking part in impressive action-packed battles. These quieter scenes break up the film well and complement the others, providing a rest from the onslaught. And eventually they do get their big battle anyway.
The character of Gollum is a very interesting addition in this film. Peter Jackson wanted Gollum to be performer-oriented, so British character actor Andy Serkis, who also provides the voice, played him in a motion-capture suit. Serkis also acted out the scenes with Elijah Wood (Frodo) and Sean Astin (Sam) on set to give the actors a focal point. Gollum was then composited over him in post-production; this rendering would often take up to six hours for one shot. Gollum is one of the best CGI creations and it’s a brilliant performance by Andy Serkis, who was unfortunately ruled ineligible for a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Academy Awards.
The Two Towers adds elements of humour and romance lacking in the novel. The scenes with Arwen and Aragorn show his heart belongs to his true love, but she may well be sailing the Undying Lands with her kin, and Éowyn of Rohan is showing an interest in him, although her cooking leaves a lot to be desired.
The main moments of comic relief are provided by Gimli. His friendly, competitive banter with Legolas is laugh out loud funny. “What’s happening out there?” he asks, as he can’t see over the ramparts. “Shall I describe it to you, or would you like me to find you a box?” Legolas replies with a grin. The audience expects a harsh retort but Gimli simply bursts out laughing, encouraging us to do the same. Echoing the moment in the first film where the Fellowship has to leap a huge drop and Gimli proudly states “Nobody tosses a Dwarf”, in this film he has to ask Aragorn to toss him because he cannot jump the distance over to the enemy, “Don’t tell the Elf” he pleads. Their point-scoring during the huge battle is also a source of fun and lightens the sense of threat without detracting from it.
The grand battle at Helm’s Deep took 3 months to shoot, all at night and using rain machines. The set was built on location in New Zealand over seven months and most of it was made out of polystyrene. The scenes had to be edited down from over 20 hours of footage. The writers decided to move the entire final sequence of the novel (Frodo and Sam’s encounter with Shelob) to the third film instead, which meant that the battle for Helm’s Deep became the film’s natural climax. In another of the director’s cameo’s Peter Jackson can be spotted amongst the Rohan defenders, hurling a spear at the attacking Uruk’s.
“The battle of Helm’s Deep is over, the battle for Middle Earth is about to begin”. After the epic spectacle of the battle, this line of Gandalf’s at the end of the film gets the audience excited about what the future holds. How can they surpass this? As usual, Jackson doesn’t let the CGI overwhelm the human element of the films, and the ending makes us realise that despite all the fighting and heroics, the fate of the world ultimately rests on the shoulders of the little Hobbit, Frodo Baggins. The Two Towers effectively continues to follow the adventures of all the characters we grew to care about in the first film. With thrills, humour, fantastic sets and awe-inspiring special effects, it leads us, impatient and excited, to the inevitable conclusion in the final part of the trilogy.
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The Two Towers