My friend Jake and I once saw a movie made by Peter Jackson at a time when nobody knew who he was. This was many year ago, and both of us exclaimed to each other at the same time after watching it, “He’s never going to make it!” Neither of us ever thought we’d be so wrong. And now, here is my review of Peter Jackson’s, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”
“The Two Towers” suffers from the ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.’ When the movie began (after a painfully long set of commercials and previews), it was like being treated to fabulous gourmet dessert. Seeing Middle Earth again was the first bite into the cake. But as the three hour movie lingered, my appetite grew full, and no longer was the calorie-rich treat much appealing.
Yes, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” is a visual masterpiece. Although filmed at the same time with it’s predecessor, “The Two Towers” does look one year newer, and a notch above “Fellowship.” But I can only take breathtaking special effects for so long, the novelty does wear thin. The crisp, clear surround sounds keep the excitement level up, but those are only temporary fixes. Even the horrific Uruk-Hai Orc cries lose their value.
Director Peter Jackson gives us a lot to chew on, and because of that, so much was accomplished, but at the same time, so little was accomplished in the progression on the trilogy timeline. Much of the movie is boggled down with flashbacks and dream sequences that could have been trimmed down by a few minutes. I mean, we’ve all seen the first one, it would have been more effective if we weren’t reminded of Gandalf’s plunge to apparent death after his battle with Balrog in “Fellowship.”
“The Two Towers” reunites us with Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his faithful ‘guardian’ companion, Sam (Sean Astin). They are still on their quest to destroy the ring, but again they are found on the sidelines. Hobbit fans may not appreciate such neglect, but they will be satisfied with the other heroes, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and of course, Gandalf (Ian McKellen).
Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Arwen (Liv Tyler) are back, but get very little screen time. The lack of Saruman is not surprising though, as the characters take a back seat to CGI and special effects. Joining Frodo and Sam is the completely digitized character, Gollum, this movie’s answer to “Harry Potter’s” Dobby. Gollum is a mysterious creature cursed with a split personality. One side of him wants to guide Frodo to Mordor, while the other side wants to steal “my precious” at whatever cost.
The most aspiring moment is when Gandalf sheds his gray cloak and reveals his new status as Gandalf the white. I wish he had more of presence. Like his enemy Saruman, there is little of him on-screen. Another character debut is Treebeard, a member of the most ancient race in Middle-Earth. He is a walking talking tree, and spends most of the movie conversing with two hobbits, Merry and Pippin. There is a great scene where he summons the rest of his family, a powerful army of giant trees that begin to come alive. But this is only one of a few scenes that really gather up enough steam to keep the movie going at a thrilling pace.
The movie’s plot is split through two different journeys. The first is that of Frodo, Sam and Gollum. Their adventure is the most interesting, and they travel through more exciting and seemingly dangerous places. Only Gollum knows the way through the treacherous swamp that almost claims Frodo’s life. The marshland is creepy, as “Fellowship” seemed to have lacked some of these eerie backdrops that are in “The Two Towers.”
We also follow Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, the characters who fight off the rest of the world while Frodo tries to slip under the rug so he can make it to Mordor, alive. But their adventure takes too many pit-stops. Flashbacks of Aragorn and Arwen take time, producing little results. They are also accompanied by Gandalf to the lone-standing kingdom of Rohan that is on the eve of an attack from Saruman’s forces. These muddled scenes offer little inspiration and will confuse those who aren’t aquatinted with Tolkien’s books. (I guess that’s your price to pay skipping the reading).
Gandalf’s attempt to break Saruman’s spell over the king(Bernard Hill) could have been so much better, and should have induced more emotion from the audience. While in Rohan, Aragorn and his group recruit the men and old-enough-boys to battle Saruman’s Orcs. This could have been a pivotal point for Jackson to start the emotional roller-coaster, as the wives look on in fear, knowing that they will soon be widows. But the movie gets more laughs than tears. Even when Gollum starts a serious monologue, there is usually a chuckle or two from the audience. This is why you shouldn’t be surprised when movies like “A Beautiful Mind” take home the Oscar prize for Best Picture.
But that final battle I mentioned does blur the line between reality and computer generated special effects. Admitting to the fact, I still don’t know if the Uruk-Hai were the results of CGI or men in face paint. The visuals are that good. I tried oh so desperately to find a glitch or a bug or a something that I could have pinned, but the entire battle, which may or not be worth the rest of the movie, is masterfully done. I don’t think there are enough people on the planet to be the extras in that scene if it weren’t for computer magic. The fighting is simply awesome, and doesn’t require an answer that I’m sure everyone must have asked themselves, “How does Legolas never run out of arrows?”
Naturally, we are left to anticipate the third and final installment of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I am predicting the same formula. Those who loved the first two will love the last, while the rest of us will cross our fingers for even better special effects.
I am a fan of Peter Jackson, and I’ve probably known about him years before most people. But don’t let that be a gauge on how much salt you take from my review, because my favorite Jackson movie is still, and will probably always be the cult classic, “Bad Taste.”