Blockbuster Movie Month: "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" Review

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema
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Rating: PG-13
Length: 179 minutes
Release Date: December 18, 2002
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Genre: Action / Adventure / Fantasy

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" continues where the action left off in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." The situation in Middle Earth gets more desperate as Frodo and Sam continue on their own without Aragorn's guidance. Saruman the White's orc army grows. Aragorn learns to lead since Gandalf fell at the bridge of Khazad Dum. Men are on the brink of extinction in Peter Jackson's second installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy. The director expertly moves the plot along as a bridge piece between two movies. "The Two Towers" also stands alone as an action-packed ensemble piece with fantastic acting, great writing, wonderful music and stunning visuals.

Like the novels, "The Two Towers" is more compact, succinct and action-oriented than the other two in the trilogy. All aspects of this film are a race to get pieces in place on a large chessboard. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas chase a band of Uruk Hai toward Isengard as they try to retrieve Pippin and Meriadoc. Frodo and Sam run toward Mount Doom. Gandalf rides to find Eomer to save Theoden and Aragorn from a massacre at Helm's Deep. Everyone in this chase meets people they do not expect, and these events add to the plot's suspense.

The secondary characters are portrayed beautifully as part of an excellent ensemble cast. Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill and David Wenham all feel the urgency of what happens to their characters. Every characterization has the perfect amount of depth, breadth and emotional weight that comes with something happening beyond each one's personal pain. Urban's look when his character laments the loss of two men is more about Eomer's banishment than a woeful battlefield leader. Otto has the same visage when conversing with Aragorn about taking up a warrior's role. Hill's Theoden convinces the audience that "no parent should have to bury their child," even as he ponders how to save his people. Wenham's Faramir knowingly sacrifices his own life, by his father's law, when he sends Frodo on his journey with the Sauron's ring.

The actors were expertly cast, and the script was even better. Elrond's speech to his daughter about her future is pure poetry. Every word Gandalf speaks foretells what happens as if he has special knowledge. Aragorn's comforts are just emotional enough to be both tough and tender as the future leader of men. Frodo and Sam's discussions about what to do with Gollum bespeak the characters' deep friendship. Gollum's schizophrenia, and the entire trilogy, is summed up while he tries to convince himself to "leave now and never come back."

The film's music resonates with the action. Howard Shore's bombastic score takes the audience from the depths of Moria to the climax of Helm's Deep with the right mix of speed and solemnity. His solo violin mimics Eowyn's loneliness as the only sane human left in Rohan. The charge of Eomer and Gandalf into Helm's Deep is the best piece in the entire trilogy, when horses thunder down the hillside to rescue men from ultimate destruction. The cavalry arrived, and Shore let viewers know it with every note of a single cantor.

The creatures and effects are computer-generated, yet they appear to be painted with a master's brush. Weta Workshop controlled the overall look of the film from costuming and battle gear to weapons and creature design. The best computer effects are seen in the Nazgul and their flying beasts. Their size and scope are terrifying as they clamor to track down Frodo and Sam for Sauron. The effects are a visual feast that complete the entire picture of "The Two Towers."

Jackson's vision for one of the most-read books in human history came together in a harmony of acting, writing, composing and visualizing. The director was relatively unknown before taking on the tough task of satisfying "Lord of the Rings" fans and moviegoers in general. Jackson succeeded by working out every detail himself, right down to hiring his own production company for costuming and visual effects.

As the middle of three films, Jackson knew "The Two Towers" had to serve as a bridge piece, yet the movie needed to be good enough to stand alone. Just like Tolkien's masterpiece, Jackson served both fans and the action well. Even the director's artistic liberties, such as elves arriving at Helm's Deep, meshed with the overall urgency of getting the ring closer to the fires of Mount Doom. New Line Cinema took a risk by hiring Jackson to make the entire trilogy all at once over 18 months. Several Academy Awards later, the distributor's investment clearly paid off.