Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

By Ent-Hugger Trehern the Pale

I said most of the nice and worthwhile things I wanted to say about the LOTR trilogy in the first entry in this series, The Fellowship of the Ring. As that one is my utmost favorite, the next two reviews should have some funny critiques and Trehern-isms that are fit for the joyous dining halls of Rohan! Come now, horse lords, for we must review The Two Towers!!!

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Sir Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortensen

Now a lot of people wonder what two towers the movie, and the novel, are referring to. Took me a couple years to figure that out, so I figure I'll start with explaining. One assumed tower is Saruman's (Christopher Lee) in the city of Isengard (the tower is called Orthanc); the other would be the tower of Sauron (Barad-dûr) in Mordor. But letters from Tolkien allude to The Two Towers referring to other locations, including the two towers at the Black Gate. But for the ease of reading, let's just settle on the towers of Saruman and Sauron.
Hmm, should I walk around and pout today, or stay in and pout...?
The film does a great job of threading the two originally separate tales of Aragorn and Co. and Frodo's trek across Middle-earth, weaving in and out of these two plot lines. Honestly, though, the more interesting of them is Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas' search for Merry and Pippin, the crew's interaction with Théoden and Rohan and the battle at Helm's Deep. Even though Gollum/Smèagol is awesomely played by Serkis, I just get bored with the dynamic between Samwise and Frodo. Booooring!

Sam and Frodo don't seem to realize that the shortest distant between two points is a straight line.  Get ole' Gollum to draw up a map and ditch the old fool.  The Hobbit Scouts always say "come prepared", and Bilbo's old maps **might** have helped, Frodo.  Though those magic Elvish cloaks came in handy, Frodo and Sam fall into more booby traps than Yosemite Sam in a Merry Melody.

The epic battle scenes in this installment set the stage for the next film (Return of the King), which is also "majorly war-epikey" [1]; if you signed up for this film for the destruction of Men and Orc, Elf and Ent, you came to the right place, lad. Nothing seems fake, even though I'm positive 95-100% of those scenes are computer generated; this was a decade before Cameron made Avatar, which is 100% fake looking...and crappy.
Uhh, we need 10,000 cups of sugar...
Gimli and Legolas' friendship is comically enjoyable, something the books seem to lack.  I'm glad Jackson took some of these smaller moments and tweaked them for entertainment purposes.  Treebeard is probably my favorite character in this one, kicking ass in Isengard.  But enough on that; watch the film for yourself! If you thought the first film was boring, that's okay, because The Two Towers kicks it up a notch while also having that "tourism video" showcase of Middle-earth, complete with great acting, beautiful landscapes and appropriate compositions from Howard Shore. And don't even get me started on the triumphant battle between Gandalf the Grey and the Balrog. Although not my favorite, Two Towers is a totally admirable installment in the trilogy.

Ben P's Notes:
Again, I'll echo Trehern's sentiments here. Even more than the first film, The Two Towers brings the awe-inspiring landscapes of Middle Earth (aka New Zealand) into the forefront, essentially becoming a character itself. The variation on display is incredible, from the snow covered mountains to the windswept fields outside of Helm's Deep. And speaking of that, holy freaking crap. The scene takes up a solid 40 minutes of this film, and it's not broken up into sections or separated much by cutting away to Sam and Frodo (which happens during the climactic battle of Return of the King). That sequence is all battle, baby - and it's destructive as hell. If you thought the first one was great, but were missing trebuchets, catapults, and one of the biggest battle scenes ever committed to film, then you'll probably dig The Two Towers. My favorite moment: Legolas throwing a shield down the stairs and sliding down on it while sniping orcs with his bow and arrows.

I liked this film a little more this time around than the last time I saw it, but there's still the problem of "the trees." Yes, you hear this complaint all the time, and though the movie was released nearly 10 years ago, it's still all most people remember about this second entry into the series. Much of the reason this movie isn't as enjoyable as Fellowship is because the gang gets split up: Frodo and Sam set off to take the Ring to Mordor and - as Trehern mentioned - there's a much more interesting story of Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn as they search for Merry and Pippin. But those hobbits spend most of this movie on the shoulders of Treebeard, the slllllllloooooooooowwwwweeeessssttttt talking tree in the history of talking trees. And he walks about as slow as he talks. It's a fairly useless subplot, but I wonder if Tolkien intended the trees as an allegory for the slow-moving (yet ultimately effective) government. Saddled with bureaucracy (read: getting decisions approved by the council of trees, or whatever), Treebeard moves with the speed of a glacier but eventually succeeds in destroying Isengard's farm of orcs, aiding our heroes in their quest. (But what happened to Saruman [2]? Is he still up there, trapped in the tower and guarded by Treebeard for all eternity? This is probably a question answered in the books but glossed over on film due to time constraints.)

The plight of the people of Rohan went down more smoothly for me this time around, helped by the recognition of Karl Urban as one of the main characters in that subplot. But the amount of time we spend with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum (the main characters of the main plotline, let's not forget) is wildly disproportionate to the time spent with other characters. Yes, the other guys are awesome, but I still feel like the distance covered by Frodo and Sam could have been a bit better illustrated. Overall, that's a small nitpick in an otherwise excellent movie. Highly recommended - but only if you're watching the whole series in a short period of time.

[1] Trust me, it's a real word.
[2] Saruman is apparently also known as "Sharkey." I'm not making that up.
Insert Madonna joke here...Yes, she's seriously the Superbowl half-time show.

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