The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Peter Jackson's extraordinary telling of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings continues with the release of The Two Towers, a film that manages to overcome its own version of middle child syndrome. Sandwiched between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King, The Two Towers neither begins the story nor ends it. It has to somehow forward the larger plot while maintaining its own sense of identity, and Jackson (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Frighteners) and co-adapters Frances Walsh (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Frighteners), Philippa Boyens (The Fellowship of the Ring), and Stephen Sinclair (Braindead, Meet the Feebles) manage this by centering the story around the massive siege of Helm's Deep. Jackson takes the gutsy move of beginning the film without any recap of what happened before. The drawback is that for anyone who did not see the first film (yes, there are some), they will be lost amidst this fully realized world. The benefit is that people who salivated over this film for a year can immediately begin their enjoyment.

After the events of Fellowship, the original fellowship of nine is no more. Frodo (Elijah Wood, The Fellowship of the Ring, Chain of Fools) and Sam (Sean Astin, The Fellowship of the Ring, Deterrence) are on their way to destroy the Ring of Power. Hot on their trail is Gollum (voiced by Andy Serkis, 24 Hour Party People, The Fellowship of the Ring), who had the ring long ago. The other hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan, The Fellowship of the Ring, Monsignor Renard) and Pippin (Billy Boyd, The Fellowship of the Ring, Julie and the Cadillacs) are captives of a band of Orcs. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen, The Fellowship of the Ring, 28 Days), Legolas (Orlando Bloom, The Fellowship of the Ring, Black Hawk Down) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Gold Cross) are tracking them. They make a stop in Rohan in order to help King Theoden (Bernard Hill, The Scorpion King, The Loss of Sexual Innocence) protect Rohan from invading forces. The evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee, The Fellowship of the Ring, Attack of the Clones) has joined forces with Sauron and is hungry for conquest.

With an entire new kingdom in the story, the cast expands, which gives a chance for many lesser-known (at least here) Australian actors like David Wenham (Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, Better Than Sex) and Karl Urban (The Price of Milk, Ghost Ship) to make an appearance, and provides the chance for a much-needed shot of estrogen in the form of Miranda Otto (Human Nature, What Lies Beneath). Otherwise, the acting is good all-around, with a surprising amount of tension-breaking comic relief from Rhys-Davies. Although there are a huge number of characters interacting within three storylines, it is relatively easy to keep track of who is who.

There is a lot of variation from the book to the novel, with the largest being Jackson's decision to switch between stories instead of focusing on the men first and hobbits second. All of the changes retain the spirit of the novel, and all add to the amazing epic scope of the film. It is this grand scale that makes the film so enjoyable. While massive things are happening across a world, the viewer can see how a small group of people is trying to change things, and they are making a difference. Jackson favors long, sweeping shots of his characters and the beautiful vistas of New Zealand, which seems to have every climate imaginable to man (or hobbit). There are a number of principal CGI characters that more real than computer-generated, not to mention the thousands of combatants in the end battle, which was a massive undertaking to film. The finished product is breathtaking in its sheer massiveness and complexity. It all boils down to imagination. Jackson is somebody who has the imagination necessary to take something like this from his mind and translate it on film without dumbing it down. He clearly loves the source material, and makes every effort to ensure that what ends up on film meets his high expectations. Two down, one more to go.

Haro Rates It: Really Good.
2 hours, 59 minutes, Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and scary images.

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