Being the second film in any planned trilogy can feel overwhelming but when it’s following a film like The Fellowship of the Ring, the expectation is set at a near unachievable level that it’s almost impossible to predict it will come close to the same outcome as before. Luckily, the novels in which these films are based on by J. R. R. Tolkien are firmly grasped by the right hands in director Peter Jackson and his writing partners. The Two Towers picks up right where Fellowship leaves off. Said fellowship is in complete disarray – they are split up and isolated, loses have occurred and Jackson wastes no time in expressing the disbanded ally’s frustration in being separated from one another.
Shot back-to-back-to-back The Two Towers is in every imaginable way a worthy successor to Fellowship. Picking up the momentum once the familiar sounds of Howard Shore’s score begins to play, Jackson drops us right back into the world as if a year hadn’t passed by between films. In many aspects, Two Towers elevates the narrative and pushes the boundaries on what a high fantasy film can achieve. One look at Middle Earth and the same spectacle can be felt, this world is truly breathtaking – from the tops of the mountains to the depths of the darkest corners and every city, town, and detail in between.
Imagine not seeing a very close friend for years at a time and finally reuniting with them and nothing changed as if time stood still. That is what Jackson achieves in his sequel.
From where we left off, given the large ensemble, it would take up most of this review explaining all the major players in the continuing battle for Middle Earth and their sub-plots. So, in lieu of that, in The Two Towers, the main narrative shifts the balance from being hobbit based where Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise (Sean Astin) are continuing their journey to bring the ring of power to Mount Doom to destroy it once and for all to the one true heir of Gondor, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and his forces fighting against the army of Uruk-hai commanded by Saruman (Christopher Lee).
As mentioned, the ensemble is astronomical, filling up this world with unique characters, motivations, and agendas with a sea of men, elves, orc’s, wizards, and hobbits is no small task. Logistically a nightmare in the making, Jackson never looks lost or out of control with his film. Each character that has a line of dialogue or a mission to carry out is purposeful to where the story is headed – no one is wasted or left stranded on the battlefield.
Based on Tolkien’s experiences in the war, the themes of honor, duty, friendship, courage, and bravery are embedded in the films DNA, as it is in Fellowship, translating effortlessly from page to screen. Nothing in The Two Towers is more parallel to a world war and the horrors that are a result of fighting than king Théoden (Bernard Hill) of Rohan after experiencing a loss. “No parent should have to bury a child” he tells Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen). That one line alone is enough to resonate with anyone who served their country during a war.
While The Two Towers narrative relies on the journey and obstacles to overcome by our heroes, the climax of the film is the battle at Helms Deep. It’s this sequence alone that the scale is felt with cinematographer Andrew Lesnie’s vision behind the camera. Hundreds of thousands ready for battle to take control in the war. It doesn’t matter what species you may be; war doesn’t discriminate. As much as the Ent’s led by Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies) don’t want to join the fight, they are drawn in by the destruction of Saruman in hatching his army of Orc/goblin hybrids.
The Two Towers being the middle of this encompassing journey, there is plenty of story still to be told. Frodo and Sam encounter Gollum or the former Sméagol (voiced by Andy Serkis), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) are captured by Uruk-hai and later rescued by Treebeard and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) accompany Aragorn in defending Helm’s Deep. Knowing that Return of the King is on the horizon, Jackson never rushes his story nor makes it any less important. The battle alone is enough to marvel at, hanging on every significant moment that happens because of it. Tension is built by the sheer anticipation of bloodshed, orc, and human alike.
For the time, the special effects stand out the most and still hold up years later with how advanced the technology has become. Along with the gorgeous landscapes that are captured while character’s run or are racing on horseback, the computer-generated images are equally breathtaking. None more than the groundbreaking motion capture technology used to bring Gollum to life. The work Andy Serkis does is remarkable, providing the duality of the role – camera switches back and forth during a simple yet complex conversation between the former hobbit and his obsession diseased other half that captures the struggle for control.
The MVP of these 2 films remains to be Samwise the brave as he accompanies Frodo to protect him. The four hobbits are proof that no one should be underestimated in this world. their courage in the face of danger is unmatched which makes them the most relatable characters on screen.
If I could offer one thought of criticism for The Two Towers, the pacing suffers a bit between the character shifts. Momentum constantly starts and stops when the focus changes, only to be built up again from the bottom. Otherwise, Jackson has gone 2 for 2 in his adaptation of Tolkien’s novels despite the lengthy runtime. These are films that are meant to be viewing experiences and it shows. Every dollar of the films budget is used in a meaningful manner that only adds to the ambitious undertaking. No matter the size of the role, every character will leave a lasting impression among the striking visual effects, themes, and performances. With The Two Towers, high fantasy films have become mainstream, appealing to a wider audience instead of those who are familiar with the source material.
Written By: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair & Peter Jackson
Directed By: Peter Jackson
Music By: Howard Shore
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Kark Urban, Andy Serkis
Release Date: December 18, 2002
Running Time: 2 Hours 59 Minutes (Theatrical), 3 Hours 55 Minutes (Extended)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Based On: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien