The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers
THE TWO TOWERS
aka The Lord of the Rings – the Two Towers : NZ (NZ/USA) 2002 : Peter Jackson : 179 mins
The Two Towers isn’t so much a sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring as a continuation – Jackson’s Lord of the Rings being one nine-hour film divided into three installments. Proceeding on the assumption that all Towers viewers will be fully conversant with Fellowship, he provides only the barest of recaps: we begin with a re-run of the climactic battle between wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the monstrous, sulphur-spewing Balrog. Except this time we don’t cut away when the pair vanish off into the bowels of the earth – instead we plummet with them down through what seems like an infinity of space, the first of many astonishing special-effects sequences that showcase Jackson’s great strengths.
When his camera is flying through the air, or whirling above some computer-generated spectacle, the bloke is some kind of genius. But when he has to settle down and keep his camera steady at ground level, he’s anything but. And over the course of its three hours, Two Towers alternates between the stupendous and the stupefying with clockwork regularity. The contrast is most apparent during this picture’s climactic battle – an epic-scale confrontation between the forces of good and evil at the mountainside fortress known as Helm’s Deep. Jackson crafts a pulsating, blood-and-thunder confrontation – only to keep cutting away to a parallel story in which a pair of hapless ‘hobbits’ chat with a giant talking tree known as Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies.)
After what seems like an eternity, the Treebeard storyline also delivers the goods when he leads his fellow ‘Ents’ to attack Isengard, redoubt of the evil sorcerer Saruman (Christopher Lee, somewhat underused). The visuals here are, if anything, even more startling than what we’ve just seen at Helm’s Deep. But Jackson again makes a very frustrating decision – we don’t actually see how this battle ends, Saruman’s fate presumably being kept over for episode three, The Return of the King. Instead, we cut to the film’s third parallel story, the progress of hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), as they continue their odyssey towards the evil lands of Mordor. Jackson has Sam deliver a clunking moral (“there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for”) in his fake ‘country bumpkin’ English accent that brings the whole enterprise crashing back down to earth.
It’s moments like these which emphasise just how similar Two Towers is to Fellowship. The dialogue is, again, mostly terrible – the younger cast members plough through it the best they can, and it takes seasoned pros like McKellen or Lee to give it any kind of class. Newcomer Brad Dourif fares even better, endowing a startling ‘Richard III’ quality to what could have been just another stock ‘nefarious villain’ character as Grima Wormtongue (those names!!). Dourif’s presence has one downside, however: he’s a visible reminder of Dune, where David Lynch took Frank Herbert’s nonsensical fantasy-potboiler and made something bizarre, unique and visionary. Jackson, for all his many talents, isn’t quite in the same universe.