The Two Towers (2002)

Gollum leads Sam (Sean Astin) and Frodo (Elijah Woods) to the One Ring in “The Two Towers.”

Thrilling ‘Two Towers’ is most definitely ‘precious’

The second in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Two Towers,” returns to theaters this weekend for a limited run. To mark the occassion, here is a reprint of my 2002 review of the film for The Patriot Ledger:

Trees that walk and talk, obnoxious little beasts with multiple-personality disorder and a band of warriors badly in need of dental hygiene: Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. Nope, we’re located far south of Emerald City in the dark forests and plains of Middle-earth, where the purveyors of good and evil will once again rule over the box office in “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”

The second in Peter Jackson’s three “Lord of the Rings” installments is no neglected middle child. It possesses all of the magic and excitement of last year’s “Fellowship of the Ring,” as it transports us deeper into an adventure matched only by “The Wizard of Oz” in scope and imagination.

Fortified by fine performances, stunning scenery and state-of-the-art special effects, “The Two Towers” might be even better than its predecessor. That’s saying something, considering “The Fellowship of the Ring” rang up 13 Oscar nominations and earned nearly $900 million worldwide. While Part 1 served mainly as an introduction to the characters, Part 2 is richer and more focused in establishing conflicts that will be resolved in what is shaping up to be a mind-blowing finale next December with “The Return of the King.”

Until then, “The Two Towers” offers more than enough to command our attention, especially because it requires multiple viewings to absorb every nuance of this dense adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece. It also allows time to get acquainted with the bevy of new characters the Fellowship encounters as it continues its quest to restore peace to Middle-earth by destroying the One Ring.

Achieving that goal seems ever more insurmountable as the Fellowship becomes splintered, not to mentioned greatly outnumbered by the evil allied forces of the Dark Lord Sauron and the corrupted wizard Saruman (Think Hitler and Mussolini, as Tolkien did; or the more current Saddam and bin Laden). The home bases of the demented duo – Orthanc for Saruman, Barad-dur for Sauron – are the two towers of the title. Brewing inside each is a storm that will culminate in the cataclysmic battle of Helm’s Deep, the second film’s most triumphant moment.

Taking months to film and countless hours to digitally enhance, the battle comprises the final 45 minutes of the nearly three-hour film. And, boy, is it worth the wait. It’s impossible to describe the savagery of the pivotal standoff pitting 10,000 of Saruman’s dentally challenged Orcs and Uruk-hai against the people of Rohan and their three fiercest allies: the human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies).

Blood, rain and fire fill the screen in a scene that makes the D-Day invasion in “Saving Private Ryan” look like a Civil War re-enactment. There’s also more emotion this time out, particularly in the friendship between Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), the furry-footed Hobbits toting the One Ring; and the budding romantic triangle between Aragorn, his betrothed elfin beauty, Arwen (Liv Tyler), and the spirited Rohan princess Eowyn (Miranda Otto).

In addition to Eowyn, there are several other new faces, including Eowyn’s hunky brother, Elrond (Karl Urban); their uncle, King Theoden (Bernard Hill) of Rohan; his duplicitous advisor Wormtongue (Brad Dourif); and Faramir (David Wenham), who like his brother, the slain Boromir, threatens to relieve Frodo of the One Ring.

The newcomers that will have tongues wagging, however, are Gollum and Treebeard, digital creations that flat-out steal the movie with their intriguing weirdness. Clearly, Tolkien was toking something when he came up with the idea of Treebeard (voiced by Rhys-Davies), a tree that walks, talks and philosophizes; and Gollum (aka Smeagol), a mutant creature who bounces off the walls like he’s on a permanent amphetamine high. Next to the Battle of Helm’s Deep, Gollum is the movie’s most notable achievement. Unlike the phony-looking Jar Jar Binks from the “Star Wars” franchise and Dobby from the “Harry Potter” series, Gollum (an emaciated critter who resembles Peter Lorre) is an entirely computer-generated creation that has dimension and fluidity, not to mention a personality.

Gollum is the embodiment of actor Andy Serkis, who was outfitted in a special suit covered with sensors that enabled a computer to record his every acrobatic move. The art department then used that template to create Gollum, a mutated Hobbit and former Ringbearer (he menacingly refers to the evil gold band as his “precious”). When Frodo goes against Sam’s wishes and befriends Gollum, a rift grows in their friendship.

That conflict and the ring’s growing power over Frodo – as Gollum escorts him and Sam to Mordor – is just one of three major story strands that comprise “The Two Towers.” The others involve fellow Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) escaping from their Uruk captors to hook up with the Treebeard-led Ents in Fangorn Forest; and the adventures of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas – with an assist from the resurrected Gandalf (Ian McKellen) – as they rush to the rescue of Rohan, a once-peaceful land torn asunder by Saruman (a wickedly evil Christopher Lee).

It’s a lot of material to digest, but Jackson, who co-wrote the script with Fran Walsh (his wife), Philippa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair, keeps it as simple as possible. Perhaps too simple in places, especially when it comes to the dialogue, which is more the declarative variety than conversational. A timid attempt at a cliffhanger ending also comes up short. But that’s all there is to quibble about in a terrific blend of art and commerce that dizzyingly runs rings around the competition.

Movie review

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Rated: PG-13: intense violence

Cast: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban and Brad Dourif.

Director: Peter Jackson

Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair

Runtime: 178 minutes

Where: In theaters for a limited run June 9

Grade: A-

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