The multi-million dollar question is: is The Two Towers up to the standard set by the Fellowship of the Ring? I have to tell you that the answer is: no. It’s better - more spectacular, more exciting, more emotionally rewarding. Not only is this head and shoulders above the other films of 2002; it is going to inspire a whole new generation of moviegoers and film-makers with the magic that only the cinema can create. It’s fabulous and fantastic, in the truest sense of those words. And it puts the Ent back into Entertainment.
| (Sorry about that.)|
No film is perfect, and I think director Peter Jackson made a mistake in casting John Rhys-Davies to voice Treebeard the Ent. This is too recognisably the same actor who plays Gimli the dwarf, with a strange accent that is midway between Scotland and Wales. While we’re on the subject of dodgy accents, those of Sam (Sean Astin) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) are liable to turn American at times of stress. But this is nit-picking when set against the film’s achievements.
The climactic event of The Two Towers, the seemingly hopeless defence of Helm’s Deep against insuperable odds, is an outstanding, extended battle sequence that dwarfs any others on celluloid; but that is only the greatest of many wonders. Several other action sequences would have made spectacular climaxes for any other movie – especially the warg attack on the emigrants from Rohan, and the Ents’ angry storming of Isengard.
One of the greatest services director Peter Jackson and his team have done to Tolkien is to grasp the importance of landscape. Most of Tolkien’s finest writing lay in his descriptions of Middle Earth itself. The judicious use of digital technology has added to the natural, unspoiled marvels of New Zealand, and created a world that is at once fantastical and familiar. No directors – not even David Lean and John Ford – have used geography more effectively, to lend atmosphere and texture to their narrative.
One of the many excellent aspects of Jackson’s script, co-written with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyers and Stephen Sinclair, is that it supplies comic and romantic relief to go with all the action and grandeur. Neither comedy nor women were Tolkien’s strong points; and these enhancements are part of the reason why the films are destined to reach an even wider and more appreciative audience than the books.
Especially astounding is Jackson’s attention to directorial detail. Two of the moments which make the heart leap are when the elf Legolas (a) gets on a horse and (b) travels down a staircase. These events may not read like much on the page, but thanks to Jackson’s imagination they amount to two of the most stirring moments ever seen.
Those killjoys who dismiss The Lord of the Rings as mere escapism should stop to consider whether its tale of racial hatred, genocide, the corrupting nature of power, the need to stand against evil and yet guard against the temptation of using extreme force, isn’t of greater relevance to the world of today than most films of so-called realism.
Tolkien is often said to make too simplistic a division between Good and Evil. But characters here are torn between the two in a fascinating way. Theoden, King of Rohan (brought brilliantly to life in an Oscar-worthy supporting performance by Bernard Hill) has to decide between isolationism and involvement in a way that is relevant to several modern western leaders, especially those in France and Germany.
Treebeard the Ent must decide whether the evil-doing of Saruman warrants revenge or merely a shrug of resignation.
Elrond, King of the Elves (superbly played by Hugo Weaving), has to resolve whether his people have any further responsibilities to the world they are shortly to leave behind.
Gollum – a stunning breakthrough in computer animation, and wonderfully voiced by Andy Serkis - has to decide between his doglike devotion to Frodo and his feral determination to steal back his ring. The scenes where the good and bad sides of his nature compete are funny, touching and horrific, all at the same time.
These ethical dilemmas are treated with all the sensitivity and seriousness for which one might hope. Yet, as if by magic, the pace of the storytelling never flags. This is the speediest three hours in the cinema that I have ever experienced.
The quality of the acting is amazingly high, especially if you contrast it with the woodenness we have become resigned to in the Star Wars films. Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn easily dons the mantle of epic hero that used to be worn by Charlton Heston, and he’s a lot sexier. The triangular love relationship between him, Arwen (Liv Tyler, acting better in Elvish than she ever has in English) and Eowyn, Theoden’s niece (played by Mirando Otto) is deftly and delightfully done.
The rise of post-war cynicism and the decline of the Western and the war film have not diminished the huge need in the popular cinema for heroes. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is a whole range of heroes for anybody to identify with.
I know a few people who felt distanced and bored by the Fellowship of the Ring, but I’m afraid the failure lies in their power to appreciate it, not in the film itself. (I, for my part, have a similar incapacity to appreciate Wagner.) But even they should give The Two Towers a try, for it is an even more towering achievement.
Necessarily darker and more violent than its predecessor, it may be too overwhelming for those under eight. For the rest of us, it’s an overwhelming experience, in a totally positive way. This is, I can say without fear of exaggerating, one of the great films of all time.
|Like the first episode, it was nominated for Best Picture. It won Oscars for visual effects and sound editing.|
About the Extended Edition...
The Lord of the Rings is sure to be the most influential film series of our time - and that's because of DVD. The current home entertainment boom has meant that director Peter Jackson has been able to make fuller versions of stories that were brilliant in themselves, but over which he had to compromise to deliver a movie at conventional feature-film length.
The extended version of The Two Towers contains 42 more minutes of high-quality footage, including a flashback which adds to our understanding of the relationship between Boromoir, Faramir and their father Denethor.
Most importantly, the 4-disc set allows new generations of aspiring film-makers to understand the collaborative nature of the art. There's an excellent documentary on the way that Gollum evolved through trial and error. It's fascinating to see how the talent of actor Andy Serkis made the technicians re-evaluate work they had previously regarded as acceptable.
There are insightful interviews with Tolkien experts on the influence on the author of World War I and Anglo-Saxon literature, and intelligent justification by the writing team of how and why they departed from the novels.
The best documentary of the lot is about Howard Shore's scoring of the picture, which shows how he developed his various themes and took on board the views of his director.
Jackson's spirited mixture of perfectionism and improvisation, visible in all of his collaborators, shines through the first two thirds of the trilogy. Since the final third, The Return of the King, is Jackson's own favourite and by far the most naturally cinematic of Tolkien's books, there are good grounds to hope that it will be the best of the lot.