Wednesday, December 5, 2012

From My Collection - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Movie Review

Eowyn tests Aragorn's fealty to his beloved in The Two Towers.
As much as I loved The Fellowship of the Ring is as disappointed as I was in The Two Towers. Except in its magnificent closing epic battle, it failed to inspire a sense of awe. Everything I admired about the first film was largely absent in the second. This includes the focused storytelling that had as its centerpiece a group of men on a quest. Now the fellowship was fractured, it felt like three different stories. And the toggling back and forth left me feeling impatient and restless. I don't know that there was any way for screenwriters Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh to get around that. It's a style of 'cutting' that works fine in the format of a novel, but for a three hour plus film it grows tedious.

Merry and Pippin have been taken by the Uruk-hai, and later escape and join with the Ents, a tree-like species inhabiting the forest and taking a veeery long time to decide anything. Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn are in pursuit of them, getting sidetracked by joining with the men of Rohan and their King, who is under Saruman’s (Christopher Lee) spell. Meanwhile the Hobbits who are supposed to be at the heart of the story, Frodo and Sam, continue their journey to Mordor to destroy the ring. Then they have Gollum to contend with as he tracks them and agrees to lead them to their destination.

Unfortunately, I find the Frodo and Sam sections of the movie the least compelling. Yet we are supposed to be drawn to them more than anything. The Ents, fascinating characters though they are and rife with allegorical possibility at the time this movie was released (the invasion of Iraq was being debated to death in the UN at the end of 2002), grow tiresome after a while. Because I enjoy being in the company of Aragorn and his friends – they also come across Gandalf, earlier believed to have die – I find most of their scenes the most interesting and I yearn to be back with them whenever director Peter Jackson cuts away to the Hobbits.

The conflict within Aragorn deepens in this middle story as he meets a woman, Eowyn (Miranda Otto), the niece of King Theoden (Bernard Hill), who takes a liking to him. But Aragorn’s heart still belongs to Arwen the Elf (Liv Tyler), who is leaving Middle Earth. Even though the pseudo love story is interesting enough to add detail and texture to the story and character, I mostly just can’t wait for the big finale – an epic battle at the refuge of Helm’s Dee, where a small group of Men and Elves – and one Dwarf, of course – will have to repel some 10,000 Orcs and Uruk-hai.

This is an unbelievable battle, a technical triumph of computer imaging and programming. And the tension rises to great heights, this time aided by the occasional cutting away to the Hobbits and their respective stories. Had the battle been presented as one extended scene with breaks it would feel like a relentless assault. Anyway, the segments involving Merry and Pippin trying to persuade the Ents to help in the war must necessarily occur during the battle. I mentioned their presence was serendipitously allegorical in 2002. I found it fascinating that the same people who thought it irresponsible and ill-advised for the United States to be clamoring for an invasion of Iraq and insisting that the decision of the U.N. should stand were, at the same time, paying millions of dollars to see a film where the heroes have to convince an indecisive and non-interventionist group of beings that the war happening around them affects them all and war is the only way to stop it.

One thing The Two Towers really lacks is the presence of Boromir, who was, to my mind, one of the most conflicted and interesting characters in the first film. Without him, the character motivations are all earnestly either good or evil. Yes, Theoden has him moments of doubt and pride that brings his people to the brink. And Frodo continues to fall under the ring’s dark enchantment. And of course there’s Gollum, a creature who exists almost exclusively for the power of the ring and whose motivations are always questionable. We would have to wait until the third film for the full understanding of Boromir’s character to come to light. Here, though, we are introduced to his brother Faramir (David Wenham). We catch glimpses of his existence as the younger and largely disregarded of the two men, but again, most of his character development occurs later in The Return of the King. And in actuality, a lot of what we learn of Faramir’s relationship to his father and brother in this film is presented only in the DVD Extended Edition and wasn’t included in the theatrical cut of the film. The DVD I own is the Extended Edition and I have to see after watching it several times over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that the theatrical version is far superior, the longer cut being a self-indulgent morass of inconsequential material serving only to satisfy hungry fans of the books desperate to see Jackson’s handling of things that aren’t necessary to the whole story.

Most of my complaints about The Two Towers generally stem from the fact that it’s a movie residing in a kind of limbo space. It’s neither the beginning of the story nor the conclusion. So much is left unresolved (with obvious reason) that it feels less like a movie in itself than it does like a jumping off point for the final chapter. These were feelings I didn’t have, and still don’t have, when watching The Fellowship of the Ring. That’s a movie that somehow feels complete in spite of the fact that it would still require about five more hours of screen time to finish. The Two Towers remains my least favorite of the three films, although I’m still largely impressed by the battles involving Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas (who continues to prove beyond a doubt that he is the greatest warrior in this trilogy).

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