- Year: 2002
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen
Well, I was fairly kind to The Fellowship of the Ring, but will I come around to the second film in Peter Jackson’s trilogy as well? Let’s find out.
My Original Thoughts on Two Towers
As I said in my review of Fellowship, I probably had the least individual issues with this one in the past, even though I considered Fellowship the better film. Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Gollum has always been a stand-out of the whole series for me, and his scenes with Frodo and Sam stick out in my memory.
My Thoughts Today
In regards to structure, The Two Towers is the hardest of the three volumes to adapt. It has a structure, sure, but it is the middle portion of a very long story. For one, The Two Towers is divided in half, with the first half covering the adventures of Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry, Pippin and (spoiler) Gandalf, and the other half covering the journey of Frodo and Sam.
Unless you’re going to make two separate movies, the only option is to cut back-and-forth between these two halves, which is what Jackson opts to do. However, Jackson doesn’t adapt all of the book into this film, seeing as how the first chapter was the climax of Fellowship, and the last chapters work their way into Return of the King. I understand wanting to make the Battle of Helm’s Deep the climax, but it cuts out so much and forces way too much into the next installment. It takes the middle chapters of The Two Towers and, even though there is a lot to adapt, still manages to pad them.
We start with scenes of Gandalf fighting the Balrog, because Jackson doesn’t know how to foreshadow subtly.
It’s a cool enough sequence, but it’s like Jackson can’t help but say “See? See? Gandalf’s coming back!” I’m not even saying it’s supposed to be that big of a twist, but between this and not seeing the face of the White Wizard that Treebeard brings Merry and Pippin to later, any chance at surprise is lost.
The Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli scenes have a lot of room for potential, and the landscapes sure are gorgeous.
These should be great scenes, as we’ve got a strong man, a strong elf and strong dwarf coming together to look for Merry and Pippin. However, even with all of this going for it, this movie just doesn’t know what to do with Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies).
Gimli just becomes the laughing stock of the group… it feels insulting to call him comic relief because he isn’t funny and it’s never relieving. He’s just annoying.
Let’s take a look at some Gimli lines from this film:
I’m wasted on cross-country! We Dwarves are natural sprinters, very dangerous over short distances.
This new Gandalf is more grumpy than the old one.
Talking trees. What do trees have to talk about, hmm… except the consistency of squirrel droppings?
See? These lines aren’t funny…they’re just painful attempts to be funny. Either actually make him funny or don’t bother with the comic relief angle, but make him competent too. He doesn’t seem cut out for this journey at all, which doesn’t really make any sense, as Fellowship painted him as a valiant dwarf warrior.
Now, once the actual battle does come along, he is a great fighter, and I even like the way he snarks during the battle. That works as a way to lighten the mood and make him a character to cheer for. Make him funny, don’t just make him an idiot.
Legolas, on the other hand, has no character at all. I’m not saying the character has a lot to do besides befriend Gimli and be a skilled fighter, but he was perfectly memorable in Bakshi’s version. Orlando Bloom’s Legolas seems aloof and pretty uncaring towards everything. Show an emotion now and then, please.
When you put these two with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who is a great character but for some reason still can’t decide if he wants to be king, it leads to some bland scenes.
They do finally meet up with the aren’t-you-surprised-he’s-alive-no-not-even-a-little Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen)…
On Casual Friday apparently. Come on, what’s with that sweater?
Unfortunately, one of the book’s most interesting scenes is cut from the film. One night (before meeting the reincarnated Gandalf), Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are sleeping out in the woods and see a mysterious old man they assume to be Saruman. However, once Gandalf comes back, the reader assumes this was Gandalf the whole time… except Gandalf later says it wasn’t. I just love the way it toys with our expectations—first leading us to think they’re in danger of Saruman, then convincing us they never were, but then revealing that yes it was Saruman all along. It also gives a chance to see more of Saruman instead of just a powerful wizard in a tower. Maybe I’m the only one who misses this scene, who knows, but it might have made an interesting addition to the film.
Saruman (Christopher Lee) should really have his chance to shine in this film (especially because his best moments in Return of the King don’t get adapted properly). However, instead of the interesting character of Tolkien’s book who clearly intends to have the ring for himself, this Saruman basically acts as Sauron’s top general. Christopher Lee still makes the most of his scenes, because he’s Christopher Lee, but he really got the short end of the stick in terms of interesting moments.
Instead of just having Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) give him villainous council, Saruman fully possesses King Theoden of Rohan (Bernard Hill).
It’s an attempt to make the book’s events more dramatic for the screen, sure, but if Saruman is fully controlling Theoden’s body, what’s the point of Grima Wormtongue at all? If Saruman is possessing a vessel, can’t he just make all his decisions for him?
While in the book Gandalf merely banished Grima from the court of Rohan, here he performs an exorcism of sorts to cast Saruman out of Theoden.
Once Saruman is expelled from the king’s body, Theoden goes from this…
In a matter of moments. Did Gandalf work some magical hair coloring spell into that exorcism? It sure seemed to take a lot out of him, so working extra spells in was probably unnecessary. Did he work in a shave and a haircut spell too, because Theoden goes from unkempt hair and scraggly beard to flowing locks and trimmed goatee? Does being possessed by Saruman activate The Santa Clause or something?
So much of the film is spent with the people of Rohan preparing for battle…preparing, preparing and then preparing some more. Miranda Otto adds some heart as Eowyn, one of the brightest points in the film, but there just isn’t a lot going on here. Eomer (Karl Urban) on the other hand doesn’t have a lot to do, except fight. It’s ultimately just a runaround to get to the climactic battle.
Worst of all, we get an absurdly long fake-out death on the part of Aragorn. Look, obviously you’re not going to kill off this character at this point in the story, but you’re really going to try and make us think you will. The greatest weakness of these screenplays is the attempts to force drama into scenes that work just fine as they are. There was some of it in Fellowship, but it’s in full force here, and it is not for the better.
I’m glad they try to develop the romance of Aragorn and Arwen (Liv Tyler), as it’s pretty downplayed in the book until the very end and the appendices, but what’s with the whole “This is her last chance to sail across the sea” thing? It’s obviously NOT her last chance, because Elrond (Hugo Weaving) is the one telling Aragorn this! He goes across the sea at the end of the next film.
Meanwhile, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) are caught up in an actually interesting plot line. After escaping the Uruk-Hai, they get picked up by Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies), who is debating whether or not to attack Isengard.
It’s a slow moving plot (which makes sense at the speed the Ents talk), but it’s a lot more interesting than just walking to battle…and more walking to battle…and preparing for battle. I still don’t care for the way Merry and Pippin are portrayed. It’s incredibly childlike, which is weird because in this version they’re the ones who convince the Ents to attack Isengard. So what, in between their juvenile game of Who-Can-Get-Taller-By-Drinking-Ent-Draught they’re planning battle strategies?
I have to admit that the Ent meeting…
And ultimately the Siege of Isengard…
Are great scenes, with the siege standing out as one of the best in the whole trilogy. It’s just such a visual marvel as the trees overthrow the fortress of Saruman.
Meanwhile, our other two hobbits, Frodo and Sam, are on their way to Mordor. I explained in my piece on Faramir just how silly the Faramir scenes are in this film, as he takes them all the way back to Gondor just to let them go and get back to where they were. However, the scenes before that with Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) are quite nice. There hadn’t been a great portrayal of Gollum up until this point (Brother Theodore in the Rankin-Bass The Hobbit was the closest), but Andy Serkis is pitch perfect as both Smeagol and Gollum. He is constantly fighting with himself and we see all the tumult on his face. These were groundbreaking CGI effects and they still hold up marvelously. It’s hard to read the books now without hearing Andy Serkis’ distinctive whimper.
The scenes are a little more over-the-top than they were in the book, but they are still pretty effective. When Frodo, Sam and Gollum are at the gates of Mordor, instead of just seeing that it’s a suicide mission to go in, Sam trips and falls almost into full view of the army and Frodo has to save him.
It’s somewhat overblown, but nowhere near as bad as the rest of the forced drama Jackson throws in.
The Faramir scenes had potential to be great… but I’ve ranted enough. The flashback scene with Boromir and Faramir might be the greatest in the film, though. I’m just glad there’s more Sean Bean.
The Nazgul no longer ride horses and have instead mounted flying beasts… and the screech is terrifying. They’re actually the best villains in this film just because of that screech (unless we’re counting Gollum). Oh not Sauron, you say? No because they make him a literal eye and it’s stupid.
Come on…. you’re better than this, Peter Jackson (maybe).
The climax comes at 1) The Battle of Helm’s Deep, 2) The Ents Siege of Isengard and 3) Faramir freeing Frodo, Sam and Gollum. Even though the buildup to Helm’s Deep goes way too long, the actual battle is a pretty effective sequence.
I do love the blue light it’s shot in, and we get the feeling of how hellish the battle is, almost immediately after it starts. Haldir (Craig Parker), an elf from Lothlorien, brings an army of elves to help in the battle and is almost immediately slain.
The elves don’t join in the battle in the book, but I actually enjoy this change, as the elves can seem somewhat aloof and prideful otherwise. Now granted, Craig Parker would have been a far better Legolas than Orlando Bloom, as he does a fantastic job with just a few minutes of screen time, but like the elves, I have to pick my battles.
Ultimately, The Two Towers is a fine film, but for something based on quite a long text, it really pads way more than it should. The Faramir stuff is really unpleasant (except that one scene) and there are goofy scenes like Aragorn not liking some stew Eowyn offers him or Gimli just being dumb. These don’t develop the plot at all, and they even make some characters unlikable. Let’s check out the final score.
Adaptation (30/50 Points)
Do I blame the stuff it leaves out on this or Return of the King? Some of it’s saved for the next film, but it drags the film down considerably. For all the buildup, there’s just not enough payoff (The Ents siege is spectacular though). However, the Faramir changes are the most egregious.
Cast (15/25 Points)
Andy Serkis is the stand-out as Gollum, with Sean Astin as Sam not too far behind. Miranda Otto is great as Eowyn, and Brad Dourif is rightfully creepy as Wormtongue. Sadly, Ian McKellen’s Gandalf the White doesn’t have much focus, and Orlando Bloom’s Legolas is even more boring than before. Most of the others are about the same as the last film.
Experience (20/25 Points)
The good news is all those silly close-ups are gone. The bad news is there are a lot less interesting things to film here. The Ent scenes look pretty great though, and of course the music is wonderful.
FINAL SCORE: 65%
There are definitely more issues than Fellowship looking at this again, but it’s not bad… it’s just not all that great. It just is very obviously the middle installment of a trilogy where the most interesting events happen in the first and third.
Next week, it’s another adaptation snub.