Fri, Dec 20, 2002 - Page 20 News List

A towering achievement

Lifting cinematic technology to new expressive heights, `The Two Towers' captures the spirit of Tolkien's epic and creates a great movie experience

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Viggo Mortensen discovers the king beneath his tattered ranger's cloak


We had been led to expect much from the sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring, and Peter Jackson has more than delivered. In The Two Towers, the cinematic version of the Lord of the Rings comes into its own, and the result is a rapturous experience of epic romance that for the most part manages to avoid pretension or silliness. Although just a minute shy of three hours, there are few dull moments and almost no flab, and while heavy on spectacle, the movie never sacrifices its characters.

From the first scene, panning across the snow-capped mountains, one is immediately plunged back into the supersized world of Jackson's Middle Earth. Eschewing any recapitulation of the story-so-far, Jackson brings us straight back to the indomitable slopes of Caradhas -- not the first or the last time that the magnificent New Zealand scenery plays an important cameo -- and Gandalf's fall in the Mines of Moria. Ian McKellan comes through magnificently, managing to look grand, awe-inspiring and impish by turn, an ancient wisdom lighting his eyes, fleshing out a character in a few deft strokes.

From Moria, the film literally, starts off on-the-double, with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli setting off after their two hobbit friends into the wide fields of Rohan. John Rhys-Davies' Gimli provides comic relief, giving expression to Tolkien' somewhat donnish humor. The fact that the dwarf has been given a broad brogue is rather interesting, though somehow not inappropriate -- although the associations with stocky legs and hirsute women might not be welcomed by all Scots.

The Two Towers, in which the fellowship splits and the reader has to follow at least three distinct plot strands, was always going to be the most difficult of the three films structurally. Some of the cutting back and forth gets a little annoying, but on the whole, Jackson has done a wonderful job with the difficult material, maintaining an overall narrative flow without which the three-hour film would be intolerable.

Film Notes

Lord of the Rings:

The Two Towers

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Ian McKellan (Gandalf), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Sean Astin (Sam), Billy Boyd (Pippin), Dominic Monaghan (Merry), John Rhys-Davies (Gimli), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Miranda Otto (Eowyn), Brad Dourif (Grima Wormtongue), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Bernard Hill (Theoden)

Running Time: 179 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today

One of the most outstanding features of The Two Towers is the character of Gollum, who as a CGI creation has brought comparison with Dobby the house elf from the most recent Harry Potter installment. But there is a qualitative difference that puts Gollum (voice of Andy Serkis) in a totally new league of believable, complex and compelling animatronic characters. A little too much is made of Gollum's interior monologues, but given the quality, it is easy to forgive the director for indulging himself a little.

The film's other major CGI element, the ents and their assault on Isengard, is played more for humor and is not at the same level of sophistication. For all that, Tolkien fans can breath easy that even here Jackson avoids the pitfall of creating a new breed of Jar-Jar Binks.

While we will have to wait till next Christmas to decide which will be the best of the three Lord of the Rings movies, The Two Towers has upped the stakes with the dramatic tension leading to what must be one of the most magnificent battle sequences of CGI filmmaking history. There are shades of Michael Caine in Zulu (1964), and despite the presence of orcs, elves and a dwarf -- fantasy characters that provide ample opportunity for the ludicrous -- the Battle of Helm's Deep is a gut wrenching affair, which for all its magnificent spectacle and the interludes of heroic darey-do, never lets you forget the terrible human cost of war and the reckless toll it takes on the innocent. The peasants of Rohan, cowering in their the caves of Helm's Deep, are full of echoes of the Blitz, and one can almost hear the rumble of Churchillian rhetoric about "our darkest hour" and never giving in.

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