At the Movies - 'The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers'
Monday, December 16, 2002
The Associated Press
It looks alike, it sounds alike, it lasts as long. Yet "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is a lesser fantasy world than last year's "The Fellowship of the Ring," the first installment in the film trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic.
Part two is more a straight-ahead action flick, substituting brawn and brawling for the pastoral radiance of the first film.
Director Peter Jackson and company take more liberties with Tolkien's text this time, with less success than the departures made in "Fellowship of the Ring." Trying to open up a sometimes staid and passive story, Jackson and his three co-writers make good-faith stabs at enriching the drama cinematically, yet they stumble down some blind alleys.
While the three-hour "Fellowship" left audiences craving more (a wish satisfied in the extended-edition version on video), "Two Towers" feels padded by side trips that offer more to look at without improving the view.
Considering all three films were shot simultaneously, though, it's a given that the epic grandeur of the first has carried through to the second, and that it will be duplicated in next year's conclusion, "The Return of the King."
Visually, the motion, creatures and panoramas of "The Two Towers" dazzle even more than those of "Fellowship." While prolonged and repetitive at times, the action is ferocious, and the emergence of one or two returning players plus the addition of intriguing new characters spice up the tale.
Jackson dispenses with the sort of scene-setting, narrated prologue that opened "Fellowship." He hurls viewers right into the thick of it, reasonably figuring that between the first film's $860 million worldwide gross and huge video sales, pretty much everybody in the theater has seen Chapter 1.
The fractured fellowship charged with destroying a ring of absolute evil has embarked on separate journeys. Pint-sized hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), the bearer of the ring that evil lord Sauron needs to enslave the world, and his companion Sam (Sean Astin) head for Sauron's lair in Mordor, where they must cast the ring into the fires of Mount Doom.
They reluctantly fall in with twisted soul Gollum, a computer-generated character creepily voiced by Andy Serkis in what is arguably the film's best performance. Once a hobbitlike creature, Gollum was the keeper of the ring for 500 years and has been corrupted by its evil.
Frodo and Sam also encounter Faramir (David Wenham), brother of their slain comrade Boromir, who leads a band of humans battling Sauron's swelling forces.
Meantime, the human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) track the vicious orcs that carried off hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd).
Those five, plus back-from-the-dead wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), are soon engaged in a colossal battle against Sauron's ally, the wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee).
Joining the fight are the people of Rohan, humans with a Norse demeanor, including King Theoden (Bernard Hill), fighting maiden Eowyn (Miranda Otto) and her brother Eomer (Karl Urban).
Also entering the siege are Middle-earth's oldest creatures, the Ents, forest shepherds that resemble living, mobile trees. Rhys-Davies provides the voice of the key Ent, Treebeard.
Besides Gollum, the villainous Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) is the most interesting new character, Dourif positively oozing slime in his betrayal of King Theoden.
Bloom as Legolas and especially Rhys-Davies as Gimli step to the fore, their playful affinity springing to life as they solidify an unlikely friendship in a world where elf and dwarf normally despise one another. More a background player in "Fellowship," Rhys-Davies becomes a scene-stealer here with a string of hearty one-liners and sight gags.
The film bogs down in a romantic triangle involving Aragorn, his elfin love Arwen (Liv Tyler, seen mostly in flashbacks and dream sequences) and Eowyn.
Barely mentioned in Tolkien's text, Arwen was admirably augmented into a key heroic figure in the first film to add a female touch along with Cate Blanchett's elf queen Galadriel, also briefly seen in "Two Towers."
This time, Arwen comes off as a halfhearted afterthought. Likewise, some momentary mystery over Aragorn's fate feels tacked on for melodrama.
Not surprisingly, Jackson says his favorite of the trilogy is part three, when the big payoff arrives.
Once his "Lord of the Rings" is complete, "The Two Towers" might come to resemble that flat midsection of London's Tower Bridge, a sturdy, necessary span between a pair of impressive spires.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," a New Line release, is rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and scary images.
Running time: 179 minutes.
Two and a half stars out of four.