A review of “Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for violence, frightening images

Run Time: 2 hours, 59 minutes

 

 

A spectacular opening sequence and the year’s best battle scenes bode well for Peter Jackson’s second installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

“Epic” only begins to scratch the surface of Hobbit Frodo’s continuing quest towards destination hell, the indefinable land of Mordor. The Fellowship has splintered, and the army of darkness has cast a pall over the land (courtesy of the bloodthirsty Uruk-hai). Saruman (Christopher Lee) and his Orcs are nastier than ever, the besieged Rohan kingdom wages war against its nemeses, and valiant warriors Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and feisty dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) maintain their honor and dignity as they comb the countryside in search of the missing Hobbits.

“Two Towers” is an enigma, edged with a rousing mélange of story arcs.  While the warrior faction rides on in anticipated glory, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) keep company with a conflicted, emaciated elfin sprite known as Gollum (a CGI miracle deserving of a Supporting Actor Oscar). As Lord Sauron’s retribution results in mammoth, catastrophic consequences (and a biblical siege at Helm’s Deep), the film cuts to Hobbits Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) keeping company with the gentle tree Ents (shepherds of the Fanghorn Forest), who appear to have stumbled straight off the set of “The Wizard of Oz”, both in temperament (excessively childish) and appearance (bluescreen tacky).

Expecting four star perfection a la “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”, I was mildly disappointed by Jackson’s unnecessary focus on the fading flirtation between Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn.  Shown in flashback, the relationship is short on sparks and long on pregnant pauses.  Aragorn himself is in a league all his own; virile, striking, and vastly accomplished.  Gollum’s tormented struggle over possession of the Ring (“my precious”) is paranoid schizophrenic brilliance, rife with eerily psychotic good Gollum/bad Gollum monologues.

Champion combat scenes – check.  Stalwart moral alliances – check.  Frodo’s anguish, Aragorn’s brawny leadership, and Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) steely determination – check, check, and check.  Jackson bravely treads where no director has tread before – adapting Tolkien’s monstrously imaginative novel into three hours of semi-coherent narrative.  But the result is an impenetrable storyline that suffers some character motivation and confusion, not to mention the “middle” aura of no beginning and no end.

One hundred and seventy nine minutes of kingdoms and armies in peril is a draining experience.  As the action ultimately draws to a close, we hear that “the battle for Middle Earth is about to begin”.  At six hours into the trilogy, that’s both disheartening and curiously thrilling.