'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers': THR's 2002 Review
On Dec. 18, 2002, Peter Jackson unveiled the middle chapter of his Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers. The film went on to nab six Oscar nominations at the 75th Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.
Well on its way to becoming one of the greatest achievements in cinema history with last year's Oscar-winning first installment, filmmaker Peter Jackson's grand realization of The Lord of the Rings epic by J.R.R. Tolkien continues with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The much-anticipated New Line release is destined to rule the holiday season box office and rival the first film's theatrical earnings of $860 million worldwide.
While it's not likely to spellbind Academy members enough to muster the 13 Oscar nominations that The Fellowship of the Ring received, the three-hour fantasy adventure has a good shot at being the first best picture-nominated sequel released a year after the original since The Bells of St. Mary's 57 years ago. Meanwhile, some who found Fellowship a ponderous opening act will be happier with the quickened pace and expanded scope of Towers.
For those familiar with the 1,300-page book that has been marketed as a trilogy since the 1960s, the present film is assurance that next year's Return of the King should be a truly glorious event. Indeed, assuming the better and longer "extended" version of Fellowship released last month on video is not a fluke, sometime in 2004 the unabridged Lord of the Rings will join very few other masterworks destined to stand up for decades and hopefully bring good fortune to all involved in its making.
No character puts on the ring of power in Towers, and there's no summation of the first film to explain its importance, but the increasingly heavy and dangerous burden carried by the hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) and the mission to destroy it is still the hope of the free peoples of Middle Earth on the eve of a great war. The title refers to Orthanc — the stronghold of treacherous wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) — and Barad-dur, the fortress of the dark lord Sauron. The latter is unable to take human form but exists as a giant fiery eye.
Towers follows several story lines that introduce new characters, take the viewer to new parts of Middle Earth and, except for one, build to thunderous climaxes that moviegoers will long remember. What has taken thousands of artisans to forge cannot easily be summed up in one review. The performances continue to be richer and more satisfying than one expects in such a fantastic tale; the special effects, including two wonderful new CGI characters, are simply tremendous; the pacing is tighter than Fellowship, though they are the same length (still, one can imagine the extended Towers running even longer than the 208-minute video version of Fellowship).
Along with the corrosive yet crucially helpful Gollum (Andy Serkis) — a Hobbit warped and driven mad by possessing the One Ring for hundreds of years — Towers presents another amazing CGI character in Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), one of the race of Ents. While Frodo goes against the wishes of Sam and others in keeping Gollum alive — providing a central drama that subtly builds a relationship that will come to a world-saving climax in Return — Treebeard with the help of captured Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) gathers his kind for an assault on Saruman.
Very tall and more tree than human, though he walks and talks like one, Treebeard is older than Gandalf and reluctant to battle Sauron's forces until he sees the massacre of trees ordered by Saruman in the first film. What may sound like a subplot involving the Knights Who Say "Ni!" is rendered so carefully as to achieve its potential as one of the most magical and heroic parts of Rings.
But Towers has many battles, starting with the opening sequence of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) locked in combat with the fiery Balrog, from the first film, in a dazzling plunge into the depths of the Earth. Gandalf does return from his ordeal, though changed and focused on the coming war. All of the returning characters continue to evolve, including an outright mystical sequence showing the Eldar/Edain union and future of elf Arwen (Liv Tyler) and human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), which the filmmakers went to the appendix of Rings to find for the midway point of the whole work.
The major event of Towers is the battle of Helm's Deep, in which Aragorn, Gimli the dwarf (Rhys-Davies) and elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) join the horselords of Rohan in a seemingly doomed fight against Saruman's army of 10,000 Uruk-hai, Orcs and Easterlings. But first Gandalf has to help revive King Theoden (Bernard Hill), who has fallen under the spell of Saruman and his wicked ally Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Other heroic Rohirrim include sister and brother Eowyn (Miranda Otto) and Eomer (Karl Urban), who is banished by the possessed Theoden.
Eowyn falls for Aragorn, but wants most to fight. She gets her chance in one of the great clashes to come in Return. As for the assault on Helm's Deep, made possible through the astounding special effects and live-action filming that reportedly took months, it's an amazing thing to behold. Overall, from the brief glimpses of Oliphants (giant elephant-like creatures employed by Sauron's forces, returning in a big way in the next movie) and the Nazgul (or Ringwraiths), now mounted on fell flying creatures, to the Wargs (Orc mounts that are a mixture of three animals) and those revengeful Ents, Towers is a cinematic flood of spectacular proportions.
But what strikes one more than anything in Towers is the material's dreamlike quality, from Frodo falling into the Dead Marshes and the way Gollum slithers on all fours to the massive black gates of Mordor and Gandalf's climactic charge on Shadowfax — the lord of all horses — down a very steep hill. The one misgiving is the very ending, which seems less satisfying than the vile treachery of Gollum, now set for the opening of Return. The biggest frustration is having to wait now until Dec. 17, 2003, to complete the journey. — David Hunter, originally published Dec. 6, 2002