Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Kent Jones

PETER JACKSON, U.S., 2002

Boasting more spectacular setpieces than its predecessor but lacking its impressive emotional and geographical span, The Two Towers may suffer a bit from “Middle Trilogy” syndrome. The new movie is more concerned with picking up narrative threads than in tracing them, with sustaining a mood rather than creating one. The filmmakers are forced to adopt a lumbering rhythm of three-way crosscutting between Frodo, Sam, and Gollum heading for Mordor, man/dwarf/elf on the move, and Frodo’s pals carried through the forest by a disappointingly Harryhausenish Treebeard. But then, isn’t this the middle of one nine-hour movie, rather than the second of three three-hour movies? If the DVD cut of The Fellowship of the Ring is any indication, we’ll be looking at a twelve-hour movie on our digital monitors by the time 2005 rolls around.

I will admit that I have never read the trilogy. I will also admit that I’m the kind of person who wants to run and hide at the sound of names like Gandalf the White or Legolas Greenleaf, not to mention plot synopses with such succulent morsels as, “The corrupt wizard Saruman,

under the power of the Dark Lord Sauron, and his slimy assistant, Grima Wormtongue, have created a grand Uruk-hai army bent on the destruction of Man and Middle-earth.” Nonetheless, I find the first two installments of The Lord of the Rings fairly potent experiences, far outclassing the Star Wars movies as quasi-medieval spectacles [Okay, you’re fired.–Ed.]. If Tolkien himself deserves the lion’s share of the credit for creating such a believably varied universe, director Peter Jackson has pulled out all the stops in visualizing that universe and giving it an excitingly cornball momentum. Stirring, I would even say.

Jackson and his team of homegrown artisans have created an exciting form of digital epic filmmaking–every shot gets a color-and-light makeover, and the action is set at such a ferocious pace that the CGI effects pass too swiftly for our eyes to register their transparency. There is a mountainside skirmish here, climaxing with Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn going over a cliff, that is a knockout piece of action filmmaking, while the long siege of Helm’s Deep by Saruman’s hideous army is memorable for its dark masses of movement and Wagnerian power.

With the exception of Miranda Otto, at once too skittish and self-regarding an actress to muster up the requisite grandeur, the casting is supernaturally right. Liv Tyler’s porcelain skin takes the digital glow very well, and her slightly narcotized vocal delivery is already Elvish to the core. But it’s the largely digital Gollum who steals this show. Resembling an emaciated child’s corpse sparked back to life by its own id, Gollum is a wonderfully nuanced creation, never more so than when he’s hissing to himself about “the precious.” He may not get nominated for an Oscar, but he’s better than almost everyone in The Hours.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is in general release.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Film Society of Lincoln Center

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group