An Awesome Achievement - One Tolkien Fanatic's View of the Movie
Having been forced to wait a couple of days after the opening to see the Two Towers, I had read many of the previous reviews (and all the other spoiler-laden material that I could find) so I knew very much what to expect about the changes that had been made to the story. As it turned out, I loved all of the things that I expected to love (Gollum, Gandalf v. the Balrog, Helms Deep, etc.) I was pleasantly surprised to also enjoy the things that I expected not to like (Faramir, the elves at Helms Deep, Faramir, the Ents' decision not to go to war and then sudden change, Faramir, the Warg attack, Faramir, Arwen, Faramir and the detour to Osgilath). My biggest complaint is simply that the movie is far too short, but I realize that a longer movie is simply not commercially viable. I can harldly wait for the extended edition.
I think the key for longtime fans of the books to enjoying this movie (even more than FOTR) is to remember that it is not meant to be exactly the same story as the books. Remember Tolkien himself wrote numerous different renditions of his stories each standing as valid "histories" despite occassional contradictions betweem them (as anyone who has read the History of Middle Earth series knows), just as different histories of the same "real world" events often differ in some ways. Peter Jackson's achievement was to take advantage of the unique qualities of the film medium to present a new vision of the events known as the War of the Ring.
I thought having the elves at Helms Deep was a great touch, and not at all contrary to the spirit of Tolkien's story. The folks who make the point that the alliance between elves and men was over and elves were only abandoning Middle-earth should remember that in Tolkien's story the elves of Lothlorien and Mirkwood fought massive battles against Sauron's forces while the battles in Rohan and Gondor were going on (with Celeborn and Thrandruil meeting victoriously and then Galadrial throwing down the walls of Sauron's fortress at Dol Guldur). Because it would obviously be impossible to show this in the movie (it is complicated enough as it is), it is represented well by having the elves of Lothlorien help defend Helm's Deep, and by Haldir's moving sacrifice.
I would have liked more of the Ents (and I am hoping for the extended edition), but I thought their basic spirit was well captured, even though the story was truncated and switched around. Remember, Ents don't like to get roused, but would ultimately could not ignore the devastation of their friends the trees. I thought that putting Quickbeam's words about the trees long being his friends into Treebeard's mouth was well done. And seeing the Ents kick butt was awesome to behold.
I thought the warg attack was good filmmaking because if fulfilled several purposes. It helped to show the love between Aragorn and Arwen, as well as the love of Eowyn for Aragorn, and the friendship between the three hunters. It also enabled Peter Jackson to add back in an element that had to be removed from FOTR - the warg attack after the retreat from Caradhras and before Moria, as well as including a nice homage to the Hobbit by having the orcs ride on the wargs. It also provided a killer action scene with what I thought was phenomenal special effects, and somewhat cheesy (but still cool) homage to old westerns with "Brego the wonder horse" rousing Aragorn.
I loved the stuff with Arwen and Elrond, particularly the scene from the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen after Aragorn passed away. I thought that really filled in the story in a way that I never expected the movies to be able to achieve.
Faramir was by far my biggest worry going it after reading other people's reviews, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find the Faramir that I knew and love shine through. While I love the story in the books with Sam testing Faramir I do not think it would have translated well to the screen, so they needed to find a different way to achieve the sense of menace and then release that Tolkien creates here. For me, David Wenham was able to radiate the sense of nobility of character (even when he was revealing the ring with his sword) that made his final self-sacrificing decision not seem far-fetched but right. That segment has gone for me from being a big worry about the movie to being a highlight.
I loved seeing Osgiliath, and the Nazgul and the fell beasts were stupendous. I do, however, have the same question about Frodo showing the ring to the Nazgul that others have raised; how would Sauron not know to concentrate his energy on tracking down the ringbearer (a question that I have always had to some extent with the story as it told in the books). I am hoping that Peter Jackson has something up his sleeve to explain this. Another thing that I noted that I haven't seen anyone else say anything about is Theoden's disparaging comments about Gondor's failure to send help to Rohan. I am now wondering how it will be explained that Rohan rides to Gondor's help. I am VERY interested in seeing how this plays out in ROTK.
What can I say about Gollum that has not already been said? I'll just incorprate every rave I've read and then say that still doesn't due the achievement of Andy Serkis, Weta and Peter Jackson justice.
All of the Rohirrim were well done, though I can't say I love the "exorcism" of Saruman (though I can't really think how they could have done it differently), and I was a little disappointed in the reduction of Eomer's role.
Merry and Pippen were great. I look forward to more of them in the extended edition. The scene where Merry tells Pippin "there won't be a Shire" I thought was really well done.
I did not think that Gimli's comedic role undermined him. The three hunters care through well. They all kicked butt the way their supposed to (I'm sorry, but I loved the Legolas Shield Surfing scene and even the dwarf tossing; the havoc that Gimli creates after being tossed by Aragorn is very impressive). Viggo IS Aragorn. The friendship between them really shines through, which is one of the most important parts of the Two Towers.
Gandalf and the Balrog. Wow. Gandalf the White. Yes. Shadowfax being white rather than silver? I'll deal with it. I love seeing (and hearing) Gandalf's piercing whistle to call Shadowfax. It is attention to small details like this that really show the respect that Jackson et al. have for Tolkien's work.
Finally, Frodo and Sam. When all is said and done, they are the heart of the movie (and the book) the Two Towers and I thought they were beautifully done. I'm surprised that few people have noted how much of Sam's (in)famous speech at the end is taken directly from the book. I was perhaps most thrilled to get to see it lead to, almost verbatim, the scene where Sam and Frodo talk about being in a tale, with Frodo being the famousest of the hobbits but not getting very far without Samwise the Brave, one of my very favorite parts of all of Lord of the Rings.
Thank you Peter Jackson and everyone involved in this wonderful project.