Review of The Two Towers - My Two Cents' Worth

This isn't my favorite LOTR movie and I think I would be right in assuming that this isn't Jackson's either. He says something to the effect of, "Wait till you see the next one!" whenever he's asked about his personal feelings about "The Two Towers". I guess the sheer logistical nightmare finally caught up with his team because the movie feels uneven in a lot of places; where FOTR was a marvel of pacing and emotion, TT feels as though everything was lumped to teeter toward the Battle of Helm's Deep.

I think what I liked best and what filmgoers responded to in FOTR was the excellent, excellent, excellent script. Not only was it human, highly amusing, tragic, terrifying, wondrous, but it was amazing in the way it had seamlessly melded everything into a film that was so engrossing that even standing up for 3 hours in a full-capacity theater, I didn't feel my legs ache...not once. Indeed, quite a few moments stand out that have made me watch that film again and again and again. These moments had as much to do with special effects (the bridge of khazad dum) and butt-kicking action (the Uruk hai chief's comeuppance at the hands of Aragorn) as it did with pathos (the hobbits howling in grief at Gandalf's apparent demise, the orc army largely ignoring Boromir when he'd gotten himself stuck full of arrows - for a warrior, wasn't being dismissed like that worse than dying?) and humanity (Sam plunging into the river after Frodo).

But whereas the struggle and the loss and the sacrifice was on a personal level in FOTR (and thus carried more weight), TT was more on a MASSIVE scale. So I guess the story couldn't help but become impersonal. But I hope the people at Weta aren't falling in love with their creation too much to overtly focus on spectacle. I haven't watched Ran but a lot of critics are comparing the Battle of Helm's Deep to it - and I was indeed blown away by Helm's Deep, whatever part of it I hadn't already seen countless times in trailers, anyway (okay, so maybe it's my fault I've been oversaturated). When I first downloaded the TT trailer, I shuddered at the sight of so many spears raised beneath the watchful eye of Saruman. And when I saw the sheer number of orc armies raised against Helm's Deep, I felt just as helpless as anyone trapped in that fortress would be. But somehow, when I saw Gandalf and Eomer charging to the rescue (Eomer didn't ride out with THAT many Rohirrim initially, did he?) - the fact that I didn't see enough of how these orc armies were somehow vanquished robbed what might have been an excellent battle of any lasting sense of victory.

I was very thankful for that brief sequence where Arwen imagines herself hovering beside Aragorn's deathbed which in turn becomes his tomb. Liv Tyler is the only soft thing to lay eyes upon in this movie - everything is as relentlessly bleak as war must be; though I am glad they chose an Eowyn who did look as if she could clash swords with the best of them. Still, that scene retained a sense of the feeling of majestic loss that permeated the first film and gave it's characters' actions gravity and meaning. Fighting when you know that you will win doesn't take much courage - but to fight even when you know that there is no hope? There was a brief nod to this when Theoden loses his temper before the siege, but I'm afraid the actor playing him didn't really flesh it out. Those actors who can, Christopher Lee for instance, was left with nothing much to do other than give a pep talk to a departing horde. And what's with Aragorn giving his sword up so easily when he pays a visit to the Rohan court for the first time? That's Elendil for pity's sake...and those Wargs? And
Faramir? I do hope they give him half as much resonance in "Return of the King" as they gave Boromir, that Peter Jackson and company don't waste the excellent sibling rivalry story that those two characters have.

Much has been made about TT jettisoning the expository opening sequence which made the FOTR so brilliantly accessible. If I'm not mistaken, it was tacked on only much later to the first film. It was a wonderful touch, investing the first film with history as well as giving viewers a taste of what was in store. This was not done with TT, as if they didn't care whether movie goers would catch up with the film or not. Even working on the assumption that everyone has seen FOTR at least several times (like I have), I still think that's a bit arrogant. What I liked about FOTR was that it felt like the filmmakers were spreading a vast and wonderful world before me like a feast. It flattered my intelligence because it assumed that I would "get it" eventhough I wasn't a geek but at the same time it allowed for the fact that I might not catch onto the whole mythos right away. I'm sure that Mr. Jackson, or even the folks at New Line acknowledge the need for some back story because TT trailers took the place of an expository opening. I'm not even asking for someone to summarize what happened in FOTR, I just wish they emphasized that Gondor was already under siege, instead of showing a rubble-strewn place toward the end of the film. It might also be nice for the writers to lay the foundation for the next movie by even just hinting that Gondor was ruled by Stewards who had despaired of their King ever returning, who felt more besieged than the Rohirrim because they were aware that their once-proud city and the once strong race of Númenor was being inexorably diminished.

What saved this movie for me was the Entish siege of Isengard. I don't know why, but it was immensely gratifying to see those trees make soccerballs of those orcs. And that tree running to douse his flaming branches was just priceless - I'd watch the movie again just to see that.

What this movie did was convince me that Peter Jackson and his crew were human after all, instead of the salvation of modern popular entertainment. They took on that mantle with FOTR. Now I guess they had a little too much fun with MASSIVE to forget that ultimately, it was the story that made the first film a touchstone. Perhaps all too often, TT descended to what most modern films are, spectacle after spectacle after spectacle. I'm almost convinced that TT is largely a boys' movie, while FOTR was a film that pleased both boys and girls. The boys will give this one an Oscar, if not for Best Picture, then for Best Adapted Screenplay, eventhough the first film better deserved it.

TTT sure feels like the middle child in this series and it will definitely get lesser attention than its siblings - I hope it's just that and Jackson and company will be up to their usual brilliance again in "Return of the King". It's like FOTR was "Heavenly Creatures" - indelible, incredible, brilliant, visionary; while TT is "The Frighteners" with MASSIVE taking the place of the wicked, wicked humor that characterized the former. The thing is, I'll prefer wicked humor to special effects any day. I make my impassioned plea to Fran and Philippa to help those boys rein in their natural tendency to want to see things getting blown up or trampled under the MASSIVE horde.

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