Spoilers I Used to be a Purist, But I'm OK Now - Defending The Two Towers
After the utter magnificence of Fellowship - even better in the Special Edition - expectations were, of course, high. Not hopes: expectations. So when Two Towers failed to deliver those expectations exactly in the way I had rather vaguely defined them, I was disappointed. Worse: annoyed. What, I fumed, were they thinking by making Gimli the comic relief? What the hell was that Aragorn-falling-off-a-cliff scene for? Even the presence of elves at Helm's Deep annoyed me, after I'd decided beforehand that it wasn't going to.
And then, next day, it gradually dawned on me: I bloody LOVED Two Towers. What started it off was a recurring image: an exhausted hobbit standing on a wall in front of a ringwraith, about to put on the Ring. At this point in the film, Frodo has basically given up. The only reason he's hesitating is, presumably, that he lacks even the will or courage to get it over with quickly.
And I realised that this scene was the key to appreciating the film, the way in, so to speak. Not only is it an utter departure from the book, but it exemplifies the whole point of the film. Which is to say, its theme. It was the word "theme" that did it. Here we have a three-hour-long fantasy film with spectacular CGI and huge battles, and it has a Theme. And the Theme is so basic and beautiful you almost want to hug the screenwriters for running so far with it: Never Give Up.
With that in mind, it all falls into place. There's so much rebirth and redemption in Two Towers it's a wonder fundamentalist Christians aren't herding their children to the cinemas at gunpoint. At some point in the film, nearly all the major characters have given up hope, only to somehow find the strength to go on. The 3 companions do not abandon Merry and Pippin; Theoden and the Rohirrim ride out into legend; Frodo does give up but is saved by Samwise the Brave. And Aragorn falls off a cliff only to return with a new sense of purpose. Not to mention Gandalf's more or less literal rebirth.
Coupled with all this is a second theme, the folly of assuming that someone else's struggle will never impact on you. This strand of the plot of course concerns the Ents, but also the elves. Elrond is forced to realise that it's just not right for the elves to walk out on Middle Earth without even a token effort to come to the aid of men: hence the elves at Helm's Deep. Not Tolkien's idea, of course, but it makes the elves seem a little more likeable.
Speaking of things that weren't Tolkien's idea, how about that Faramir? Judging from some of the comments in other reviews, Faramir's character in the movie is about as outrageous as depicting Mother Teresa as a crack whore. To which I can only respond that I found him slightly dull in the book and was very impressed with his transformation - the movie Faramir shares Boromir's grim determination but is lucky, if that's the word, to get a graphic demonstration of why it's not a good idea for the Ring to go to Gondor.
There were many other things I loved right off the mark, foremost being Gollum. Yes, I'm being hyperbolic, but Gollum has pretty much redefined the concept of film acting. The sets, locations, props, performances, music are all up to Fellowship's standards. These things you can see for yourself.
So why, given everything I've just said, did I not like it the first time I saw it? One reason: I read the book again. When I first saw Fellowship, it had been years since I'd read the book, and many of the subtleties had slipped my mind. But I reread it about ten months ago, which meant that on a subconscious level I was setting a whole load of expectations that were never really met. I forgot the basic rule: the film isn't the book. On top of that, Two Towers isn't Fellowship. Structurally, of course, Two Towers is very different, and it lacks the emotional heights and depths of the first film, as well as the novelty factor. And it does seem to have been edited to within an inch of its life.
I went in expecting another Fellowship. Turns out - now that I've recovered from my temporary spell as a Purist - that what I got was a bloody good film in its own right.
To quote Gimli (whose comic relief will probably always be a little bit irritating): Yeeesssss!!!