The Two Towers: A Story in Transition - A Weakness in the Middle
"I presume it is meant to be taken seriously, and am apprehensive that I can find no really adequate reason for doing so... And yet this shapeless work has an undeniable fascination:" - Peter Green on The Lord of the Rings- Daily Telegraph - August 27, 1954
The above quote was what Peter Green thought of the original books which would later become heralded as the most influential books of the 20th century. I have no idea who Peter was, or what his take on the books were years later after they had swept through popular culture, but I find my self agreeing with this sentiment when it comes to the second movie in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
There are several major problems I have with The Two Towers. I will try to detail them as much as possible and then wrap this up with what I think they got right.
Osgiliath: This scene is perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie. This whole sequence changes so much it leads me to fear for movie three. In the books Frodo, Sam, and Gollum travel to the Gates of Mordor, where they see that it is impossible to enter. Gollum mentions another way into Mordor, so they travel along the eastern banks of the Andiun River down towards Minas Morgul. As they approach they run into Faramir who takes them to the hidden cave. So far the movie matches the book to perfection. Granted there are small changes, but nothing big. In the book Faramir is the only noble human who seems to get it. He is the person whom the movie version of Aragorn is looking for; a noble descendent of Numenor, someone to give him hope. But instead we find that Faramir is far more ignoble than even Boromir. The movie version of Boromir finds time to comfort hobbits, teach them sword play, and in the end he gives his life for the little ones. But no not Faramir, his changes are so drastic its mind numbing. To make matters worse all the changes to his character take place in a scene which isn't even in the books, and is completely unnecessary. Not to mention confusing. Why confusing? Well, Faramir and Hobbits are in the mountains/hills above Osgiliath on the eastern side of the river. They then go down to Osgiliath which is being bombarded by the enemy from the other side of the river (the west side). Why the enemy would be bombarding an abandoned city when Minas Tirith (the present capital) is just up the river a couple miles. These are some stupid Orcs. I could be mistaken here, but it really seems as if the bombardment is from the other side of the river.
This isn't the only problem with Osgiliath. The problems are compounded by putting a Nazgul in Osgiliath. Now Sauron is going to have to act like an idiot. Let me explain. In the books Saruman's Uruk-hai captures Merry and Pippin. Saruman thinks he has the ring, and plans on using it against Sauron. Now, when the Fellowship gets the Palintir, Sauron thinks that the ring is in Isengard. Next the Aragorn gets the Palintir and claims the kingship to Sauron. Sauron thinks that Aragorn has claimed the ring and is using it. Now Aragorn goes through the Paths of the Dead and raises the very dead from their sleep to fight for his cause. Sauron will interpret this as him using the ring. Sauron then finds Aragorn defeating the Corsairs of Umbar, again Sauron must assume that this is also the rings doing, as the Corsairs flee in terror from the dead. Sauron knows that he must capture Minis Tirith before Aragorn shows up with the ring and marches over Minis Morgul on his way to Barad-Dur.
But in the movie we place the ring in Osgiliath with a Nazgul seeing it. Sauron would know this took place because of his connection with their rings. If Sauron knows this, his reaction wouldn't be as it is in the book. He would not launch a desperate attack against the armies of Middle-earth as he does in the books. Sauron would just need to focus his energies on Osgiliath and Frodo who he now knows is up to something just outside his border. With the closing of his borders, Sauron would not be tempted to empty Mordor of his troops. This act of Sauron gives Frodo and Sam the opportunity to go to Mt. Doom and toss in the Ring. Sauron being now more powerful than Morgoth was before he was banished would be able to figure out the plan for Frodo to toss the ring into the fires Mt. Doom and would act accordingly.
This whole scene strikes me as careless and thoughtless and makes me think the guys in New Zealand just didn't get this part of the book.
The Battle of Helms Deep: I'm ok with the elves showing up at Helms Deep. That was a necessary evil which kept Arwen from showing up at Helms Deep. Arwen was going to be at Helms Deep, with her elven escort, but it is definitely easier to cut one elf out of 100 than to cut all 100. So the price of Arwen at Helms deep was Elves at Helms Deep. I'm willing to pay that. I'm also willing to accept the design of Helms Deep. Tolkien is very unclear regarding the layout of the keep and they surrounding walls. I'm ok with the Dwarf Tossing. I'm ok everything about Helms Deep except for the very end. Where are the Hurons? Where are the trees? The sad thing about this change is that I've asked around 10 people who have never read the books. "How do you think the Battle of Helms Deep should have ended?" Their response without exception was "The Ents should have attacked." This shows you again that the foreshadowing done by Tolkien to this event was translated correctly to the screen, but ignored by the very people who put the foreshadowing onto the big screen.
The books tell us that Sauron's war is a battle for the very essence of Middle-earth and the earth itself will protect itself and respond to these attacks. The scene would have been so powerful it would have stunning. Just think, Aragorn, Theoden, Legolas, and Gimli mount up on horses, charge out the broken down door. They cut through the few hundred Uruk-hai as they make their way towards the breach in the wall, where they are greeted with a wall of trees which has grown up over the shredded bodies of Uruk-Hai. The Camera pulls up and away to give a wide shot of Helms Deep where we see a forest where once a barren wasteland was. Finally as the camera falls back across the Mark we see a lone Ent lumbering in the distance. We zoom in on the lone Ent who turns to face the now risen sun in the east. He raises his branches to the fully risen sun and sighs in relief "Indeed the Trees are Strong" is heard as we pull away from the Ent on our way towards Isengard. We see a group of Horsed Riders making their way towards (pick your favorite spot) Gandalf is in the lead.
Again I'm left to scratch my head, Why the changes? I thought they were trying to keep Tolkien's themes intact? What themes where they trying for?
Elrond, and Galadriel: Or as I like to call it the Bathroom break. Thank God this scene is in the movie, I need some time to go and use the facilities, perhaps get a refill on the Coke. Without this scene I might actually miss something important and exciting. It's good to think that Jackson knew to put this scene in just as people were getting tired of the movie. What a breather. Wow. It's almost like those old intermissions, but without the funky organ music. Man, I miss those; I guess there is always Monty Python.
Ok, enough sarcasm, the only thing I need to say here is. Show it, don't tell us. Show us. You spent how many million on actors? Let them act, that's what their job description is. Yes, the Arwen and Elrond scene was good, but come on, the Galadriel scene was bad. Enough said.
Other Random sillyness that people laughed at: Gandalf the Televangelist and the casting out of demons, I don't remember the books that way. Treebeard the oldest and therefore the dumbest of all Middle-earth. Mr. Gandalf makes the jump to light speed! Here kitty, kitty, kitty, errr make that Wargs. They are giant wolves not cats, hopefully this will be the last we see of them. (More than several of the people I saw it with thought they were cats) It bounces, it slices, it dices, and it will never die, it's Aragorn. We know Aragorn is the hero, he can't die, so no one cares if he gets blown this way or that way. Heck, you throw 100 Uruk-Hai against him and he keeps running... for 3 days and nights. We know he will be right back. So why put in the silly "Is he dead?" scene. It doesn't add drama, it doesn't add to his character, all it does is add to his screen time and therefore the length of the movie.
Well, I think I've skewered the movie enough; now for the good stuff.
Faramir: His part is small and forgettable and that's a good thing. It makes me wonder why Eowyn will ever fall for him.
The Ents: They look amazing. Just initially they should have been a bit smarter. Needs a bit of improvement, but nothing to jarring.
Arwen: I thought the scenes with her in the movie were unnecessary, but they were well acted and nicely written. Just plot wise and pacing wise, what the heck are they doing here?
Eomer: Yup that's him. Way to go!
Theoden: Yup that's him. Way to go!
Eowyen: Yup, That's her. Way to Go!
Gimli: Well, he isn't that way in the book, but an amazing job expanding him for the big screen.
Legolas: Well, he is a bit of the strong silent type, but when he cracks a joke. Watch out. Way to Go!
Sam, Frodo, and Gollum: As a pearl on pigs this stands out (sorry Mrs. Piggy). This part of the movie is amazing. Gollum is unbelievably believable. As a computer programmer and artist, I have a better idea than most people on how much work this little guy was. WOW! The only problem I had with this whole sequence is found above with Osgiliath. The intercutting of the two story lines works perfectly. I wish there was more to say here. But there really isn't. Perfect. Way to Go! Does the performance deserve an Oscar? No, there were better performances this year, but I think it's almost guaranteed that he will be nominated for political reasons surrounding the desire of the Actor's Guild to insure an actors future when digital characters are more common.
So, what is my conclusion? Well, last year I thought they screwed up two scenes with the Manga version of Galadriel and Wizard-fu. That was about it. I thought the exclusion the gift giving scene was bad, but I knew that was fixable with the directors cut. I fear for the extended version of this film. I know of nothing that will change Faramir's character except for the cutting of Osgiliath. That whole affair was unnecessary and dangerous. The movie itself seemed slapped together to such a degree that I think I'm going to say that the idea of a two movie version would have been better. You can really tell that this movie is the last half of the last one and the first half of the next one. Like Peter Green before I have to say that I am fascinated by the movie, and find it entertaining, but I must search for Tolkien masterpiece within the rest of it.
In closing I'll leave you with some quotes which point to the weakness of this movie. The first is from Peter Jackson. "Obviously we're taking this incredible novel and we're adapting it into films, and I think the film is the important thing." With this we see how self centered Peter is. Yes this is an incredible novel. It's an incredible story. IT has incredible themes, with incredible characters. But instead of the themes, the characters, or any other story element, Peter has told us that the film is the important thing. So, I'm left with what? The books are less important? The themes are less important? The characters are less important? The actors are less important? The audience is less important? For those of you looking forward to movie three remember, the film is the important thing. I expect we have only seen the beginning of the changes we will see for movie three. I wouldn't be surprised if we see Sauron fighting Aragorn in hand to hand combat as Frodo and Gollum struggle on the steps of Mt. Doom. I expect Aragorn to remain the reluctant king all the way to the end. "Awwww... Sucks! I guess I'll be king, but only if Faramir doesn't want it." I wouldn't be surprised to see the battle of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men to be mirrored in the final battle of the movie in Return of the King. I expect the scouring of the shire to remain an after thought at best. I expect the trip to Cirdan's house to be tacked on as an epilogue. I expect death of Saruman at Orthanc. I expect the battle between Saruman and Gandalf it be as bad as Wizard-Fu from movie one. And I think these changes are going to get more dangerous than what we have seen so far.
As time passes between the release of the first movie and the third more people will have read the books and will have undoubtedly fallen in-love with them. They will know that Tolkien's books have been around for 50 years, and will continue to be around for another 50. These movies on the other hand will pass, just as the animated versions have passed from our memory. The release of the extended version of the DVD for Return of the King heralds the end to this age of Tolkien fandom, and I will have my books back again. When I get my books back, they will be a bit dirtier, the pages will be torn and words will be written in the columns. Some of the writing will be in the tongues of elves, but I fear that much will be in the language of Mordor. We will forever think that a giant stony troll lives in Moria. We will have a hard time remembering that it's a couple of hobbits who talked the Ents into saving the day at Helms Deep, not elves or men or wizards. We will have a hard time remembering that Faramir is someone who is full of self control, nobility, and knows what it means to be a steward. I hope we will not have forgotten the drive and determination Aragorn shows to win Arwen's love and a kingdom for her. It's these confusions and mischaracterizations which lead me to my final quote and thought. "The canons of narrative art in any medium cannot be wholly different; and the failure of poor films is often precisely in exaggeration, and in the intrusion of unwarranted matter owing to not perceiving where the core of the original lies." - J.R.R. Tolkien in a letter to Forrest J. Ackerman - June 1958.
This movie is a poor film, which is sadly entertaining, at points I fear its entertaining because it is just like the book and at other points it is entertaining because it is not at all like the books I love so much. In the end I think the movie fails at key points to maintain Tolkien's vision for the second book, and it also fails as a movie. This second part might not be the fault of anyone. When was the last time we saw a review of The Two Towers all by itself. The book and the story are undeniably attached to Fellowship. I think I will reserve my final judgment for the trilogy for next year when they are all released and seen back to back to back. As they appear now, The Two Towers is definitely the transition, and as such it suffers from the same weakness that all transitions suffer from. It is that weakness which I lament, and I still hold out hope for a final product which in the end will be a 11 hour movie marathon unlike any other.