SPOILERS Tolkien Online Reviews The Two Towers – ‘Elmtree’ attends special screening

by Dec 5, 2002Lord of the Rings (Movies)

“There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good.
When she was bad, she was…..”

….like a Nazgul flambe.

This sums up the Two Towers movie quite well for me.  I liked the movie. It had stellar spots. But it had large flaws as well.

So did Fellowship of the Ring. I did not like Fellowship on my first viewing, but grew to truly like it, appreciate parts I had not first appreciated and to love certain scenes.

I went to Two Towers with less expectations. I knew the flaws of Fellowship, and expected some in The Two Towers. Thus I was not taken aback as much by the flaws, and could overall enjoy the movie.

It is worth seeing? Definitely. Are there wonderful scenes? Definitely. Are there weak spots? Definitely. Are there serious flaws? Definitely.

Does it capture the overall beauty and spirit of Tolkien? Not as well as Fellowship, for all its faults, did. But overall, it hits more than it misses.

This is a difficult movie to “grade.”  It’s like marking an essay that has crisp, well written paragraphs and well developed points, mixed with segments of run on sentences and poor punctuation.  How do you grade something like that?

I suppose I will go with my  heart.  Fellowship moved me to the point where the poor segments were overshadowed by the stronger, and despite marked flaws, I’d give it an B+.

The Two Towers has less glaring flaws, much better pacing and editing, but also less extremely moving moments. They try for them — at times too hard — and they achieve some. But not all, and not as much as the first movie.  I will give TTT a B-, or perhaps 7 out of ten stars.

A word of warning to parents. This movie has a couple of very chilling scenes. Far more chilling, in my opinion, than Fellowship. Before you take an under 12 child, screen the movie. You know what your own children can take. Many sensitive children would be troubled by nightmares after parts of this film.

I have tried to avoid spoilers in the first part of the review, but some will be necessary further on. If you wish to go to the movie in a totally virginal state of mind, read no further. I include pretty specific spoilers as I go on. Although the movie cut back and forth between the various character storylines on each side of the river, and handled this well, I am going to review each separately.

The opening of The Two Towers was exceptionally good. We see the Misty Mountains in a beautiful shot. I at first thought the sound system was going bad, as I heard something muffled. But quickly I realized what I  heard was “Gandalf!” and “…dark fire will not avail you flame of Udun!”  Then, from a long shot perspective, we see flashes of light from a small opening on the side of the mountains.

Cut to the inside… Gandalf on the Bridge. We see it as it was in Fellowship (and this accounts for Sean Bean’s credit in The Two Towers), but when Gandalf falls, we then see it from his perspective. It is very well done, and there is no doubt the writers know full well the nature of Gandalf as Tolkien wrote him. This is not revealed to the reader in the Trilogy, but it is revealed in Tolkien’s other writings, and it’s quite obvious (but not at all overdone) in the film.

These are two angelic beings — two Maiar — locked in combat. Gandalf  is no longer hiding his power, as he must in front of the mortals … these guys are matched. I felt I was watching Michael battle Lucifer, and Lucifer fall like a falling star from the heavens. Splash, right into the cold waters of the depths of Moria.

Excellent scene.

Doesn’t it spoil the surprise later, though? Won’t this ruin the scene where Gandalf the White is revealed?

No. Because right as the Balrog and Gandalf fall into the water, we get a cut to Frodo waking suddenly, and crying “Gandalf!”

“What’s the matter, Mr. Frodo?”

“Nothing. It’s just a dream.”

The readers of the books will be aware of Frodo’s dreams. But the Tolkien Virgins will not. Nice touch. Very well done. A+

From here on we hit some bumpy spots. I found none of the movie quite as enthralling as this first part, though I expect others will find Helm’s Deep quite captivating. But to me, the heart of the story has always been on the East side of Anduin, and it’s this part of the film that is weak to me. Not poorly done, just a little weak. It’s a vital enough segment of the overall story that this was a fairly big disappointment. 

One complaint is the sudden difference in Frodo. This is not the complaint only of a longtime fan of the books, but I think one of the movie itself. The last we saw Frodo, he had become determined, despite his fear, to accomplish his task. That determination is still there, but there is a  darkness.  No problem with that.  Frodo did grow dark as the story progressed. But it seemed too sudden to me. It was as though there was a gap, a cut scene, that showed the character development.

Gollum is introduced very early, and Jackson indicated in a post screening interview that this had been a late decision. Originally, we had a half an hour before we met him. But the scene of Frodo and Sam going down the cliff with the Elven rope is cut, and they meet Gollum quite soon after Frodo’s dream.

How is Gollum? Let me say this first… Andy Serkis plays Gollum. No, he does not do the voice of Gollum. He plays  him. He is an actor in a costume — it’s only that the costume is applied by computer, rather than with latex. His movements and acting were used for the entire movie.

And as a result of both this and the efforts of the Weta crew, Gollum is near perfect. There are a few parts where he is less than perfect, especially in Osgiliath, but for most scenes he is very well done. At least as far as FX goes.

This Gollum, however, is without menace. I have always been one who is sympathetic to Gollum.  He was a tragic character; one whom I so wanted to be saved. I could see the chink of light in that dark soul. I understood Frodo’s compassion and mercy.

But like the Frodo of the book, I didn’t trust him. Gollum was treacherous. The “human” parts stood out all the more because the dark parts were always present, mixed in. Yes, he was “schizophrenic” to an extent. Yes, he was split into Smeagol and Gollum. But the split was not always so clear. Slinker and Stinker often mixed and mingled.

Not in the film. The Smeagol side of Gollum emerges quite quickly and reminds me more of anything, of Elmo of Sesame Street. Can you picture an occasionally tormented, possessed Elmo? There ya go.

Gollum as Smeagol is very childlike. This could work, and work well, IF the menacing side gets equal time. But it doesn’t.

I recall the “Taming of Smeagol” part of the book, where Smeagol swears to help them, and then breaks into a run at first chance. We establish he’s a liar. Then his offer to “swear on the precious” is seen (correctly) by Frodo as an attempt to get the ring — to see it and possess it again. Thus Frodo makes him swear *by* the precious instead.

This little bit of introduction to Gollum establishes the reasons Sam does not trust him. We understand Frodo’s mercy, but also Sam’s distrust.

Not so in the movie. Smeagol tames far too quickly, and thus Sam appears to be only jealous and mean, rather than rightly distrustful. It’s a loss, and the biggest loss in the story this side of the Anduin.

This does not mean I feel this whole arc was badly done.  Although Sam’s character suffers as a result of  the too quick taming of Smeagol, Elijah Wood’s Frodo is *outstanding.*

That young man can act.  Too often in the script, points are repeated or spelled out so blatantly that I wanted to scream, “Peter! Enough! We get it already!”  But then I realize, we “get” it because Elijah Wood can convey in a look what lesser actors would take several lines of dialogue to convey.

There is a chilling scene – a short one – where Sam is sleeping, and Frodo, rolled in a cloak, is lying next to him. He is gazing at the ring in his hand, and just stroking it. It’s a sensual stroke, one of loving bond … but Frodo, we soon see, is in denial over this growing bond.  This is a powerful and creepy scene.

The dead marshes segment was a blend of the book’s Dead Marshes with hints of a part of the book that was never in the FotR script — the Barrow Downs. The Marshes were very well done. I liked the set. I loved the portrayal of the faces in the water. But when Frodo falls into the water,  we see one of the faces come alive and a horrid spirit grasp for him. Gollum is also chanting during the Dead Marsh segment “Cold be hand and heart and bone” which is from the Barrow Downs part of the books. It worked. A small tribute to a cut part, which made the Marshes even scarier.  This scene was frightening enough I would strongly caution parents of younger children. My strong willed 7-year-old watched Fellowship last year and was not the least troubled. I think The Two Towers would give my now 8-year-old nightmares, primarily due to the Dead Marshes.

But in all these good scenes, it still seemed the character development was oddly lacking and somewhat unnatural. 

The last part of this journey, and the one I feel is the weakest overall part of this storyline, is the interaction with Faramir.

Just speaking only to the movie, and not comparing to the books: Faramir was bland. Wenham had no presence here. I could well understand why Denethor would prefer Boromir!   I think a more powerful actor was needed for this role. I wait to see how Faramir is expanded in RotK, but he was quite a shallow and boring character here.

There are major changes to the text in this section, but quite a bit of it works well in keeping the spirit of the books.  An encounter between a black rider (presumably the Witch King, or Captain of the Nazgul) and Frodo is quite chilling, and Wood delivers a superb performance. In fact, another, lesser actor might have caused this scene to be silly and cheesy — but Wood carries it. He is exceptional.

I am glad this segment ends with Sam’s speculating as to whether there will ever be a tale of Frodo and his adventures. The lines are directly from the book, and well read and well played by the actors.

We are left with a true cliffhanger ending, as the viewer hears Gollum speculate about getting help from “her.”

Now to the West!

This side of the Anduin got all the character development! The stars here are Aragorn and Eowyn. And no, oh ye of little faith, this is not played as some silly love triangle between Arwen, Aragorn, and Eowyn.  This Eowyn is the Eowyn of the book and tremendously well acted by Miranda Otto.  I am especially sensitive to the mistaken and wrong headed complaints that Tolkien’s books were sexist and weak as far as women characters. He had few women characters, but the ones he had were very True. I’ve never read a male author who so well understood a woman’s mind.

Apparently, the script writers do as well. Eowyn is feminine, strong, and tortured. Time is spent on her character development, and it all works.

The Theoden storyline is slightly altered. But it is quite interesting, and one segment made me appreciate the earlier and much maligned Wizard Duel from Fellowship all the more.

There are added scenes with Aragorn, and those who have read the spoilers on various bulletin boards know of the supposed “death” of Aragorn and his rescue by “Brego the Wonder Horse.” All of this sounded terrible as a spoiler post, but works quite well in the film. I have no objection to these changes as they all keep to the spirit of the story and help develop character.

The Edoras and Helm’s Deep segments are excellent. A + for all of them.

Now — we know we had some CRINGE moments in Fellowship. And yes, there are at least two cringe moments in The Two Towers. One is fleeting. When Gandalf meets up with the three runners he tells them the rest of the story of his fight with the Balrog. It’s all very well done, again, except … when he speaks of his “death” and wandering before being “sent back.” The shot looks to me like a “flying windows” screen saver, or a matte shot from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s only for a second or two, but it’s jarring. Overall, a fairly minor quibble, but I did go “ouch” when I saw it. And I cringed.

And now … poor Galaladriel.  Yes, the really, really bad part was this “Council of Elves” we heard about. We see Elrond in Rivendell (there was no “Rivendell going to Lorien” as the rumors stated) and he is communicating telepathically with Galadriel in Lorien. We just see her face and her eyes as she “fills in the gaps” and tells what’s going on. It was like “okay guys! Here’s some exposition ’cause we want to make sure you GET IT!” It was very poorly done. Gak. D- is a generous grade for this segment.

I’ve covered two of the three main storylines: Frodo and Sam on the East side of Anduin, and Aragorn and crew on the West. What of Merry and Pippin?

Alas, these two get little time in The Two Towers. The Ents, although very well rendered and designed, are shadows of what they were in the book. Treebeard the eldest? So wise and with such a personality? Nah. Just a big weed.

That being said, as far as moving the film along, it works, and I suspect the Tolkien Virgins will find the Ents “really cool.” It’s only those who know Treebeard who will be disappointed.

Monaghan and Boyd do well with the little they have here. I was happy as a fan of the book’s Merry and Pippin, to see them here on the screen.  We finally get to see Pippin has a brain, and is clever! Bravo.  This segment gets a B+ . It works, and works pretty well.  I hope parts that were cut here are returned for the extended DVD.

And lastly, Ian McKellen. Oh my. What an actor. His “risen” Gandalf is great. He is totally Tolkien’s Gandalf, brought to life.  I recall many reviewers of Fellowship on the online Tolkien sites insisted that McKellen did not play Gandalf. Somehow they found Gandalf and got him to play himself. I’d agree. There are too few scenes, unfortunately, with  Gandalf the White, who is both different and the same as the Grey.  As with Wood, McKellen can get across hours of character development with one look. Well, well done.

Gandalf gets an A+ from me.

So overall, how do I view the film? Do I recommend it? Yes.

But go braced, as board poster Jersey said, for a bumpy ride. Much that was, was lost. But there is still good in the world, Mr. Frodo. And that’s worth sittin’ down in a movie theatre for!




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