Well, here is my review after having seen the midnight “sneak preview” and after having had about three hours sleep. I’ll try to keep my thoughts in some sort of coherent order.
First of all, let me just say that I honestly dont think that I can separate my Tolkien “Purism” from any evaluation of a movie based on his books. I dont see that as a fault, but it is a prejudice I bring with me when reviewing Peter Jackson’s films. And, to anyone unacquainted with me, forewarned is forearmed.
That being said, I did try to evaluate Jackson’s “Two Towers” movie as just that: a movie. Here is what I thought…
The Battle Between Gandalf and The Balrog
This was certainly a visually enjoyable scene. After Gandalf let go of the Bridge of Khazad-dum, the audience was treated to one of Jackson’s sweeping, swirly, zoom-in shots of Gandalf falling through the abyss in hot pursuit of Durin’s Bane. Someone else (I cannot remember who) described this scene in terms of the Archangel, St. Michael, falling from Heaven, locked in combat with Lucifer: a very appropriate description, given Tolkien’s Catholic morality.
I wanted to see that. I dont think that the scene, however, quite conveyed that sense of epic struggle. What I saw, instead, was Gandalf positively wearing out that pesky, flaming critter. I dont know if the Balrog got a good lick in edgewise, so it was clear as to who was getting the butt end of that stick. I actually started to feel sorry for the Balrog, because Gandalf was beating this creature like he owned him.
The shot atop the peak of Zirak-Zigil was good; Durin’s Tower was neat. But, after having thoroughly trounced that demon, seeing Gandalf dead was a bit odd. I suppose you have to make the assumption that Gandalf died of exhaustion.
The Three Hunters
Overall, the chase between Aragorn, Legloas, Gimli, and the orcs was handled well. However, it was at this point where Jackson clearly sacrificed Gimli’s character on the altar of Comic Relief. It was not enough to point out that Gimli was shorter than Aragorn and Legolas, and that he could not keep up with those two… No! Jackson had to point it out at least three times that Gimli was lagging behind with some really bad, repetetive humour. (Ex., Gimli’s Jane Fonda-esque “In through the nose; out through the mouth” comment.)
Later, when the Three Hunters were overtaken by Eomer’s company, the tension was built up fairly effectively. But, the scene was so hurried and rushed that it simply didnt make any sense whatsoever for Eomer to have given Aragorn, Gimli, & Legolas those two horses. Eomer was like, “Okay, for the record, you guys dont look too trustworthy; here: take these two horses.” Odd, that.
…went from semi-bestial, homicidal maniacs to possessing the power to speak. To be fair, they did in the book, too. But then, in the book, they werent built up as overly animalistic, either.
Visually, Treabeard (and the other ents) came across just fine. Seeing them stomp the life out of the orcs was pretty interesting. But, the overly suspicious, violent manner in which he treats Merry & Pippin, at first, was awful. And having the Ents decide that they werent going to partake in the war was pretty irrational — esp. given the fact that the reason that Treebeard changed his mind was because he saw the destruction or the forests near Isengard. I suppose it would’ve made more sense had the Ents that he mustered not have been RIGHT BEHIND him. I mean, if they were so close to Isengard, why didnt they know that their tree-friends were being cut down?
To me, the CGI was so transparent that I’m not going to mention him or consider him as a CGI character: it was that good. But, I found myself laughing at Gollum — and not with him, more often than not — particularly during his few crises of conscience. (The audience laughed at him, as well; so, maybe I’m not that far off-base.) Andy Serkis’s voice was very, very good; but, I could not stop myself from comparing his higher-pitched voice to the deeper voice of Peter Woodthorpe (of the BBC Radio version).
Frodo and Samwise
Frodo’s “connection” to Smeagol-Gollum came too quickly, and at far too great an expense to his friendship with Samwise. I realise that Frodo was to have felt pity for Gollum; but, Frodo had known Sam for years before owning the Ring or even hearing of Gollum.
Also, even without Gollum, Frodo seemed to snap at Samwise too sharply and too quickly, as opposed to the comaraderie they displayed in the last movie. Perhaps that was done for a reason, but I found it quite jarring.
Gandalf the White
I liked the way Gandalf came back to Aragorn, Gimli, & Legolas… but the Saruman voice-over was a bit odd. I dont recall that from the book, but I think that simply mistaking G physically for Saruman would’ve been quite enough.
Saruman the Wizard Formerly Known As White
His pep-rally speeches to the Dunlendings and the Uruk-hai army were okay; but, that’s about as interesting as he got.
The King of the Golden Hall
I think Theoden’s “withered,” “spellbound” look was wayyy overdone. The concept of his exorcism was very interesting, but his physical transformation was too abrupt. I also found his character a bit lacking in believeability, though I cant put my finger on why, exactly.
Grima was a stereotypical, greasy, pale-faced bad-guy, and didnt come across as seeming particularly treacherous: more simply loathsome, is about all I’ll give him.
Eowyn was QUITE the babe. I still dont like her little one-ups-manship parry to Aragorn, but it wasnt quite as bad as Arwen at the Ford.
Eower’s banishment was ham-fisted: didnt make much sense to me.
It was a nice touch to have included Theodred.
…Was not. Talk about one-dimensional: he was worse than Boromir! At least Boromir succumbed gradually to the Ring gradually: Faramir went for it as soon as he realised what it was. It was almost like a role reversal.
The Battle of the Hornburg
Kind of a let-down. The movie built up to this massive, epic battle only to have Gimli be the butt of every joke. Oh, and let us not forget Haldir’s contingent of stormtrooper Elves. The Uruk-hai didnt seem particularly formidable, either. Gimli got tossed into their midst and began chopping them down like inanimate objects. The orcs looked fierce, they snarled a lot… and they were ridden down by, like, five horsemen.
Not only that, but Gandalf’s “saved by the cavalry” return was total cheese. The Uruk-hai had something like 20′ long pikes braced for a cavalry charge: no horse in the world would’ve attempted to break through them. It was totally unbelievable.
Looked pretty good; the Fell Beasts were right out of some painting I once saw. But, that whole bit with Frodo offering the Ring to the Nazgul was completely ridiculous.
My overall impression is that I am sorry that I went to see this movie at midnight last night. It could’ve waited until today. Whereas I didnt like Jackson’s FotR as an adaptation, it was pretty good as a movie. Jackson’s TTT wasnt very good as either an adaptation or a stand-alone movie. I waited all year to see TTT; I’m far less enthusiastic about seeing RotK.