Spoilers TTT Review – choppe-di-chop, chop-chop

by Dec 22, 2002Reviews

That would be an accurate description of The Two Towers I think. A spectacularly bad adaptation. Knowing all that I did, I had never thought that when I would actually behold this film, it would disappoint me so. I cannot begin to imagine how mind-boggled I would be if I hadn’t known about the hundreds of changes in this film, but perhaps it doesn’t matter much. There is still so much I didn’t see coming. What I would love to know above all, is the demographics of PJ’s audience, and the demographics of his repeat business. Let me put upfront that I do not want to insult anyone here who loved it. But to me, this felt like The Two Towers for teens. Very little of Tolkien’s spirit has remained in this story, it’s been dumbed down incredibly and I would love to see what sort of people make the lionshare of his audience. I still cannot comprehend how childish this film was at times. This was not the impression I got from the book, not in the least.

Anyway, today was my first opportunity to see the film. I was so excited. I resented commercials and trailers, I just wanted to get the party started. And I would note that I specifically left my Purist badge at the door. There would be no comparisons with the story as we love it for me this day.

And so it began. And it went very well for a while. I was drawn into this world, wonderful, escapism at its best. Great stuff with the Balrog and the story starts off. Soon however I encounter one of my biggest disappointments of this film: Treebeard. Did we run out of money? “Was the budget that overstretched”, I thought? Not because of the most excellent CGI, kudos to Weta on that one. No, because throughout the film, Treebeard spoke with Gimli’s voice, as I had feared. It wasn’t even well-masked. It was so staggeringly obviously the voice of Davies that it totally threw me out of the film. Would it really have been that much trouble to find a different voice actor? How incredibly cheap. I cannot believe no one on the production pointed out the risks of using the same actor. If Treebeard were related to Gimli I could live with the similarity, but this was ridiculous. Perhaps a minor failing to some, but it irritated me throughout the film whenever Treebeard spoke. Not a Purist complaint then, but a movie miss-hit.

From here on off, there were some cool moments, which I will certainly mention, but also an staggering amount of changes and most disturbingly, some outright contradictions with Tolkien’s written word. The written word, to which supposedly we had stayed so faithful, the written word, which had been carried around by several cast members on each and every set. I still say they hired only one guy to carry the copies, and fired him before they were two months into filming

The Good of TTT:


CGI was excellent, characterization great. I loved the split personality, as I expected I would. Fantastic job. I have absolutely no niggles with him whatsoever. I had expected to have some trouble with the rumoured comical side of him, but although they were definitly there (and actually very funny IMO), this was interspersed with touching moments that showed how serious the situation really was. One can feel pity for film Gollum, but he is also menacing and very threatening at times. Full marks.

Flooding of Isengard

This was cool. Undoubtedly because the Ents didn’t speak during these scenes. Loved the burned Ent that put out the flames in the Flooding

Unfortunately the Ents had been portrayed as too simple-minded in the scenes preceding this for me to really be touched by their decision to stand up to Saruman. It may be a strange thing to say and feel about a sentient tree, but they were robbed. Big time.

But, the Flooding itself was well done.


Otto truly made the character of Eowyn come alive. Good job.


Called the ‘Velvet Assasin’ by one of our board. Very apt. He’s at adept with his tools in TTT as he was in FoTR, if not more. I like him a lot, and as a major bonus he is a good representation of Book Legolas. I wasn’t overly keen on his (invented) little speech in front of the Rohirrim at HD, complaing about how scared they are etc, but although that is a bad point, it’s the only niggle I have. BTW, if anyone loves his type of velvet assasin characters, read Steven Erikson’s Malazan book of the Fallen. It’s stuffed with Über-killers like him

And yes, the only time the audience cheered was when he did his horse-trick. All in all a fantastic guy to have in your team.


Great job done here. He was very much like the slimy character of the books, and I couldn’t think of a better actor for the job. Full marks.

Elves at Helm’s Deep

Nice addition. One of the very few times when PJ invents something that is worthy of Tolkien. Haldir’s death impressed me greatly. I also hope this shows that Purists aren’t looking for a literal translation from the text, an absurd idea which is sometimes put forth here. As long as the changes are improvements, and not contradictive with the logic of Tolkien’s world, they can be excused, or even applauded. I wouldn’t mind seeing some more of these guys on the Morannon or Pelennor battlefields. Yeah, shoot me, but that’s how I feel

Gandalf the White

Phenomenal. Best character of the film, he looks the part, he talks the part, he is just astounding. The ultimate councillor, and a near-perfect representation of Book GTW. Unfortunately there isn’t much of him in this film. This is of course in part because the Voice of Saruman sequence has been cut, but also because he leaves the story so early and we see absolutely nothing of what he’s doing. Understandable decision, but it does diminish him somewhat. Still, the scenes he had were phenomenal, with the exception of one; The final charge. I’ll get to that later.

Sadly, here ends the Parade of Pluspoints for Jackson’s TTT. I have some huge complaints with TTT both as a film and as an adaptation.

Blow by blow:

The Ents

As mentioned before, Treebeard’s voice was disturbing. I also thought the Entmoot itself was decidedly underwhelming, not too mention inaccurate. The book mentions the presence of many Ents, about a hundred I think, but here there seemed to be no more than 6-8. I wouldn’t have remarked upon that had I not read the books of course, but at this point in the story so much bad had happened that I had unconciously retrieved my Purist badge. Furthermore I think that with a better structuring of the film (decisions about what and what should not be in), it would have been nice to hear a bit about the Entwives. Treebeard did after all have five sequences with the Hobbits on his back where he was talking to them all sorts of things, so this could have been in. It would have added depth to an already diminished character. Much of the babbling he did could have been cut instead.

I was also very surprised by the fact that the slow speech of the Ents, and the fact that they take so long to decide, comes off making them look a bit like baffoons, especially when Treebeard reveals the decision of the Entmoot to M&P. In the books their slow speech is shown as a sign of great wisdom (in part because they make the right decision by themselves and not primarily because of the Hobbits), in the film it makes them look very slow in the uptake.

In the end, this storyline was pretty much shafted, and the Ents are very superficial. And there will be no more time to show much more of them, only during the VoS will we see them again. I was more impressed with the Ents in the way Tolkien tells their story. They are wise and very thoughtful, and have a great sense of humour (Quickbeam, and Treebeard as well). I didn’t see any of that in the film, all of that apart from the fact that they don’t even make the decision to stand up to S by themselves. And if you don’t have them making the call to charge, at least don’t let it take so much time. This could have been handled swifter, the decision-making process that is. Why not have Treebeard and his fellows decide they *will* do it?

Though I did like that cry from Treebeard when he saw what Saruman had done

Theoden King

Ah yes, poor Theoden King. Who would want to follow this gutless wuss-ass? What an atrocious adaptation from Tolkien’s character, with all do respect, this is terrible. The man is a coward, he refuses to fight even if the enemy presses the doors of his very halls. Time and again it takes our “lord” Aragorn to boost his morale. “All is lost’ again and again

Look at Book Theoden. He is freed of Grima’s (not Saruman’s) influence, and he is revitalized. The man finally becomes himself again, Rohan has a chance. He musters a thousand men and sets out for combat. Before the Fords of Isen however they are told of a great force which defeated those that held the Fords of Isen(Erkenbrand and Elfhelm) and are therefore forced to the Keep. And when there, he remains extraordinarly valiant. Yet the film shows Theoden as insecure (look for instance how he feels he has to put down Aragorn when the latter states that “open war is upon you, whether you risk it or not” and cowardly (only seeks to hide, not face war, which is shown to to be a very amiguous decision). He only wishes to hide, we see Gandalf and the Three Hunters make repeated comments about how bad a decision this is, but Theoden does it anyway. I feel no sympathy for this Theoden King. Even his behaviour at the actual fortress is irrational and inconsistent. In one scene he at last shows something of the real Theoden, yet in a following he will despair yet again.


Three storylines to juggle. Can be a tough job. Talented as one may be, I wouldn’t make it any harder for myself by continiously shifting between them at this rate! The final part of the movie was horribly edited. From HD to Frodo, from Frodo to Treebeard, back to Frodo and 30 second later back to the same Treebeard again. Then two minutes HD, one minute Treebeard and a bit of Faramir again. Let the scenes flow for Christ’s sake! Yes there are three storylines but give them some more time, why switch them so often? If I were directing this I’d try to minimize the switching as much as I could for coherency purposes, yet PJ does no such thing.


Too many jokes. I have a healthy sense of humour, or so I’m told, and I laughed out loud a couple of times. But this was heavily overdone. He is the butt of a joke, or making one, almost EVERY single time. Three jokes about him not being able to see over the wall. Three jokes about him and his lack of horse-riding abilities. Yes, we get it, he’s funny, stop it already! There were a couple of great moments with him, the female dwarves talk, the first time we see him unable to gaze over the wall at HD and the dwarf tossing, but at some points it was just waaaay overdone. It diminished his character for me. The ratio of serious Gimli as opposed to the butt of the joke was not favourable.


A laughable “interpretation” of the Faramir I read about. “We understand each other Frodo Baggins”. WTF? Why? Where does that come from? This could well be a line they decided to pick from the books, except that in the books there is actually a context in which the line makes sense. Once again Jackson proves that characterization is his major weak point. He scores well on a lot of aspects but Tolkien’s characterization he can not even come close to in many cases.

Having said that I love Wenham, a great pick for Faramir. Undoubtedly we will see him become Tolkien’s Faramir in film three but that doesn’t, unfortunatly, take away from the way he is presented here. I could have loved a darker Faramir, but this guy is just a thug. Not to mention that the whole point is supposed to be that he is so different from his brother. Film Faramir is a less sympathetic carbon copy of Boromir, no wonder his daddy scoffs at him. Twice the “Here is the chance for Captain Faramir to show himself” line as well, totally out of character from Book Faramir. PJ just had to hammer it home didn’t he?


At least I think he was in, but I may just have been reaching for my coke. He was cast wasn’t he?

What a shame. One of my alltime favorites from Tolkien’s books, and Karl Urban is great. A shame there is no bonding between him and Aragorn whatsoever. A shame that he is not at Helm’s Deep. A shame, in short, that he hardly gets a chance to register at all. Yet he does, which is to the credit of this impressive character. I do hope we’ll see much more of him in RoTK, because this was just under par.


Poor Chris Lee. Surely this guy must be miffed. Still the one-dimensional hokey villain from film one, no exposition on his own agenda whatsoever. One clear scene would have been enough. Now the layman audience still thinks he is just a puppet. Another character diminished.

Battle of Helm’s Deep

Underwhelming really, for two simple reasons. First, Gimli. When you’re trying this hard to get a serious atmosphere, to convey to the audience that the Rohirrim will fall, that the situation couldn’t get more extreme and hopeless if you tried, you do not completely break that tension with two lame jokes from Gimli. Ripped me completely from the sense of doom and gloom the sequence had at that point.

Secondly, it’s just too long. Yes it’s interspersed with other storylines, but it’s still way too long. Now, this is coming from a military history buff, and an admirer of epic films with large battles. Unlike Ethel, I do not like Jane Austen But it went on and on and on and on, and in my mind I was thinking “well we could have been at Saruman’s tower by now, doing the VoS”. It should not have interspersed with the other storylines, and should have ended in 50-60% of the time they used for it now. The battle is an unsatisfying ending to TTT.

Speaking as a military history loon, did I just see the most ineffective pike defense in the history of Middle-earth and all it’s netherworlds? All the Rohirrim charged right through them! Yes there was Gandalf’s Light but since when does that soften an iron pike tip? As a further criticism of that final charge scene, I think that, as Akallabeth noted a couple of days ago, we could have done with less emphasis on “Gandalf the hero”. Showing him atop Shadowfax, rearing, and then charging, would have been the way to go. Now we get this extra shot of him smiling, really setting the scene up as hero scene. I guess I just prefer a little more subtlety, and not such a repeated and overt focus on his arrival. A minor quibble I realize, but it’s there.


Why was she in? Was this not the woman who has no role whatsoever in Tolkien’s The Two Towers? She is. Is this not the women who tells Aragorn in film one that they will never meet again? She is. So why is her character still getting exposition? She is neither in the book nor does she have a further role to play.

And why is what she says so ridiculously redundant? Her summary of the situation was unnecessary, since the film had earlier stated specifically that Saruman attacked Rohan and Sauron focuses on Gondor.

And then, then I actually got confused. In her little talk with Elrond she sort of suggests taking action. Yet the next we see of that is Haldir of Lorien arriving, saying he has a message from Elrond! If that doesn’t confuse an audience I don’t know what will. Did we not just see Galadriel press for action? If so, then how come Haldir of Lorien comes on behalf of Elrond of Rivendell (for that is what is made clear). Very strange.

And then there is the intercutting with the Arwen scenes. I have one big problem here, because Jackson apparently feels it’s necessary to outright contradict the books. I’m a big fan of Liv Tyler, and she looks just the part as Arwen, so I’m not unhappy to see more of her. But when Elrond starts rattling on like a headless chicken I get riled up. *What* in the world is he going on about? Does any reader of Tolkien’s books or viewer of Jackson’s film get it?

Here’s what we are told. Arwen will become mortal if she doesn’t leave with Elrond and the ships. In my book, to be mortal means to die. It does not mean that you will do what Film Elrond says, which is wander the woods for many ages/eternity. Where does he get this from? Is she not mortal? She is. So she will die a while after, not wandering the woods for an enternity etc (I don’t recall the exact lines). And then there’s this. In the books Arwen dies one year after Aragorn does. Why? Because like Aragorn, who is of the noble line of Númenor, she can chose when to die. And she does, she goes to Cerin Amroth in the land of Lorien and lays herself down to die. Why does Jackson totally disregard this? She would never have to spend an eternity alone if Aragorn dies. All of this marred their scenes for me, even the visually stunning Arwen at A’s grave scene. Jackson dismisses both the fcat that she is mortal, and that she can die whenever she decides to do so. I don’t care for such contradictions at all.


Where is she heading for? Is she going to the Havens? Then she will either change her mind or she is deceiving Elrond, because we know she *has* to come back. The party she left with certainly appeared to be heading for the Havens, and to strengthen that belief we have just seen Elrond’s conversation with her, in which Arwen closes with saying Elrond has her love. Not a good addition. And neither is having Aragorn trying to break up with her. It doesn’t seem like anything these two would do. So now her storyline has to be given extra time in RoTK again, because there has to be a turnaround.

Anyway, I felt the scenes with Arwen kind of threw me out of the main story that the film was trying to follow (if somewhat haphazardly). One scene in particular, with Aragorn lying on a couch, lasted really long, and I could see a similar reaction around me. A little trimming would have made that break from the story less severe.

Aragorn’s death scene

It’s not that I have extreme objections with PJ’s obvious fondness for near-deaths experience’s and resurrections (Tolk does it as well after all), I just don’t see what this sequence adds. That Eowyn had feelings for him was clear before he fell, so for her it wouldn’t be necessary. That Legolas and Gimli would be distraught is also self-explanatory, so no need for them to inser this scene either. Arwen then? Kind of a de-tour to show her isn’t it? I think one dream sequence of Arwen would have sufficed, along with the other one in which we see what is happening in Rivendell. Three was too much, especially if this was what it required.

Helm’s Deep numbers

This is strange. What’s with 300 defenders? Makes no sense. At Edoras Tolkien says Theonden mustered a 1,000, young and old. Then Gamling tells us that at Helm’s Deep, there are 1,000 more, of which many have seen too many winters, and others too few. A mixed bunch then, but 2,000 is still quite different from 300. I see no reason for this change, the situation was already extraordinarily desperate, even with 2,000 weathered men and boys. The force they face after all, consists of ten thousands, so says Saruman.

I did like the shots of the women and children in the caves, excellent to show how desperate and frightening it was, and how dependent they were upon the warriors.

One line that examplifies the tone of this movie to me, is the one from Gimli to Legolas, something like “I’m not going to let some pointy-ear beat me”. So dumbed down, so adolescent. And then there is the Legolas surfing on the shield scene, also good for thrills but, well, it’s all so UnTolkienesque, and there are good number of quotes like that. There are soooo many jokes at inappropriate times, one’s that break the tension or are repitive, so many cheap thrills, and so many deviations from the story I love and had hoped would be brought to screen, along with the whole slew of things I cannot believe or grasp which I listed above, that this films fails in a spectacular manner as an adaptation of Tolkien’s story. The sad thing about that is, that it isn’t even a phenomenal film on it’s own. Like my friend, I felt positively underwhelmed when I left the theatre. I had expected more grandiose and touching moments, and would have appreciated more character development. It’s not even the best film I’ve seen this year (though second-best isn’t bad), contrary to my firm beliefs prior to seeing it. An underwhelming feel is what lingers with me now. Much like I was unmoved during the battle of HD. Better luck next year?


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