I finally saw “The Two Towers”. I was braced for disappointment from reading disturbing news about the changes made from the books. But the film was worse than I knew…
If you are or were looking forward to the characters that made the books alive, you will find virtually none of them in this film. If you desire to see another film that cuts out that “annoying” dialogue-stuff and flattens the characters into Hollywood cliches and boring charicatures in the interest of focusing on large action scenes, this film will leave you happy.
I was not happy.
Tolkien has said in his letters that the worst thing a filmmaker could do with his books, worse than changing plot or scenery, is to change his characters. Peter Jackson has done just that and more. (Some spoilers follow)
We already know PJ’s butchering of Aragorn from the first film (as the cliched “reluctant hero”, but this time we see him more macho and less thoughtful. Not exactly an improvement. We also know of the sadly humanized and mean-spirited Elrond PJ gave us in the first film. Now, Elrond reaches a new low by manipulating the emotions of his daughter Arwen when she is in an argument with him regarding her love for Aragorn (“Do you not love your father?”. Alas, Gimli also continues as the film’s primary source of comic relief.
The new characters continue in PJ’s tradition and show his utter lack of respect or understanding for the depth and complexity of Tolkien’s work.
First, King Theoden appears as an almost frozen and silent man. This is not at first a bad sign until we realize it is not his own impotent will that leaves him such, but a “spell” placed upon him by Saruman. For those of us who have read the book, we know that Saruman used no such spells. It was his persuasive speech and demeanor that did its work. Yet furthermore, in this case it was Wormtongue’s own speech. Similar to Denethor, Theoden’s despairing ineffectiveness is the result of listening to the wrong side, yet always it is him who is deciding to despair – not his will suspended by some feeble plot device (a spell). As in many cases, rather than trust his audience to follow the slightly more complex (and more realistic) situation of the book, PJ has opted to dumb it down to the point that the event is meaningless, having no value in relation to the larger story. Instead of Gandalf waking Theoden and giving him hope, he just excorcizes him.
Next, Faramir as many know from reading early reports, is a “bit” different in the film. The contrast to Boromir in the book that he provides is removed and instead we get a retread ending in a ridiculous scene where Frodo shows a Nazgul the Ring (and the Nazgul patiently waits while the suspense is cheaply mounted). Faramir himself shows little thought and provides little that is interesting.
PJ obviously has no clue on Treebeard’s character – or he doesn’t care. Instead of showing ages of wisdom, Treebeard appears as dull-witted. Wisely, PJ gives little screen time to this useless character. Only when Merry tricks Treebeard (a very hard-hearted and wicked action) do we see the point to the character at all – to provide another action sequence. Treebeard immediately falls for the trick (since he oddly never knew that a big chunk of Fangorn was clear-cut) and without the long thought and concern we expect of the literary character, Treebeard immediately falls into *hasty* anger. What a stupid plot.
Finally, Wormtongue whose character has little point in this film (since we find that Saruman is directly behind Theoden’s problems) is shown as blatantly evil and wholly unattractive. The slightest thought given to the matter forces one to ask how everyone in the palace got duped by him in the first place. Tolkien’s Wormtongue was more of a…worm tongue, go figure! His lies and persuasion, not sorcery or a writer’s contrivance, chain Theoden.
The almost complete butchering of the characters leaves little room for character-developing dialogue or any dialogue that suggests any sort of depth to the story. Instead the dialogue is reduced to ominous statements (sometimes completely out of place, like in the middle of an active battle and other times over-done and cringe-inducing) and plot explanations. But, of course, the whole point is simply to push the plot to the next action scene (some of which are completely unrelated to the book).
I could go into detail on the totally unnecessary changes made to the events of the books (such as the appearance of elves at Helm’s Deep), but that seems overkill.
The FOTR film suffered similar problems, but at least it tried to, in its simplistic way, lift up the theme of the Ring’s power over wills. TTT loses this thread except for brief moments with Gollum (which are uncharacteristically quite good). Frankly, one has to wonder what the point of this film is.
Besides some of Gollum’s moments (which are too few), the only other success PJ aquires is in some of his depiction of the battle at Helm’s Deep which gets across the desperation (though any time a character opens his mouth in battle, it induces a cringe).
With characters that are wholly uninteresting, the film became almost boring and only the battle kept me interested in staying for more. It is clear now, after two films, that PJ is not interested in bringing to life Tolkien’s challenging and compelling work, or even any work (be it his own revision) that is challenging or compelling, but instead would rather lower the events and characters of this particular book to the the low Hollywood action film standards (which at least are usually streamlined affairs, unlike the unwieldy TT). Very, very disappointing. I will see ROTK with faint hope.