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"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

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"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," The second part of the trilogy is visually magnificent, as was the first. Of particular note is the character Gollum, who was build of Andy Serkis' physical performance and some brilliant computer imaging on top of that. Gollum is as real and lifelike as any one of the flesh-and-blood actors (in fact, Gollum has more expression and range than Keanu Reeves, but that's another story), but the nasty wargs and the magnificent Ents (partially real, partially computer-generated) are nearly as good.

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn is becoming a major star. His charisma carries much of "The Two Towers." Sean Astin also gives a riveting performance; his speech that is meant to inspire Frodo (Elijah Wood) when his friend despairs of surviving the journey is one of the best you will see this year. It's a memorable moment, and one you should have handy the next time you are depressed.

Read more
 about the making of the trilogy.

Brad Dourif, Karl Urban
Brad Dourif, Karl Urban

Ian McKellen
Ian McKellen

Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan
Billy Boyd,
Dominic Monaghan

Elijah Wood
Elijah Wood

Peter Jackson, Orlando Bloom
Peter Jackson,
Orlando Bloom

Uruk-hai
Uruk-hai

Miranda Otto
Miranda Otto

Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler
Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler

Elijah Wood, Sean Astin
Elijah Wood, Sean Astin

Andy Serkis
Andy Serkis
The problem with "The Two Towers" is that it feels like there really isn't a beginning, middle and end; it's all middle. Of course, that's a function of the fact that it is the middle chapter in an epic story, but seen on its own it's not quite as satisfying as "The Fellowship of the Ring." It is also much darker in tone. Still, the performances are excellent from top to bottom; in addition to those previously mentioned, Legolas is a swashbuckling hero as portrayed by Orlando Bloom, and John Rhys-Davies brings gruff humor to the part of Gimli. Ian McKellan brings great presence to Gandalf, and Wood does a nice job bringing the torment of Frodo to the fore.

Howard Shore's score was one of the critical attributes to the success of "Fellowship" for me; he continues his impressive work, but none of the various vocalists who contribute to the soundtrack (including Liz Frasier, formerly of the Cocteau Twins) really add up to Enya's impressive work on the first soundtrack.

Despite its minor flaws, "The Two Towers" is still a classic. The battle scene of Helm's Deep is beautifully done, and overwhelming in scope. The seige of Isengard by the Ents is an astonishing visual, and although I was a bit disappointed by the Congress of Trees, it is still a feast for the eyes throughout. This is not a disappointing work; quite the contrary. It leaves the viewer champing at the bit for the trilogy's conclusion. More imporantly, it is a tremendous movie in it's own right, regardless of what came before or what is to come. "The Two Towers," quite frankly, must be seen to be believed.

THE STORY

The second installment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy picks up where the first left off, with the Fellowship broken and the quest very much in peril. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) have struck out on their own, knowing that the evil of the Ring would eventually corrupt all of them. They are heading for Mordor, but quickly become lost.

They are ambushed by the creature that has been stalking them all along, Gollum (Andy Serkis). They manage to subdue him, but Frodo feels pity for the creature, who offers his services as a guide. Although Sam has misgivings, they allow the creature to lead them to the Black Gate of Mordor, which turns out to be heavily guarded. It's obvious they won't be able to get to Mount Doom that way. Gollum offers to lead them to a secret way into Mordor, one even the Orcs don't know.

Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have been taken captive by the nasty Uruk-hai, who mistakenly believe that these two are the Ringbearers. The Uruk-hai turn out to be testier than anybody thought, with a faction all for killing and eating the two hobbits, which was expressly forbidden by their creator, Saruman (Christopher Lee). A fight breaks out and things look bad for the hobbits.

Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) have pursued the Uruks relentlessly for days. They run into the Rohirrim, who are led by the valorous Eomer (Karl Urban) who tells them that they have in fact massacred the entire band of Uruks. The trio reach the site of the battle, only to discover through Aragorn's tracking skills that the two hobbits escaped into the forest. They follow the tracks into the reputedly-haunted Fangorn where they are met by a wizard in white -- Gandalf (Ian McKellen).

Merry and Pippin had escapee into the Fangorn Forest in the confusion of the fight. There, they meet Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), an Ent - a walking, talking, sentient creature that looks like a tree. Treebeard rescues the two hobbits from a stray Uruk, then takes the two of them deeper into the forest.

Having fallen into shadow in the mines of Moria, Gandalf has somehow been reborn and made more powerful. Now clad in white, Gandalf is a formidable wizard indeed. But he knows that the kingdom of Rohan is in dire peril, both from within and without. Gandalf leaves Merry and Pippin with Treebeard, and rides the king of horse, Shadowfax, with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to reach Rohan.

Theoden (Bernard Hill), king of Rohan, is ill. Weak and feeble, most of the governance of his kingdom has fallen to an advisor, Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). His niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto), sister to Eomer, is powerless to help and moreover is the object of the sleazy affections of Grima. Theoden has become so bewitched that even when his son dies while out on patrol, he is unable to react. Eomer is banished from the realm by Grima, who sees Eomer as a threat. Eomer takes loyal warriors into the wilderness to protect Rohan as best he can, but things look dark for the kingdom of the horseclans. The arrival of Gandalf changes all this. The white wizard breaks the spell and restores the king to full vigor. Grima is sent packing with a boot to the behind and a warning for Saruman.

Frodo, Sam and Gollum make their way back for Gollum's hidden entry into Mordor when they stumble onto a battle of Mordor-allied mercernaries and soldiers from Gondor, who capture the three of them. Their leader, Captain Faramir (David Wenham) is brother to the slain Boromir, and wants details of his brother's death. Frodo, suspicious of everyone, is loathe to tell Faramir much. A battle occurs in which they are attacked by nazghul on terrible dragon-like creatures. Eventually, Farmair is convinced to let Frodo, Sam and Gollum continue on their way.

Theoden thinks that Rohan cannot stand against the army Saruman is sending against them. He orders his city evacuated and the people are taken to Helm's Deep, a fortress that has never been breached in thousands of years. Gandalf leaves to gather allies to defend Rohan. As the Rohirrim begin the journey to Helm's Deep, it becomes obvious that Eowyn is developing deep feelings for Aragorn, who continues to harbor a great love for Arwen (Liv Tyler). The elves are almost gone from Middle Earth, leaving for the Grey Havens to travel by ship to the far shores. Elrond (Hugo Weaving) urges Arwen to go as well, but she is torn between her love for her father and her love for Aragorn. At last, knowing that should she stay she would only see her love age, wither and die before her eyes, she agrees to leave.

The Rohirrim meet up with an orc patrol, traveling on bestial wargs, and a battle ensues. Gimli and Legolas begin a friendly competition to see who kills more of the enemy, and their friendship begins to deepen. However, disaster strikes when Aragorn is swept over a precipice and into a swift-flowing river. Saddened, the Rohirrim complete their journey to Helm's Deep without him.

Like Gandalf before him, Aragorn survives and manages to limp back to the fortress. As the fortress prepares for seige, elves under Haldir (Craig Parker) arrive from Rivendell to assist, and the defenders of Helm's Deep need every one of them, for the army that faces them is vast and merciless. Despite the heroism of its defenders, the walls of Helm's Deep are breached and just when it looks like there will be a massacre the likes of which Middle Earth has never known, Gandalf arrives to save the day with Eomer and his legions.

Merry and Pippin are trying to convince Treebeard and his fellow Ents to become involved in the coming war, but the Ents have little care for the affairs beyond their forest. Treebeard walks the hobbits back toward home, but the impassioned Merry asks Treebeard to take a route that will take them past Isengard. Once there, Treebeard reacts in shock and horror and the desecration of the sacred forest that once grew there, now being used as fodder for the forges and machines that drive the engines of war and Saruman's ambition. The Ents are called down and attack Isengard. After a brief battle, it falls.

Gollum leads Sam and Frodo on the way back to Mordor, but his mind, already twisted and demented by the influence of the Ring, has become further warped at the perceived betrayal by Frodo that led to his capture. He means to do away with both of the hobbits, but knows he cannot do it himself. However, there is a way...

AT HOME OR AT A THEATER?

Like its predecessor, this should be seen on a massive theater screen with senses-shattering sound to boot. If you are unable to catch it in that kind of format, get the extended four-disc box set of the DVD which is not only a triumph of presentation but also wonderful on a the small screen.

Buy the extended edition DVD gift set at Amazon.com.


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