Film review by: Witney Seibold
The important thing to remember when watching “The Two Towers,” Peter Jackson’s second installment of his epic “Lord of the Rings” project, is that it is created by, and served to, nerds of the highest order.
That means we, nerds or otherwise, will be treated to epic battle scenes of exacting canonical detail, angry wizards hurling spells at one another the way J.R.R. Tolkein intended, and an hour-long sequence of nothing but orc-smashing, arrow-firing, shield-surfing, sword-swinging, dwarf-chucking madness, clearly inserted to placate fans. We may not, however, receive any down moments of contemplation in this mess, and thus be robbed of any of the wholesome insight usually paired with Fantasy.
The story follows the separated nine-member fellowship from the first film as they approach from different angles, a crucial battle between the army of the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), and a tactically important human city ruled by Théoden (Bernard Hill). We see Frodo and Samwise (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin), the hobbits, interrupted on their journey to destroying the titular haunted jewelry by the imp, Gollum (a mostly animated Andy Serkis). We see Aragorn the general (Viggo Mortensen) help defend the human city against the orc onslaught, as well as find a new human love (Miranda Otto) to replace his old elf girlfriend (Liv Tyler). We see the unexplained resurrection of Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellan).
Oh, and there are talking trees, a brusque dwarf, an appearance by Brad Dourif, and other details to numerous to list here.
The triumph of this film is its visuals. Never before has a film used special effects so boldly and engagingly. Jackson uses CGI as his primary tool, and lets his fantasy-paiting-inspired framework move about in a largely appealing way. Many of the supporting characters in this film are animated, something I ordinarily have a beef with, yet it feels appropriate here. It’s not realistic, but melodramatic. I was surprised to find myself impressed with the character of Gollum. Many animated supporting characters recently have been obnoxious and unconvincing (Jar-Jar Binks, anyone?). Gollum had scenes where his two separate personalities argued, and I was convinced a cartoon goblin was having an inner struggle.
The film, however, like the first, was too saturated with action. Good action to be sure, but far too much of it nonetheless. Had Jackson decided to make a film about character and not about merely visuals, it would have been an enormous triumph of filmmaking. As it is, it’s certainly going to please fans who insist upon canon, but is not nearly as important as it thinks it is.