Lord of the Rings
The Two Towers
Review by Ross Anthony

"Lord of the Rings" brings with it a whole set of expectations. We've all seen the action figures, toys, board games. There's even an LOTR version of Risk. This, not to mention the influence of decades worth of loyal readers. The way in which you sit down to view the film, probably isn't going to be as spontaneous and uninformed as ... say, "Hey honey, let's see what's showing on cable The Two Towerstonight." And those of you who have read and enjoyed the book bring not only details from it with you, but your own feelings about the characters and stories and how they relate to you.

That said, I did not approach "The Two Towers" in this manner. I did not read the book. I wasn't all that impressed with "Fellowship." So with only that as a basis, I did not really expect to be taken by this second in the trilogy.

Enough intro ... here's the review: I found the "Two Towers" to be rather like two different movies. The first half similar to Fellowship: a collection of wide spiraling aerial shots of characters in costume on horses in front of big mountains. Bland dialogue endeavoring to be spoken with great import at every word. (Save for Ian McKellen -- who knows exactly how it should be spoken.) This part of the film I'd grade a "B-." The second half far outdoes the first. Here, the story broadens to embody several interesting lines that develop patiently and maturely. Two hobbits in the forest get closely in touch with nature in hopes of branching out their existing resources. A diseased, spell-ridden, impotent king story line that eventually blossoms into a very nicely realized battle in defense of Helm's Deep. Even a love story of sorts. Some of the images here are truly fantastic, breathtaking. This second half hovers someplace between a B+/A-.

Additionally, the relationship between the ring, Frodo and Gollum is by far the most curious. It's unfortunate that this story line is underplayed. Though, the multi-personality Gollum character is an amazing creation. One scene in particular, where he debates with himself, the camera capturing as if there were two of him; this is one of the film's finest moments. Still, I'd suggest his first appearance in the film ought have remained speechless, since his form is so eerie, silence and confusion would have brought a greater tension to that moment.

The dwarf seems to bear the burden of comic relief for the entire film, this works half the time. Though Aragorn begins to round out, Gandalf is always lovable and the king sparks a bit of interest, still the other characters lack fullness. The friendship between Sam and Frodo ought to pull at my heartstrings; instead, I feel they're actors on a stage. The elf and Aragorn have richer camaraderie. More properly, Aragorn and his horse.

I did enjoy Aragorn's (Viggo) dream sequences with Arwen (Liv), and the men on beasts fight scenes were pretty darned awesome as well, ditto that Gandalf fall sequence. But, the dialogue -- nothing with much bite, instead a tendency towards the expository. Example: The elf leads an army of trained archers pointing out to them the most vulnerable parts of armor. He's not saying it for them (they're experts too) -- he's saying it for us.

In sum, this three-hour epic hosts a lot to point out as inferior, but also a great deal to praise and marvel over.

As a result, the film averages to a weak B+ with the recommendation to show up late (even as much as an hour).

Interesting info about Gollum from the production notes:
"Gollum is a completely digital creature, but I was determined that I wanted an actor to actually create the character, which in this case is Andy Serkis," says Jackson. The collaboration between creative teams and Serkis has resulted in the first character of his kind -- an entirely performance-based digital creation that "acts" as much as any actor in the film. As Jackson and Oscar-winning director of photographer Andrew Lesnie supervised actor Andy Serkis's performance on set, the animators at WETA Digital studied the resulting performance to remake it digitally, using his movements and facial expressions to animate Gollum that would ultimately "act" in the scene. "I am so in awe of the skill, effort and technical wizardry of the rotoartists," says Serkis. "The skill of the animators to bring this off, and have such passion for it, is quite staggering." His body and voice design was then taken further into an animated world through motion capture photography, computer generated imagery and digital sound mixing. The resulting synthesis is a totally new visual effect.

"Obviously, Andy creates the character through the voice," explains Jackson. "But also, we're doing a lot of Gollum as motion capture, which is when Andy wears a suit covered in these little dots, and he performs Gollum. He says the dialog, he plays the scenes out just as he would, and the computer is able to capture his movement, and translate that to the digital version of Gollum." Starting with sketches by conceptual artists Howe and Lee along with the art, Jackson's vision for Gollum was ultimately sculpted into a plasticene maquette which was then scanned into the computer. "There are around 300 different muscles or more on Gollum," says creature supervisor Eric Sainden. "He has a full skeleton and a full muscle system that's all driving what you see on his skin. One of Gollum's greatest challenges is his face. He has to act with the other actors. The facial system we're doing has about 250 different face shapes that we're working in between." Gollum's famous voice, one of the most memorable elements of both Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, became Serkis's touchstone and key to the character. "I had an emotional root to that sound," he says. "For me, it is where his pain is trapped. That emotional memory is trapped in that part of his body, his throat. In just doing the voice, I immediately got into the physicality of Gollum, and embodied the part as I would if I were playing it for real."

  • The Two Towers. Copyright © 2002.
  • Starring ALDOR Bruce Allpress SAM Sean Astin MADRIL John Bach MAN FLESH URUK Sala Baker GALADRIEL Cate Blanchett LEGOLAS Orlando Bloom PIPPIN Billy Boyd SHARKU/SNAGA Jed Brophy EOTHAIN Sam Comery WORMTONGUE Brad Dourif HALETH Calum Gittins THEODEN Bernard Hill GAMLING Bruce Hopkins THEODRED Paris Howe Strewe SARUMAN Christopher Lee UGLUK Nathaniel Lees HAMA John Leigh MAUHUR Robbie Magasiva MORWEN Robyn Malcolm GANDALF Ian McKellen MERRY Dominic Monaghan ARAGORN Viggo Mortensen EOWYN Miranda Otto HALDIR Craig Parker ROHAN SOLDIER Bruce Phillips MORDOR ORC Robert Pollock GIMLI John Rhys-Davies GOLLUM Andy Serkis FREDA Olivia Tennet BEREG Ray Trickett ARWEN Liv Tyler EOMER Karl Urban GRISHNAKH Stephen Ure ELROND Hugo Weaving FARAMIR David Wenham FRODO Elijah TREEBEARD John Rhys-Davies.
  • Directed by Peter Jackson.
  • Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson.
  • Based on the book by J . R. R. Tolkien.
  • Produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson at New Line/Wingnut.


Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:05:10 PDT