Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002) - Aaron Neuwirth

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Miranda Otto, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lee, Sean Astin, Karl Urban, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, David Wenham, Hugo Weaving
Rated:  PG-13

I want to hear more about Sam.
           ~Frodo Baggins

Aaron Neuwirth is back...which is no surprise.  However, he's not the world's biggest LOTR fan either, which may may not.  I think the retrospective benefits greatly from having someone of his perspective that isn't a hater, he's just not the rabid fan.  And this piece is pretty terrific.  Check it out...also check out OUT NOW WITH AARON & ABE every week on the HHWLOD Podcast Network and drop by THE CODE IS ZEEK for his reviews and bloggings as well as Why So Blu.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – That One with The Walking Trees, The Little Grey Fella, And The Return of Magneto From The Dead

Treebeard: That doesn’t make sense to me.  But, then again, you are very small.

Brandon, why am I here?  I am doing my best to get through Peter Jackson’s current trilogy of Middle Earth-based films and here you are putting me up to writing about his first one.  I get it, you have a site founded on the strength of retrospective thoughts concerning movies from the past, but really, I don’t know how much I can add.  I have never read The Lord of The Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkein, I openly say that Star Wars is my true trilogy, and I am not really much of a Ringer, or even a diehard fan of these movies.  But you persist, so here I am, excited enough, I guess, to write about the middle film in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers.
To back up a bit, I recall seeing The Fellowship of the Ring on that film’s opening weekend way back in 2001.  I had a vague familiarity with the series at the time, but was basically there for the sake of seeing a new film that had a number of actors I recognized and was being directed by the man behind one of my favorite post-Ghostbusters supernatural comedies, The Frighteners.  What was I in store for?  That was what I intended to find out.  The results?  There was a lot of walking and some impressive sights for sure, but I was not finding myself blown away by it. 

Part of what I have thought about in the years since seeing The Lord of Rings trilogy in theaters was why I did not have a greater reaction to these films.  I was in my prime teenage years and a fan of science fiction/fantasy material, let alone film and filmmaking in general, yet somehow these films never became a definitive theatrical experience for me.  I honestly have no real answer to this day as to why, aside from the fact that I feel I just seem to side more with spaced-based sci-fi/fantasy, rather than medieval/period type fantasy epics.  With that in mind, while ‘Fellowship’ certainly held my attention, despite not sitting as anything close to one of my favorite films I ever had the chance to see in a theater, the sequels certainly worked a lot better for me.
As I am only hear to focus on The Two Towers, I can briefly sum up my thoughts on Return of the King by saying that that film is made up of a large collection of spectacular moments, which do manage to have me well up with emotion, given how satisfying it is to see lots of closure given to the many arcs that formed throughout this series.  Whether or not it was the best film of 2003, I was certainly happy to see it awarded with so much praise, given the ambitious nature of a project like this as a whole.  With all of that in mind, when I look back at these films, I really do seem to be split on whether I like Return of the King or The Two Towers the most in this trilogy.  Ultimately, I enjoy leaning on The Two Towers and I can try to explain why as I continue on here.

To put it in the simplest way possible, Two Towers seems to play on television a lot.  I am not sure why and I am not sure why I happen upon it as often as I do, but it is the one I have seen the most at this point.  Now, in saying that, I do not mean that to speak to the sole reason as to why I consider it the best, but rather as a support for how watchable I find it to be.  The Two Towers, at this point, would easily win the challenge of which Lord of the Rings film I would be happiest to watch, if all three of them happened to be playing on television at the same time.  It is a strange sort of feeling, but at the same time, I feel like it has the advantage of being the middle of a large story that puts it ahead in my mind.  Knowing that it lacks a traditional middle and end, I am more satisfied to catch this very well-filmed section of a much larger story.
The key example that people always go to, when it comes to middle chapters in a trilogy is The Empire Strikes Back, and for good reason.  That is a film that ups the ante in a lot of ways, has a lot more focus on the characters, provides plenty of memorable moments and quotes, heads in a darker direction (which always seems to intrigue people, for whatever reason), and winds up ending on down note that is still able to push people towards continuing on in the journey.  The Two Towers manages to do a lot of this as well and in ways that had me appreciating this film from my initial viewing and more so now.

I saw The Two Towers on its opening weekend back in December 2002 and I was completely prepared, this time around, for what I was getting into.  I was also well aware of the fact that the film would not reach a true conclusion until next year.  I cannot quite recall my exact reaction to the nature of the open-ending upon my initial viewing, but I do remember the sense of excitement I had for what would be coming next, based on how much I enjoyed what I saw in this middle chapter.  While I understand the films make substantial changes from the books in terms of when certain events happen, let alone the diminishing of the hobbits as characters in the forefront, compared to how big of a role human characters play in this film, I was far more intrigued by everything going on in this film and much more satisfied with the pacing this time around.
To hit on the pacing for a bit, while I have always felt that Fellowship comes to a grinding halt, following Gandalf’s (Ian McKellan) epic sacrifice against the Balrog, which leads to an extended stay with Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel for the rest of the gang.  The Two Towers feels like a film that builds and builds to an epic finale at Helm’s Deep, which still stands as one of the finest action sequences ever caught on film.  The stakes are incredibly high, Peter Jackson’s direction captures the tension and excitement in the best of ways, and the other plots not centered in this location feel just as important, every time we cut away to see them.  There is of course a good two hours of build up to this final battle, but while it helps that I very much enjoy those two hours, the final third of this film does everything incredibly well.

It is not as if I need a fast-paced adventure about the Fellowship trying to deliver a ring (without the aid of convenient eagles) though, nor do I think these films are ‘slow’.  Peter Jackson certainly found an understanding of what it means to construct films of this size early on and as a result, they are deliberately paced in a way that fits the nature of these stories.  I may not find myself over the moon for how the first film plays out, let alone my thoughts on this trilogy as a whole, compared to similar films that I give higher praise to, but I recognize the skill required to put something like this together.  It also does not hurt that the apocalyptic stakes are matched with likable characters and humor.
This is important to note because while The Two Towers has a much easier time, when it comes to both telling a story and setting up a wide assortment of characters, it is still a film that features a lot of character-based scenes and new characters to dig into.  We spend a lot of time watching the various members of the Fellowship deal with the events that have occurred and what this journey means for them.  We also become introduced to new characters, including Bernard Hill’s Theoden, King of Rohan, David Wenham’s Faramir, Miranda Otto’s Eowyn, Karl Urban’s Eomer, and Brad Dourif’s Grima Wormtongue.  Each has a chance to show off a new character and add to the many subplots and layers of the story being told.

With all of this in mind, none of the new characters are more important than Gollum, portrayed in motion capture and vocal form by Andy Serkis, who has gone on to be  the go-to guy, when it comes to truly embodying characters visually created via CGI.  Yes, we technically got a small taste of Gollum in Fellowship of the Ring, but it is in The Two Towers that the character truly got his chance to breakout and that is just what he did, as years later, he is one of the prime characters everyone loves referencing, when it comes to thoughts on these films.  Gollum is a magnificent creation brought to life not only by computers, but by the tremendous acting work from Andy Serkis, who puts plenty of emotion into this tragic character.  His interactions with Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) add plenty of intrigue to this plot, especially given Gollum’s obsession with the ring and where that will eventually lead him.  The verbal sparring between Gollum and Sam is also more joyous to watch here, before things take a darker turn in the next film.

Speaking of Gollum and the fantastic realization of his character, Peter Jackson once again delivers a visual feast, when it comes to this film.  It is an aspect that is consistent throughout this series, but the marrying of CG and practical effects one again leads to some terrific visual splendor.  I have already mentioned the Battle of Helm’s Deep, but that is a sequence (dark and in the rain, no less) that is a wonderful blend of so many elements.  Then you have the Ents, massive trees that come to life; just one of the many elements that really expand this Middle Earth universe.  The Two Towers rightfully won an Oscar for its visual effects, which really does seem like a no-brainer.
The last thing I want to hit at is the nature of where this film leaves the viewer.  While The Two Towers is the middle chapter of a trilogy with a lot of plotlines still up in the air, I love how this film concludes.  It pulls an old trick, which finds the heroes at near defeat, before things turn around, but it works so well.  We get a hopeful monologue from Sam, the sight of Gandalf returning on a white horse, which leads to a victory for the men at Helm’s Deep, and the awesomeness that is Ents attacking Isengard.  On top of all of that, there is still time to hear Gollum’s nefarious plotting for the Hobbits on the path ahead of them; a hint of darkness to work well with the minor amounts of happiness seen for the heroes in the middle of such a difficult journey.

So I have droned on and on about this film (because I am a fan of matching Jackson’s style through writing, I guess) and it has drawn me to no new conclusions about it.  I am happy to celebrate what it means to me and how I enjoyed this series more, following this film, as opposed my mild reaction to the first.  I guess I could also note that The Two Towers is the only film in this trilogy I think actually benefits from the Extended Edition version, but that’s another essay to deal with.  As things stand now, while these Hobbit films are problematic, The Lord of the Rings certainly found a place in the annals of film history that may mean a ton to a lot more people who are not me, but I can still certainly say they achieved a rare feat, which is to be a big part of the conversation, when it comes to modern cinematic classics.  That in mind, if I stumble across The Two Towers, broadcasting one late night on AMC, I’ll be happy to leave it on for a while.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam:  That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

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