There and Back Again, Day 2: The Two Towers
RT's editors dive into the dark depths of Peter Jackson's second chapter of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
Yesterday we joined the Fellowship of the Ring on the first part of our quest to plow through Peter Jackson's extended Lord of the Rings movies, with everyone agreeing -- to various degrees -- that the extra dimensions worked well for what was already a solid opening chapter. Today, as the fellowship splits and Gollum leads his unsuspecting charges toward Mordor, we take on The Two Towers. How does it play?
Tim: I remember liking The Two Towers better than The Fellowship of the Ring when I saw it in the theater. It certainly contains more striking imagery, from the craggy Ents to the imposing Mûmakil (which, like the AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back, are inefficient as battle weaponry but still look completely awesome). However, upon watching the extended edition, I wasn't as involved. Unlike Fellowship, which supplemented the theatrical cut with plenty of seemingly essential side notes, I thought the special edition of the Two Towers longer, not more illuminating.
Ryan: Yep, Two Towers was my favorite of the three LOTR films for several reasons: I, too, love the Ents (my favorite characters from the series, in fact), Eomer and the riders of Rohan are badass, the destruction of Isengard and the climactic battle at Helm's Deep are epic, and we get some of Gollum's meatiest scenes, among other things. Unfortunately, this latest rewatch drastically changed my assessment of the movie. I don't know if it was because it was the extended cut, or if I simply never noticed these issues before, but I found The Two Towers wholly unfocused, forced to split its time between several storylines that almost never converge. This was a big problem for me, and my love for the movie diminished quite a bit upon this viewing.
Tim: Still, credit where it's due: that climatic battle sequence is breathtaking in its visceral power, and Gollum has to be considered one of the definitive movie characters of the 2000s. Therein lies another issue with the Two Towers, however: Andy Serkis is such a gifted physical actor, and Gollum is such a vivid creation, that he ends up overshadowing the human actors by a pretty wide margin.
Luke: I'm not gonna lie: I fell asleep in this movie. I don't know if it was the pizza, er lembas bread, but I was out stone cold midway through. Thing is, like you guys, this was my favorite theatrically, but the extended edition throws the narrative wildly out of balance. I liked the Two Towers theatrically because it split its time judiciously between the Frodo-Sam-Gollum journey (the best thing, for me) and the machinations at Rohan leading up to Helm's Deep, but in the long version it seemed Gollum disappeared for huge stretches in favor of more -- so very much more -- standing around and talking by interchangeable stock types anticipating battle. I think by about the four-millionth exhortation of "We ride!" -- followed by another meeting -- I was done. Pared back to the treachery of Gollum and his game of wits with the hobbits, though, there's a good movie in here.
Ryan: I hate to admit it, but I also nodded off around the time Aragorn was pretending to like Eowyn's battlefield broth (a completely unnecessary scene I'm glad was left on the cutting room floor), and at one point, there were, by my count, four narrative threads being juggled: the preparations at Rohan, Pippin and Merry with the Ents, Frodo and Sam, and the love story between Aragorn and Arwen. Thankfully -- and wisely -- the theatrical cut pared down the latter of those quite a bit, but with extended stretches devoted to the other three (lending to the long absence of Gollum from the screen, as noted by Luke), the longer cut just dragged on and on. For my money's worth, the theatrical cut of this film is just right; my affection remains strong, if slightly abated, thanks to Helm's Deep and the Ents.
Tim: You know, when a tree fell on my car last year, I was initially convinced it was a random accident. Now I know it wasn't: I was the target of a plot devised at one of those Ent Moots.
Ryan: And they'd been planning it for centuries.
Luke: Speaking of Ents, Ryan we must make mention of one of our favorite moments in all the trilogy, I think. You know what I'm talking about?
Ryan: You can only be speaking of the copious amounts of ganj... err, Longbottom Leaf being smoked.
Luke: Well that was rather stirring, of course, but you must remember the cheer that went up when one of the Ents used the surging floodwaters of Isengard to quench his flaming hair of leaves.
Ryan: Oh, that! Such a small moment, yet so brilliantly comic. I thought to myself, "Yup, that's what I would have done, too."
Luke: [Laughs] I salute the genius at Weta who did that.
Tomorrow, Peter Jackson's first trilogy concludes as we square off with the extended edition of The Return of the King.