The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended) (2002)
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The second part of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy sees the fellowship part company. Frodo and Sam encounter Gollum, cleverly presented as a kind of wretched schizophrenic drug addict which makes for a much more interesting character dynamic than the "You're my best friend Sam! "I love you Mr. Frodo!" of the first film. Meanwhile Pippin and Merry escape their captors and persuade the forest dwelling Ent to join the fight in a rather ham-fisted eco analogy. And finally Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli whose camaraderie is developed find new allies in Rohan and rejoin Gandalf to defend the fortress of Helm's Deep in a quite spectacular and monumental battle sequence. Although The Two Towers is as long as The Fellowship Of The Ring, the intertwining story threads, all told in parallel complete with a liberal dose of action make for much better pacing. I still have a problem with stories reliant on magic because if characters can come back to life for no reason other than it's convenient to the plot or can just say "Abracadabra" and make danger, and therefore suspense, disappear makes for little in the way of narrative logic. I also felt that Saruman got far too little screen time which left a focal villain lacking, but in this film Jackson has made a fantasy film I not only endured, but enjoyed.
Previously, on 24. I mean, The Lord of the Rings: The One Ring of Power has been found. After a perilous journey for the fellowship of the ring that ended with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) falling to what seemed to be his doom with the balrog at the bridge of Khazad-dum, the rest of the fellowship escaped. After respite in the land of Lothlorien, they journeyed on, and Boromir (Sean Bean) succumbed to the ring's power and fell against the Uruk Hai. We pick up where that left off: With a splintered fellowship heading in separate directions, which expand the scope. We have Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) heading to Mordor, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli (Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies) hunting the Uruk Hai of Isengard (One of the "two towers") who have Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd) and think they have the ring. These are the three main groups the perspective alternates between. Frodo and Sam finally come face-to-face with Gollum (Andy Serkis in his breakout motion capture performance), and take him as a guide to Mordor (The other of the "two towers" in The Two Towers). Throughout, Frodo is the only one who treats him kindly, but no one else does, which will come into play in Return of the King. Andy Serkis does an amazing job, both with capturing the motion and the emotion of Gollum: From the gangly movements to the gurgly voice that has become iconic in the 13 years since this film released, and he performs Gollum's bipolar very well, especially in scenes where Smeagol and Gollum "talk" to each other. The diverse trio takes us to the kingdom of Rohan, where King Theoden (Bernard Hill) has been corrupted by Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), an "advisor" whose "advice" made Theoden kick out his own nephew Eomer (Karl Urban), who helps out the Uruk Hai trackers. Grima's "advice" eventually gets him in trouble with Gandalf (Spoiler alert: He survived, but not a spoiler because he was in the trailers, and the story's been around for 60+ years as of my writing this review) and Theoden. After learning of the terror Saruman wrought in lands far off from the city of Edoras, the people all go to a fortress called "Helm's Deep" and prepare for what is undoubtedly one of the most visually-stunning large-scale battles ever committed to film, and one that is more emotionally charged than anything Peter Jackson would put out ten+ years later. It is not in computer generated imagery that battles are committed to film, but in the emotional stakes and the gritty harshness of the battle: Hard rain, truly imposing Uruk Hai, and weapons of unimaginable (to them) destruction. It's good they didn't lead with this kind of battle. Finally, the story alternates to Merry and Pippin's encounter and subsequent travels with Treebeard the Ent (Voiced by Gimli's John Rhys-Davies), an ancient race of trees that can walk and talk like us, but are easy going, except when Saruman (Christopher Lee) fells trees the Ents know. They take it personally. This is a massive film, but when there is not a climactic battle raging, we get to know our main characters, from the Hobbits' sentimentality many of us could relate to, to Gimli and Legolas' growing to trust each other/get along as best elves and dwarves can, given their history. The battle is spectacular, and the CGI is incredible on Gollum and the Ents, but one thing they couldn't breath life into were the backgrounds of medium-shots of Merry and Pippin riding on Treebeard: It's too obvious Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd are in front of a green-screen for these sequences. When we see Treebeard and them on him, it's as if they're actually on a tree. Howard Shore provides a grander score for the grander scope, now that the story is starting to intensify: Gone are the flutes and easy tune of the Hobbit themes, except for a small dose here or there, but they can never go back to the way it was. Things have certainly grown gloomy since Frodo set out on his quest to destroy that ring, but there's still the occasional laugh you can find (I found one in Helm's Deep). Gimli and Legolas also provide great on-screen chemistry that creates almost as much comic relief as Merry and Pippin. This may be the part where the kids would ask you to turn off the movie because it's gotten too dark, but you will have to watch through the end to see if the sun shines brighter than ever after an especially dark night.
Just as good as the first. More epic adventures and battles. The movie continues to retain the spirit of the book.
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