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The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Director: Peter Jackson

review by Debbie Moon

The Fellowship is broken; Frodo and Sam continue alone towards Mordor, while Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas begin their pursuit of the Uruk-hai who carried off Merry and Pippin. This takes them into the territory of the traitor Saruman - but when they encounter the White Wizard, there's a surprise in store...
   Meanwhile, open war is unleashed against Middle-earth, and all humankind must be shaken from their isolationist despair to face it. And the increasingly fragile Frodo and his faithful companion encounter an ally and an enemy, though not necessarily in that order.
   Peter Jackson hurls us into what may be the most difficult section of Tolkien's epic with extraordinary panache. No recaps, no concessions to newcomers - simply an explosion of powerful visual storytelling. With the majority of the set-up concluded, this instalment has more room for character detail and for humour, and, indeed, for action. The set-piece battle of Helm's Deep, where our heroes marshal a tiny, demoralised force to defend their women and children against 10,000 bloodthirsty warriors, is the most realistic and breathtaking pre-industrial battle scene ever committed to film. Playing down heroic clichés, while acknowledging the individual courage of men fighting in defence of the innocent, Jackson instantly raises the bar for the many heroic epics currently in production.
   With two primarily CGI characters, the effects team play a vital role in this instalment. The notoriously tricky Treebeard, despite looking a little fragile, is entirely convincing. But it's Gollum who astonishes. He may be a computer-generated image recreating an on-set performance by actor Andy Serkis, but it's almost impossible to believe he isn't 'real'. Complex, pitiable, and entirely capable of holding his own against Elijah Wood's steadily maturing performance, he is without doubt the real star of the show.
   Purists will no doubt point out that Jackson departs from Tolkien in many places, and many ways - making hints explicit, the verbal visual, and the conceptual, physical. This is entirely to be expected. A book can portray character, atmosphere and theme almost in isolation; a film can only create them through what the people involved do.
   However, one departure from the book seems a step too far. A radical tampering with both the character and the actions of newcomer Faramir discards his role as a contrast to his brother Boromir, robs us of the finely crafted verbal battle as he attempts to discover Frodo's true mission, and makes it difficult to see how he can play his part as an emotional focus in the final instalment. It may be a minor story arc, but since the replacement scenes are serviceable at best, and irrelevant at worst, it's hard to see what Jackson and his usually superlative writing team are aiming at.
   Still, apart from that one misstep, The Two Towers equals and even surpasses the first film. It's richer, funnier, packed with incident and action, yet always finding time for human emotion and for Tolkien's powerful thematic concerns. Simply unmissable!

Related item:
tZ  There And Back Again: the Animated Tolkien, and beyond

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
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