I just got back from seeing the latest installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and two words come to mind:
The Two Towers is quite possibly better than the first film in some ways. Moreover, it’s one of the best filmed epics ever put on screen. In terms of scope and power it is simply a masterpiece.
The film starts moving and does not let up. The sense of pacing on this film makes it seem much shorter than its three hour running length. Unlike the Fellowship, the first entry in the series, it does not have sections that drag. Nor is it burdened by all the exposition that was required of the first. Peter Jackson assumed that his audience knew the situation of Middle Earth and simply went straight into the story: a wise move as the story could not stop to reacquaint the audience with all that had happened before.
The Battle of Helm’s Deep is one of the most intense, most awe-inspiring, and most frightening battles in cinematic history. The sheer scale of the battle is amazing, and as battle rages on the sense of desperation is palpable among the people of Rohan. From the reluctant warrior-king Theoden (Bernard Hill) to his (unfortunately under-used) niece Eowyn, the people of Rohan are brought to life in this epic film.
The other two subplots are equally enthralling, including Sam (Sean Astin) and Frodo’s (Elijah Wood) journey to the dark land of Mordor, led by the amazingly lifelike CGI character of Gollum voiced and motion captured by Andy Serkis. Gollum is the most realistic CGI character ever created, and is both pitiful and spiteful at the same time. In some ways, Gollum may be the breakout star of this film – his lifelike rendering and tormented performance make him much more than shaders stretched over digital geometry. While he’s not entirely lifelike yet he does at times look like a very detailed rubber model, which is more than any CGI character has yet managed.
The third plot is given less attention, but pays off in a fabulous set piece that simply must be seen.
The only criticisms of this film is that it’s clear that the editing has removed some rather large chunks of the film. For example, we hear much of Gollum/Smeagol’s backstory, but we never actually see it, and there are parts of it that seem destined for the inevitable extended edition DVD. Other scenes also could be added to flesh out some of the set pieces, as well as perhaps highlighting some characters who were left out of this cut. (Eowyn comes to mind, as she shows much potential but disappears through much of the movie.)
All in all, fans of the series are going to pack in the theatres for this one. The quality of Peter Jackson’s directing, the production values, and the technical wizardry all combine with a story that remains rooted in the human experience to create a cinematic masterwork. The Lord of the Rings was never intended to be allegorical, and one interprets the film as such at their own risk. However, the message of this film is undoubtedly that some things are worth fighting and dying for, especially fighting for one’s land and freedom. That is a message that seems oddly prescient in today’s world, and one that stays with you just as well as the visual wizardry of The Two Towers.