The Lord Of The Rings- The Two Towers
We begin the second installment of The Lord Of The Rings, The Two Towers , by being dropped into Middle Earth mid-story. No explanations or recaps; we just blinked since Frodo and Sam began their lonely trek accompanied by the Fellowship, the intervening year between films feeling like nothing more than a distracting dream.
We find the Fellowship divided. Our seven heroes have broken into three groups and the film begins following their separate, concurrent journeys. Frodo and Sam continue on alone toward Mount Doom, stalked and guided in turn by the pathetic, almost reptillian Gollum. Their Hobbit friends, Merry and Pippin, have been kidnapped by a particularly ugly squadron of Orcs, while Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli stride out to rescue them. There are none of the lush fields and whimsical songs that gave The Fellowship Of The Ring its beauty and texture. The first was a sweeping introduction to Middle Earth and its magical melting-pot of Hobbits, Wizards, Elves, Dwarves and humans. We sniffed the gathering storm surrounding the rediscovered ring of power, but Fellowship was about journey and discovery.
This one, the second, isn't charming or Hobbit-cute; The Two Towers is all about taking care of business. Those long-gathering storm clouds finally burst and good and evil unleash their full fury. The war against the despotic Sauron has begun.
The film takes for granted we already know what's at stake. At the epicenter is the battle for Middle Earth, launched from the tower of Isengard and fought at the tower of Helm's Deep. Each character's fate points them towards one of those two towers, and it's the battles being waged over them that are the true stars of this film. The actors showed their chops in the last installment, now they've been drafted. The individual performances are sacrificed for the greater cause, mirroring the story's theme. Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Woods and Ian McKellan put on their game faces, but they're relegated to second violin behind the suspended note of battle, and the rumbling armies fighting it. The only personality pushed front and center is Gollum, maybe the most impressive CGI effect I've ever seen, and, ironically, the film's most fleshed-out character. Director Peter Jackson spares no expense- nor salaries for hordes of extras- to show the world being torn apart under the blade of a sword, on magnitudes never before seen onscreen. It's absolutely thrilling.
It's also very long- almost three hours. Do yourself a favour- invest a little time beforehand meditating on the lead-up to The Two Towers. Read the books, re-watch the first film, put the story in context. The Two Towers thunders over you with almost unrelenting tension, and it's easy to get mired in its seemingly endless violent night. Nobody smiles, except in relief. It's the most monochromatic tale of the trilogy, one very long crescendo into an even longer battle. Without the greater perspective on why everyone's so grimfaced it could tax even the strongest gore-addict.
If you know the classic tale, and have taken your vitamins, it's a heavy metal orgy, a primal drum solo. But if you're expecting nothing more than a fun night out at the movies, The Two Towers can sound like just a lot of banging.