The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens & Stephen Sinclair

The Lord of the Rings series is legendary and all three are highly regard. All three received multiple nominations at the Academy Awards, having been released in three consecutive years from 2001-2003, but The Return of the King in the film which broke through and won the most awards, 11 to be exact. So where does the middle chapter of the epic tale from J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson fall? It is hard to say having just seen the first two again recently, with the third to come soon. But my initial reaction is that The Two Towers is a great achievement, but one that failed to make a great impression on me.

There seems to be an unwritten rule in cinema when it comes to making sequels: go bigger, and go darker. I do not quite understand the theory behind going darker, though bigger I get. It is like the rules of making a mixtape told so eloquently by Rob Gordon (John Cusack) in the film High Fidelity: “You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch.” Peter Jackson was listening because with The Two Towers, the director introduced even more characters, created massive battle scenes, including the roughly 45 minute battle at Helm’s Deep. Needless to say, there is a whole lot more scope in this film than was in the first which was epic in its own rights.

So what about that darker factor? I don’t get why this is a requirement. I guess in the formation of a trilogy it does make sense, otherwise it would be happy fun time all the way through and nothing setting up the third act of the trilogy. In the case of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the journey of Frodo and Sam is the entire story, so without this middle section being bleaker and darker, there would be much less tension and suspense building up to the third in the trilogy, which would make the payoff not as good. In that regard, this film was massively different from the first in tone and emotion. The film is equally beautiful in its cinematography, just in an opposing way. In the first there were many bright, shiny colors popping off the screen. This time the colors are much more drab and depressing and really make the experience that much more down and dirty. It matches the tone well.

The special effects were also magnificent, especially when it came to the battle scene at Helm’s Deep. However, there were also times when the effects were not up to par with the rest of the film. For instance, the sequences where Pippen and Merri are with the Tree Beard character, the effects are much more obvious and less seamless than in other parts. It is a minor quip, as not much time was spent with these characters, though that could be another problem I had with the film. The storytelling seemed to jump back and forth and it didn’t always work, though at times it flowed brilliantly. The Merri and Pippen sequences are a good example of this, never really grabbing my attention or making me care. At the same time, I felt not enough time was spent with Frodo and Sam, though that too is understandable as this film is much more about Aragorn and the humans defending Helm’s Deep than it is a furtherment of the journey of Frodo and Sam to destroy the ring. They got the lionshare in the first film, and I would expect the story to return focus on them a bit more in the third as the series concludes.

Another minor difficulty I had with the film was the comedy, which seemed much more prevalent here than in the first, though maybe I am misremembering. Another possibility is the simple fact that this film is darker, so when the comedy does come it is that much more jarring. But whatever the case may be, the comedy didn’t always work (like the counting match between Legolas and Gimli during the battle), but like every other quip I have with this film, it is also done well in certain places.

So my general conclusion for this film would be that it doesn’t do what the first film did quite as well as there are a number of things I am able to point to and say that I did not enjoy, but they are few and far between and not significant enough to make the experience with the film anything less than a great one. I am greatly looking forward to seeing the third and final film in the series and being able to look back at the trilogy as one long seamless story instead of three separate films.

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