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IN SHORT: One helluva bridge between Here and There. [Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and scary images. 180 minutes]
The long standing policy of this site is not to compare film adaptations to their Source Material (easy for us since we didn't read most of volumes one and three and all of volume two of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Blame a short attention span). You don't need to read JRR Tolkien's original novel to follow this adaptation, but you surely would be better off having seen The Fellowship of the Ring first, since Jackson has dispensed with reintroducing the characters or recapping the point of the story in any kind of prolog. If you pay close attention, all that material will be covered by the end of the second hour of this film's running time.
If you don't or, like a femme friend of ours who hadn't seen The Fellowship of the Ring or read any of the novels: At the Beginning of the World, a number of rings were created by that were distributed among Men and Elves and other Races inhabiting Middle-earth. Also created, in secret, was the One Ring that enables the bearer to rule over all the others. That One Ring is now in the possession of a Hobbit named Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood, click for StarTalk) who, accompanied by Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) journeys to the land of Mordor, a dark and unwelcoming place that is home to Sauron, the bodiless incarnation of the Spirit of Evil. Our heroes intend to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, where it was created, though they'll not get there in this movie. They are joined by a schizophrenic, paranoid creature called Gollum (Andy Serkis, who steals every scene he/it is in), who once possessed the Ring for about 500 years and will be waylaid by a tribe of Gondorians led by Faramir (David Wenham), brother of Fellowship's Boromir. As the evil Sauron gets more powerful, so does evil wizard Saruman the White (Christopher Lee). Each has their own tower of power. Thus the title.
The Two Towers is not so much about Frodo as it is about characters introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring: a sword wielding human of royal blood named Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Elf bowman Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the axe-bearing dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). This trio track Frodo's friends Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) who have been kidnapped by evil creatures called Uruk-Hai. Merry and Pippin will be captured by ancient creatures called Ents in a Dark Forest the humans are afraid to enter. Aragorn and his crew's adventures will bury you skull deep in the politics of Middle-earth bringing together all the plotlines involving Gondor and another city called Rohan. There, King Theoden (Bernard Hill) betrayed by Sauron's hench-thing Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), has fallen to the, uh, dark side. Politics anything but aside, it takes most of the movie to set up the final battle, at a place called Helm's Deep, and that battle is worth just about every second we spent trying to keep from drowning in the intricacies of the various plotlines.
But great googlie-mooglies, what a magnificent battle at Helm's Deep! 10,000 villains versus a castle and no help in sight -- unless a surprise miracle occurs. We'll come back to that below!
Elf Princess Arwen (Liv Tyler, click for StarTalk), the romantic interest for Aragorn in The Fellowship of the Rings has almost nothing to do in this episode, except to counterbalance Aragorn's potential new love interest, Eowyn (Miranda Otto), so she makes an appearance in a one of her beloved's dreams. We're told that the dream appearances play a regular part in the novel, but here it doesn't do more than justify Tyler's paycheck. Ditto for a short appearance by the Elf Queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) who, having nothing better to do, drops by to narrate some latter parts of the story. The Two Towers plays out in the same manner that Star Wars Episode II did earlier in the year. It's a big setup for the conclusion of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which comes in a year's time. Were it not for that we would have not been all that happy with The Two Towers, which seems to drop characters into the adaptation willy nilly.
Then again, our fanboy friend tells us that some of those surprises were surprises in Tolkien's writing, too. It doesn't matter to us because we'd already accepted the need to use the second film in any given trilogy to set up a third. (and, no, we didn't forget to mention Ian McKellan as the wonderful wizard, Gandalf. His appearance, should you have missed Fellowship, is one of those things we aren't going to spill here).
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, he would have paid . . .
And only a year until everything comes together in the finale. The Two Towers is a good bridge for what will end up as a ten hour series when all is said and done. It isn't the place to start -- rent The Fellowship of the Ring first, if you haven't seen it -- but its three hour running time feels like less than two. That's a good thing.
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