So you haven’t read a word of The Lord of the Rings trilogy? It’s obvious that you aren’t a Tolkien groupie. But don’t you worry. The second part of Kiwi director Peter Jackson’s literal adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic triptych possesses enough by way of epic spectacle, visual magic and narrative energy to draw you into its inner world.
The Two Towers does so despite the fact that the director makes no apparent concessions to the uninitiated. The first time around, he had inserted a protracted introduction about Middle-Earth and its denizens for the benefit of those who needed it. Here, he plunges straight into the heart of the action.
Even more than the first installment, this film takes you along on a dizzying ride that might not make too much sense on the surface but does provide a whole lot of heart-pounding excitement and eye-popping surprises as it progresses.
What works for The Two Towers is the fact that, for all its reliance on the realms of fantasy, it remains a quintessential drama woven around a basic good against evil conflict that unfolds on a metaphysical plane.
What works even better is the film’s deeply humanist core. A majority of the characters may be non-human – hobbits, elves, orcs, ents and other strange species people the narrative – but the film’s central anti-war theme carries a contemporary resonance that you cannot miss. Near the climax of The Two Towers, the King of Rohan, Theoden, says: "So much death. What can man do against such reckless hate?" Such is the spirit that underlines Jackson’s – and Tolkien’s – dark vision.
The Two Towers begins where The Fellowship of the Ring left off. Frodo (Elijah Wood), in the company of Sam (Sean Astin), continues his journey to Mordor, where he plans to destroy the all-powerful ring so that it does not fall into the wrong hands. But the narrative here is far more complex than it was in the opening part of the triptych. The Fellowship has now split into several smaller groups and each group has its own story.
Frodo and Sam stumble upon the schizophrenic Gollum (a remarkable CGI character voiced and mimed by Andy Serkis), Merry and Pippin are taken captive by the evil Uruk-hai orcs and the intrepid human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the elegant elf Legolas and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) search for their abducted companions.
Danger lurks at every step. The evil wizard, Saruman (Christopher Lee) has conspired with Sauron (hence the two towers of the title) to wipe out all humans. So, as Frodo struggles his way towards Mordor, huge battles take place elsewhere. The movie jumps from one group of former Fellowship members to another, as each confronts and deals with daunting challenges.
The challenge that Jackson is up against pertains to the pacing of the multiple plots and the interweaving of the three principal strands of his tale into a coherent whole. He does a fairly nifty job. The action moves back and forth between the different plots pretty seamlessly.
At three hours, The Two Towers is a very long film, but with so many sub plots to reckon with, so many characters to etch out and an abundance of set pieces to handle, it still has a strangely rushed feel to it.
The battle scenes are wonderfully mounted – the highlight, of course, is the climactic face-off between Saruman’s 10,000-strong brigade of orcs and Rohan’s army. The digitally created characters – apart from Gollum, the film presents Treebeard, an animated tree voiced by Rhys-Davies – pulsate with life. And the visual effects are from the topmost drawer. Yet, the film tends to lapse into a fair bit of monotony. But, it does so only occasionally.
By all reckoning, The Lord of the Rings is an astounding cinematic achievement both in terms of its technical wizardry and epic narrative sweep, but it is anything but the visionary tract that the literary original was.