I got to see this really early, alone. Understandably, my friends ask, “How was it?” I feel the same way I felt after the first one, Fellowship of the Ring: it is how I imagine all those people who backlashed against Titanic felt (for the record, I am not one of them). Technically, Two Towers is a masterpiece of filmmaking, with incredible attention to detail, style, tone, and of course, a faithful rendition of the 2nd book. However, I found myself, as with Fellowship, very emotionally disconnected from the characters and events. I made a point of reading the books so I would not be ignorantly reviewing these highly charged works; the second book read much more easily and pleasantly than the first. Being all that much more invested, I expected I would be swept up by everything.
It was during the last major battle scene that I made the connection to Titanic. Here were many orcs and men struggling, killing, dying, very few of whom I had reason to care for specifically. It’s not that I am incapable of suspending my disbelief – I cry at Kodak commercials for goodness’ sake – and it has nothing to do with the true story of Titanic versus the fictional Rings trilogy. Director Peter Jackson appears to have somehow forgotten the human element which used to be his stock in trade. Perhaps it is a common phenomenon when faced with resources previously denied you. My favorite college band, a wild live show, became also more technically mastered when recording their first CD, but the CD lost some of their energy as a result.
When one character sustained an injury, I gasped at the surprise, then sat back to continue to watch the carnage as if nothing had happened. In Titanic, we had hundreds of strangers spilling into the icy sea, but when we see the Irish steerage women with her kids, it is then that we cry. Fans of the book know how this battle ends; the problem is that I have never been engaged by these characters. Jackson has long been an incredibly proficient and visual director, and his task here is monumental. He fails in no directorial aspect, yet myself and the audience member I could see most clearly near me could not get affected, try as we might.
It’s an awkward thing to admit, as the prevailing opinion is that these are the best and most important movies ever to come out since the original three Star Wars films; for Titanic, the Leonardo backlash made it OK not to like the film. I can say that it is beautiful and epic to watch, but leaving the theatre, I felt nothing. After Adaptation and Chicago I was calling everyone I know before I even left the parking lot, I was so excited and thrilled and stimulated.
Two Towers has greater narrative challenges than Fellowship – the main characters are living three concurrent storylines, and sometimes the editing between them felt abrupt and awkward. I did actually wonder if I was watching a final cut. In this book, too, Tolkein’s philosophical and political views become more obvious, which can be hard to play off sincerely. His distaste for “progress” and technology was quite clear.
Some of the best things were almost totally invisible – Legolas has a groovy stumt mounting of a horse that will knock your socks off, and it’s just over there in the corner of the screen. The sets are super, of course, and quickly panned over. The Ents get far too little screen time, but it’s an understandable sacrifice at 50 seconds shy of 3 hours. Towers, although technically part of the same 9 hour film, has a unique look and feel to it, even while remaining consistent. The score repeats themes and invents them. For readers: the film stops just a stitch early.
Finally, a word on Gollum. He is real. Yes, I know they shot with an actor and then CGIed in the character, but you don’t understand. He is REAL. Cate Blanchett looks less alive than this creature. Pores, eye wrinkles, teeth, movement, breathing, he’s freakin’ unbelievable (in a good way)! He makes Simone look like a Ray Harryhausen job. Two Towers is spectacular and exciting, and technically practically perfect, but somehow clinical.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/18/02
Time in minutes 179
Director Peter Jackson
Studio New Line