Friday, September 20, 2013

Film #103: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Director: Peter Jackson

Original Release Country: United States

Times Previously Seen: six or seven

*Note: The Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy was considered a single film by the list compilers at TIME, but I am reviewing each film separately. Here was my review for the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring.

Legolas Quick-Draw-and-Fire Summary:

The eight remaining fellows of the fellowship of the ring are scattered about the lands. Many a fight ensues, while Sam and Frodo make more puppy-dog eyes at each other.

Extended Summary (with spoilers. Lots of them.)

*If you’d really like to dork out, you can check out this even-more detailed summary at imdb.

Sam and Frodo, having left behind the rest of the fellowship, continue to make their way towards Mordor. As they make the arduous trek across the craggy, sheer cliffs, they are attacked by Gollum, the previous owner of the Ring of Power. Gollum is monomaniacally obsessed with repossessing the ring. Sam and Frodo manage to capture and subdue Gollum, forcing the wretched creature to guide them safely to Mordor.

Far away, on the open plains of Rohan, Merry and Pippin are being carted along by the band of Uruk-hai that captured them. This band of vicious creatures are eventually joined by an equally repulsive force of orcs. The entire group is being hunted and hounded by Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, who are relentlessly chasing after their hobbit companions. However, before the trio can catch up to the Uruk-hai, the band of monsters are set upon by the Roherrim – a force of horse lords led by their Prince Eomir, who has been banished from his own lands by a possessed King Theodrin. Despite this, the Roherrim kill all of the Uruk-hai and orcs. Merry and Pippin manage to escape the carnage, fleeing into the nearby Fangorn Forest.

Legolas, Gimli (obscured by horse head), and Aragorn are met by a wary Eomir and his Rohirrim.

In the Forest, Merry and Pippin are saved by a massive, animated tree – a creature known as an “Ent.” This ent, which gives his name as Treebeard, brings the hobbits to a man he refers to as “the White Wizard.” Though the hobbits at first assume that Treebeard is referring to the now-evil Saruman, it is actually a reincarnated Gandalf. We come to find out that Gandalf, after defeating the Balrog beneath the Mines of Moria, was resurrected and brought back to Middle Earth in order to assume the role vacated by the twisted Saruman – that of “The White Wizard.” Eventually, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli find all three of their old friends in Fangorn, and the six are happily reunited. The reunion, however, is short, as Merry and Pippin are taken with Treebeard to a muster of other Ents, while the other four make their way to Edoras, the capital of Rohan.

Meanwhile, Sam, Frodo, and Gollum have traversed the Dead Marshes outside of Mordor’s Black Gate, though not without some serious risk. As the trio arrive at the gate, it becomes clear that entering Mordor this way is virtual suicide. Gollum convinces them that there is another way in, though it will take some time to reach it. Though Sam is highly skeptical of the skulking Gollum, Frodo puts his trust in the shifty guide, and the three begin their retreat from the Black Gate.

Back in Edoras, Gandalf and company arrive to find King Theodin in a vicious mental trap laid by his own “advisor,” Wormtongue, and maintained by the sorcerer Saruman. The newly empowered Gandalf exorcises Theodin, restoring his mind and youth; then, the wizard leaves in order to find Prince Eomir and the Roherrim. Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn stay behind to assist Theodin, as his lands are being overrun by Saruman’s ever-growing hordes of bloodthirsty creatures and feral human tribes. Theodin decides to gather all of the people in his city and bring them all to Helm’s Deep, a massive fortress built into a mountain. From there, he hopes to repel and crush any oncoming army. En route to Helm’s Deep, the caravan is set upon by a group of vicious, lupine wargs. The humans fend them off, but they seemingly lose Aragorn in the defense, the ranger having been sent over a cliff while fighting one of the warg riders.

The vicious wargs and their riders. Our heroes have to fend off a whole mess of these nasty critters, en route to the safety of Helm's Deep.

Far off, within the borders of Gondor, Sam, Frodo, and Gollum continue to make their way towards Gollum’s alternate path into Mordor. However, they are taken by a band of humans led by Faromir, a young Prince of the region. Sam and Frodo are taken captive as assumed spies, but the cunning Gollum eludes capture.

Back in Helm’s Deep, King Theodin readies the small group of humans remaining for their grand defense. Though the Deep is an amazing defensive structure, their number of actual warriors is very few. Their hopes are bolstered, however, when first Aragorn turns up very much alive, and then even more when a force of elven archers arrives.

In Gondor, Faromir begins to interrogate Sam and Frodo about their purpose in his lands. He also manages to capture Gollum. Faromir eventually learns from Gollum that Frodo carries the Ring of Power, and Sam and Frodo learn that Faromir is the younger brother of Boromir, their fallen comrade from the fellowship of the ring.  Despite the hobbits’ warning to Faromir not to try and take or use the ring, the young prince decides to take them all to his father at Minas Tirith, the capitol of Gondor.

At Helm’s Deep, night has grown completely dark, and Saruman’s massive army has arrived at the gates. The battle ensues. After hours of bloody fighting, the humans and elves have exacted a mighty toll on the numbers of the attacking hordes. Still, the sheer numbers of the monsters is near to overwhelming them all. Just when Theodrin’s forces are down to their final few, the dawn breaks, and reinforcements arrive. In the east, Gandalf, Eomir, and the Roherriam charge into the flank of Saruman’s remaining army, routing them all and saving the remaining human forces nestled within Helm’s Deep.

It's all-out siege warfare when Saruman's army attacks Helm's Deep.

All the while, Merry and Pippin have been waiting for the excruciatingly deliberate Ents to decide whether to involve themselves in the war. Though the tree creatures decide that they will not fight, they change their minds after Treebeard sees how Saruman has razed huge swaths of forest surrounding his tower. An army of ents storms and overtakes the tower, wiping out the monstrous forces within and trapping Saruman in his own lair.

Within Gondor, Faromir and his captives arrive in Osgiliath, a blasted city close to Minas Tirith. Their entire party is assaulted by forces from nearby Mordor, including a Ring Wraith riding a vicious black dragon. Frodo barely escapes the Wraith, and Faromir finally decides to allow Frodo, Sam, and Gollum to continue their way into Mordor. The Gondorian prince does, however, warn then that the path that Gollum is taking them to is fraught with horrible dangers.

The road, it seems, is only going to get harder…

My Take on the Film (Done after this most recent viewing)

While my recent re-watching of Fellowship of the Ring found me a little more restless than I had ever been when watching it before, I did not find the same problem with The Two Towers. Though I might not be quite as enchanted by it as I was ten, five, or even three years ago, I still really enjoy it.

Compared to Fellowship, there’s simply more meat to it. Yes, there are some of the lighter, more melodramatic moments, especially in the extended edition (which is the one that I watched this time). The teased romance between Aragorn and Eowhin, the antics of Merry and Pippin, and the wistful recollections and musings of Aragorn and Arwen, are all little moments that become a bit stale once you’ve seen them as many times as I have. They’re not bad, but they provoke some watch-gazing for me.

The real draw of The Two Towers is the action. While Fellowship certainly has a few good action scenes and small-scale battles, the second chapter steps it all up in a serious way. The smaller skirmishes with the wargs, orcs, and Uruk-hai are cool enough. But they all pale in comparison to the battle of Helm’s Deep. At this point in the story, Peter Jackson began to throw it all out there. In scenes that would do Braveheart proud, the fighting intensity and action are simply a blast to watch. The entire battle takes up over 30 minutes of the film, but it has never, any of the times that I’ve watched it, felt overly long to me. There are simply so many eye-catching things happening in nearly every shot that the entire Helm’s Deep sequence demands multiple viewings. Of course, if you simply can’t stand battle scenes, then you’re out of luck. For the rest of us, it’s unadulterated popcorn entertainment.

The battle of Helm's Deep is so rousing and entertaining, that I'm usually ready to pick up a sword, put on a snarl, and charge into the fray, right behind ol' Aragorn here.

Nearly all of the same strengths of the first film carry over into this second. The acting and casting remain incredibly strong, and there are some nice additions. The characters Arwin and Faromir have some intriguing depth and back stories. The Ents seem to be a bit divisive – some viewers really love them, while others find them boring as, well, watching a tree grow. I’ve always thought they were fine, and I especially love their attack on Saruman’s tower.

My overall sense of The Two Towers is that of expansion. While Fellowship introduced us to the main characters and kept things relatively tight in terms of the players, the second story starts to give us much larger groups, new lands and peoples, and a much greater sense of the entire land that the Dark Lord Sauron seeks to dominate. To me, Peter Jackson pulled off a rather amazing feat in that, though many readers of the source novel will say that The Two Towers is the least interesting of the three parts, the film version is no such weak link. It builds perfectly into the third and final chapter when, as Gandalf puts it at the end of this chapter, “The Battle for Middle Earth begins.”

That’s a wrap. 103 shows down; 2 to go.

Coming Soon: Finding Nemo (2003):

“Whaddaya mean I’m funny?! Funny how?! Like a clownfish??!!”

(Seriously. Just say that to yourself in Joe Pesci’s voice. It’s hilarious.)

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.