Movies: The Two Towers

Boromir dies at the beginning of The Two Towers. Not the beginning of the movie, but the beginning of Tolkien’s The Two Towers novel. So when director Peter Jackson snuck Boromir’s frantic-grab-for-the-ring-cum-noble-death into the last act of Fellowship, Ring purists howled. “Why, ” they lamented, ” is he messin’ with the source material?!”.

Those who got all worked up over this bit of cinematic slight-of-hand probably had seizures when they saw Jackson’s The Two Towers, where he takes even more liberties with the original storyline. But for the rest of us, the decision to shuffle things around, emphasize some aspects of the tale while omitting others, and, in general, encapsulating each film so that it stands on its own, is cause for jubilation.

I had gone into Towers expecting to be disappointed. Well, perhaps not disappointed, per se, but I had no hope to reaching the the apogee of wonder I felt while watching the first film unfold. Towers is, after all, a “middle chapter,” and such installment tend to feel vaguely useless, like they only serve to get you from the Part I (exposition) to Part III (finale). So was was surprised to find that The Two Towers is a complete film unto itself, and a spectacular one at that. Granted, it starts with a scene lifted (and extended) from the prior movie, but uses that as springboard for the events to follow. Now imagine if Boromir had entered stage left at the beginning, given a big speech, and keeled over — suddenly you’d have to mentally reconstruct the entire Fellowship narrative to make sense of things. Furthermore, Towers occasionally stops to unobtrusively explain bits of backstory, so there’s no need for the casual viewer to keep Ye Olde Entire History Of Middle Earth in his head at all times. In short, Jackson has done a wonderful job of making Towers more than just a bridge between The Start and The End. I suspect that someone who had neither seen nor read Fellowship could watch Towers and enjoy it as much as the next person.

There’s little point in recapping the plot — you either know it, you don’t want me spoiling it, or you don’t give a rat’s ass. Suffice to say that The Two Towers is every bit as good as Fellowship, though the two movies are quite distinct. Towers is, at its heart, a war movie in the best possible sense — not simply an endless stream of fight scenes a la Windtalkers, but a film that delves into the philosophy, morality and strategy of warfare. It also largely avoids romanticizing war, which is surprising for a film set in the fantasy milieu. Yes, there are plenty of heroics and, yes, each protagonist dispatches 107 foes before taking so much as a flesh wound, but the conflict in Middle Earth is shown to be as horrific as it is unavoidable. By emphasizing entirely different aspects of the saga (Frodo and Sam’s journey is relegated to the back-burner for most of the story), Jackson has not given us a second helping of the first meal, but an entirely new buffet.

Also, as far as computer animation goes, Gollum makes Jar-Jar Binks look like Pac-man.

The Two Towers is three hours long, but it doesn’t feel like a moment is wasted; I, for one, was enthralled throughout. I had some minor qualms — I did not care for Gimli-as-comic-relief and got a little bored with Smeagol-as-Two-Face — but overall the film exceeded my expectations, which were high to begin with. Peter Jackson is the King of the cinema, and I can’t wait for his return in December of 2003.

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13 comments.

  1. Bravo! Nice review. Just saw it yesterday with my SO. Agree heartily. I just think it’s amazing that Jackson has done such a wonderful job with his material and Lucas has bungled his opportunity so horrifically.

  2. Micheal, even in a derogatory context, I’d rather not be reminded Jar-Jar ever existed.

  3. If I remember correctly, Boromir actually does die at the end of the Fellowship book, much like what happens in the movie… and not in the beginning to the two towers: as the two towers begins with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli’s chase after Pippin and Merry, similar to the movie.

    But your point still remains – yes, a lot of the story was changed, specifically order; moreso in the Two Towers… but your argument about Boromir’s death is invalid.

  4. To clear this up, Boromir dies at the beginning of the Two Towers and I know because I had not read the Two Towers when I saw Fellowship and was disappointed at having such a pivotal moment revealed by the movie rather than the book.

    More importantly, your assessment of the movie is right on. I have two complaints about the movie, unrelated to your complaints. 1. Tolkein made a point of distinguishing Boromir and Faramir in their ambitions, Jackson destroyed it, in addition to changing the very nature of Faramir’s character, it also holds the two hobbits back on their journey and ultimately they didn’t get a whole lot closer to Mordor than they were at the beginning of the movie, unlike the book. 2. There was no need to change how the men were able to defended Helm’s Deep. In the book, they did not need the elves’ help and Eomer had a more complete role in the book. It was an interesting change, but not necessary for any reason I can think of.

    Nitpicking aside, the movie as a whole overcame these two drawbacks in my esteem and I would recommend it to anyone.

  5. I’m confused: “I had gone into Towers expecting to be disappointed…but overall the film exceeded my expectations, which were high to begin with.” Is the present state of cinematic quality so low that potential disappointment actually rates pretty high? :)

    Also, regarding not reading the book and then seeing the movie–it’s actually pretty confusing without plot familiarity, but it’s so gosh-darned pretty that the confusion is easily forgiveable.

  6. “I had gone into Towers expecting to be disappointed…but overall the film exceeded my expectations, which were high to begin with.”

    Yeah, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? But in my mind, it all works out. There was a part of me that had very high expectations for The Two Towers, and there was another part that was certain of disappointment precisely because of my high expectations. I realize that’s all very meta-meta-Adaptation-esque, but there you go.

    This was the exact opposite of my feelings going into Attack of the Clones, by the way. I hated Phantom Menace and had no faith in Episode II. And yet, at the same time, a part of me recognized that (as I wrote in my review) “my expectations were so low that had Attack of the Clones been a shot-by-shot remake of Beaches it still would have exceeded my wildest hopes.”

  7. Boromir, Faramir, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin and Merry? Ok, so I didn’t read the books and have yet to see Towers but all of these names are too foreign to wrap my brain around. To me it all sounds like “…as the two towers begins with Blatersnort, Dingos and Jimmies chase after Pippy and Mary, similar to the movie…”

    Or even worse, since I didn’t read the Harry Potter books either it might as well be “…as the two towers begins with Dumbledor, Hagrid and Hermione chase after Ron and Harry, similar to the movie…”

    So how about a review for those of us living in a cultural wasteland. Something like “The hot elf chick played by Liv Tyler goes into the cave” and Gandolf, the guy with the white hair, but the nice guy with the white hair not the evil guy with the white hair, comes back to life. Now that would be useful!

    What with the new American Idol starting up I’ll have no time to actually read the books.

  8. Somebody once said a story consists of a beginning, a muddle and an end. I agree Jackson did a pretty good job of cramming the muddle volume into three hours without making it totally incomprehensible but I’m still glad I had read the book ahead of time. P.S. as an SCA geek it continues to drive me batty that all the principals except Gimli insist on going into battle without their hard hats.

  9. Can’t you all just read the books, enjoy them for what they are and do the same with the movie?
    A script is compleatly diffrent from a book, even if it is an adaptation of the book.

  10. I wish I hadn’t read the books before I saw the movies! My expectations were built up so highby the books that the movies didn’t satasfy me at all. I was horrified at some of the dumb changes. I didn’t care that peter jackson ommited some of the materal due to time restraints, but some of the added materal was absolutely rediculous and insulting to Tolkien’s hard work!

    In the fellowship of the ring, Peter Jackson: played down the Power of Gandalf, made merry and pippin look like idiots, screwed up the character of Aragorn, added the stupid Arwen scenes, made it look like Sauroman was working for Sauron, and made the character of Gladriel look like some kind of spooky witch.

    In the Two towers, Peter Jackson:
    1) made it look like Theoden was possesed by Sauroman. If Theoden actually was possed by Sauroman, what was the purpose of Worm tongue?
    2) Screwed up the character of Tree Beard and the Ents. (The ents decided to storm Isenguard at the entmoot) Why change that?
    3) That whole thing about Aragorn falling off the cliff was absolutely stupid!! and not in the book.
    4) Why on earth did Peter Jackson have to add the elvs in the battle of the healms deep??
    5) Instead of Eomer riding to the rescue at healms deep, why didn’t Gandalf and the ents come? Why was this changed??
    6) The character of Faramir was completely screwed up. Why was this changed? stupid stupid stupid.
    7) Where was Shelob???
    8) Why did the women and children of Rohan go to shelter at healms deep instead of up in the hills by the paths of the dead?

    Well, I guess Peter Jackson just thought he could do a better job than JRR Tolkien.

    P.S. I do realize that some changes needed to be maid to make up for the scenes that had to be left out due to time restraints. For this reason, I only mentioned the stupid changes that didn’t have to be maid.

  11. What is an SCA geek? I agree though. Experienced warriors should know the value of headgear, and wear it!

  12. the yeti is so real I seen it with my own eyes I have hour long fotage of the the “it” close up it kind of looks like an old harry man and about 6-7 foot tall im sending my footage to real tv right now

  13. every body keep close eye for any suspicice movement its out there!!!!!!