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.