dir: Peter Jackson
[img_assist|nid=1055|title=The Two Towers. It's about two towers, apparently|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=315|height=450]
There's no disputing that this is a technically competent film. What is debatable is whether it stands as a decent film on its own, which is the litmus test for any and every film.
Why? Well, I just didn't enjoy the film that much. Admittedly I was wretchedly hungover at the time, but I've enjoyed plenty of other films in a similar if not worse state.
Maybe my expectations were too high. My expectations were high for the first one as well, but they were satisfied tenfold that time. This time, well, I wondered a bit why I should care, a feeling I certainly did not get from the book this is based on.
By any objective measure I can think of the film does not stand on its own. Viewers who haven't seen the first one and have never read the books wouldn't have a fucking clue what's going on. That's not necessarily a fatal flaw, in that we want filmmakers who ask their audiences to put a bit more work into their viewing experience and not have to spoonfeed the dullards. But in general I like to believe that even individual parts of a trilogy should be complete stories in and of themselves. This film goes on for three hours and then kind of just ends, leaving me in the audience thinking "And? So?"
The film is split into A, B and C stories. The same stories occur in books 3 and 4, but they do not happen simultaneously. I can't begrudge Jackson deciding to do it this way; it's his show. But the transitions between storylines felt pretty clumsy to me, and were somewhat annoying.
The primary A story has to do with Aragorn, who appears to be getting dirtier and grungier with each passing moment, to the point where I kept expecting him to put on a flannel shirt, pick up a Fender guitar and start leading not a band of warriors, but an early 90s band from Seattle. Aragorn, the elf and the comic relief dwarf get to mince around the landscape running after some orcs that captured the hobbits Merry and Pippin at the end of the last film. Their story intersects again with Gandalf. They meet up with these guys on horse with long hair and braids. It all looks like one big Renaissance Faire. Their shanty town atop a mountain even has a king, wouldn't you know, which seems a bit pretentious.
They end up at Helm's Deep. 10000 orcs and uruk hai and other long haired crazy people attack them at Helm's Deep. You'd think that it would be a short film, since the odds don't really seem to favour the good guys and they'd be wiped out in minutes. You'd think so.
It's competently put together, but the main difference between book and film is that 300 heroes versus 10000 servants of the Dark can make mythic sense in a book, but it seems kind of implausible on film. Unless you have Jet Li and the cast of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon on your side.
Still, I'm being needlessly harsh. Although I must say I liked the dwarf tossing moment even less this time than I did in the last film. And constantly using Gimli as comic relief in really cheap ways bugged me as well, especially the "I can't see over the wall, what's going on?" bits, which were so good they had to do them two or three more times.
The B Story has to do with Frodo, Sam, Gollum / Smeagol and that fucking Ring people refuse to shut the fuck up about. Gollum is pure CGI placed over an actual actor. Big fucking deal. Jar Jar Binks was placed over an actor doing motion capture stuff as well. Gollum looks pretty good. Gollum is pretty much how I visualised him to be from the book. His voice was pretty fucking annoying. Their journey to Mordor is fraught with danger and repetition and feels stretched out. They encounter some humans, men of Gondor led by the brother of Boromir from the last film called Faramir. I really couldn't bring myself to care about this bit that much. Faramir asks them what happened to Boromir. The hobbits tell Faramir that Boromir died. Someone remind me, but were Frodo and Sam around when that happened in either the book or the first film? I think not.
The C story has to do with Merry and Pippin traipsing around Fangorn forest, frolicking with the Ents: large trees that can talk and are very slow. They have faces too. It looked goofy. But it was kinda cool seeing them smash shit up old school at Isengard. The pro-war aspects of it are quite amusing considering the current geopolitical climate.
Ultimately practically everyone from the first film is given short shrift in the second. The Nazgul / Ring Wraiths don't get much to do except look scary, menacing and impotent on these dragon type creatures that they ride. Saruman gets dialogue at the beginning, a little before Helm's Deep, and then nothing at the end even when everything he's worked for is in peril. Sauron remains an ultimate Big Bad that doesn't really do anything from a great distance and with great skill. Merry and Sam get to have these 'heroic' speechy moments.
Gandalf is barely in the film and won't be earning any Best Supporting Actor Nominations with this film. Thus we will unfortunately not get to see Sir Ian McKellen sitting at the Academy Awards with his hand on the knee of another beautiful rent boy this year, which was the highlight last time.
Speaking of highlights, before I mention anything I liked about the film, I'll mention more things I disliked. The way they tried to annoy audiences everywhere by deliberately using Saruman's voice when we knew perfectly well that it was Gandalf all along. Also the false jeopardy aspect with Aragorn going over the cliff during a fight with the wargs was downright annoying.
Some of the highlights for me are ones which never appeared in the book. The Elves turning up at Helm's Deep was kind of cool. Seeing them die was even better. That suicide bomber bit was very cool. What happens to the Deeping Wall is even cooler. The whole bit with Grima Wormtongue and Theoden worked for me as well. A word of advice to anyone in a position of power who's looking for advisors: though you shouldn't judge people by their surnames, Wormtongue would kind of have to be something of a dead giveaway that they're up to no good.
It's great to see Brad Dourif in an admittedly small role. He is such a creepy, legendary B-grade actor. My favourite moment is where he holds a torch near the equivalent of gunpowder saying "how does this work?"
Seeing Gandalf and the Balrog was great, but confusing. I understood none of it until after reading the book where it makes complete sense. But in the film they're falling into an abyss one second and at the top of a mountain in the next scene. What the hells's going on there?
There was just so much ground to cover, I guess, that it ended up feeling a bit superficial. We have the characters and the dynamics set up in the first film, and we're supposed to take them for granted in the second, I guess, but I did keep asking myself "why should I care?" I am grateful that the many lamer aspects of the books have been left out completely, but a bit more substance is what I crave.
Without Helm's Deep, the film would have been a complete mess, though it gives a great peak moment involving Gandalf and the Rohanim. The wonder and awe of the first film is gone. Now it's all business, and I guess it works. I hope I don't dislike it as much down the track. I live in hope that the extended version of the 2nd film on DVD includes a multitude of detail lacking from the theatrical cut, but in all honesty sitting through a four hour version of The Two Towers does not exactly fill me with glee.
I pray that they get it right in Return of the King. At the very least I should ensure that I watch it in a more forgiving frame of mind.
7 rent boys for Sir Ian McKellen's lap out of 10
"Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east. " - Gandalf, The Two Towers