On Second Thought: “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”

Crafting a sequel that’s as stellar and impactful as the first is difficult to do. When the film follows a highly regarded one, with roots running very deep, and a fan base that keeps growing, the demands and expectations are even loftier. There’s so much to get right, and so much to screw up, plus there’s the looming fact that this is once again an adaptation of a beloved book. You can’t please everyone, but can you at least have enough to offer where this may not matter in the end?

The New Line Cinema film “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”, takes what was already epic and known, and fine tunes it more to make it an even more incredible experience to behold.

This fantasy adventure film stars Elijah Wood (“Bryan Blue Show”, “The Last Witch Hunter”), Ian McKellan (“The Dresser”, “Mr. Holmes”), Liv Tyler (“Jamie Marks is Dead”, “Robot & Frank”), Viggo Mortensen (“Jauja”, “The Two Faces of January”), Sean Astin (“Out West”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”), Cate Blanchett (“Truth”, “Cinderella (2015”), John Rhys-Davies (TripTank”, “Golden Shoes), Bernard Hill (“Unforgotten”, “Wolf Hall”), Christopher Lee (“Night Train to Lisbon”, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”), Billy Boyd (“Mara and the Firebringer”, “Macbeth”), Dominic Monaghan (“Soldiers of Fortune”, “The Unknown”), Orlando Bloom (“Romeo and Juliet”, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”), Hugo Weaving (“Strangerland”, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”), Miranda Otto (“Homeland”, “The Daughter”), David Wenham (upcoming “Lion”, “Goldstone”), Brad Dourif (“Once Upon a Time”, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), and Andy Serkis (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”).

The film was directed by Peter Jackson (“King Kong (2005)”, “The Frighteners”) and written by Fran Walsh (“King Kong (2005)”, “Jack Brown Genius”), Philippa Boyens (“King Kong (2005)”, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Stephen Sinclair (“De Komedie Compagnie”, “Russian Snark”), and Jackson (“King Kong (2005)”, “Jack Brown Genius”). It is based on the novel “The Two Towers” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The film originally opened on Dec. 18, 2002. It would go on to be nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two; two Golden Globes; and one Screen Actors Guild Award among numerous nominations and wins.

Another day, another sequel, even if I asked for it. Continuing on this breathtaking and inspired epic adventure, we come to the midway point in a franchise that truly rivals most other that came out during and after this one (ahem “The Chronicles of Narnia”, “Harry Potter”, “The Hobbit”). I wasn’t sure what to expect, well, to some degree. I’ve only been used to, since the film hit theaters, the extended version of this film and its sequel. It’s what I owned first, which is itself strange. And even after I acquired all three theatrical releases of these amazing films, I didn’t immediately sit down and watch them. Now getting the chance to I’m visiting with fresh eyes, and it’s proving to be a worthwhile, if not somewhat difficult, experience.

I may not have left Middle Earth for that long, but it may as well have been years. I was instantly amazed at the beauty that is stand in country New Zealand. Once again, Jackson wonderfully utilized this country’s vast areas of land, which are not only majestic when viewed simply as another countries land, but when thinking about the world you’re in. Middle Earth. I don’t think I’ve ever been transported back so quickly and immersed so deeply than with this film’s (and its predecessor and sequel) vibrant world. All of that, once more, courtesy of the film’s cinematographer, Andrew Lesnie (“The Water Diviner”, “The Hobbit” trilogy). Not only did he capture the country’s beauty and turn into a fictional world’s own majesty, but he helped create a film that flows and never lets you forget where you are. You’re also never allowed to think small. Everything’s bigger, and it’s definitely for the better!

While so much has indeed improved, there are some areas, to me that didn’t need to. The way these elements were approached was already perfect, and truth be told, you couldn’t improve on them. Not in the way you’d normally think. These elements include, the sets, set decorations, costumes, various props, and the aforementioned New Zealand beauty and cinematography. Yes there were a lot of new additions in sets, costumes, and even props, but the care that each of these were given, is impeccable. I’m amazed at the design and detail given. Through all of this care and commitment, not only do new areas of this vast world get a chance to be seen, but certain moods are created as well. Sometimes lighting tricks are needed, but here, like the previous film, it’s all about you, the audience, getting to be as involved as possible. It’s amazing what can be felt without touching a single piece of fabric or column or wall that helps make up a given building. Truly, more so than with other big budget films, or fantasy films, these specific elements, given how detailed they are, shape this world and make it possible to understand just how big everything is. The scope is vast, and nothing is wasted in showcasing this.

Coming back even bigger, but I’m not sure if it was better, again in the ways that we usually think, are the various new usages of computer generated imagery (CGI). The Weta Digital team was kept incredibly busy, and with good reason. Jackson and company new how to tell this story. It all goes back to scope and the need for things to be told on a grand scale. This could also just be a personal thing of his, and maybe he’s a dick for it, but I doubt it. He wanted the best, especially as the source material demanded it. So that’s what all collectively got.

Gollum (Sméagol), Treebeard, the two CGI characters who had to actually come alive and emote, the flying thing the Ringwraith was flying on, all the Wargs, the giant elephant looking creatures, and a few other things that were needed to bring this film to life, of which I’ll discuss some in a bit. All of these animations were well done and still look amazing 14 years later.

What? Really? Wow. It’s been almost 15 years since this film came out, which means 15 has almost hit for “The Fellowship of the Ring”, and in a short while “The Return of the King” shall be 15 as well. I swear weren’t these film’s just celebrating being 10 years old? Man I’ve been away from these films for too long.

Anyway.

One thing about the CGI work is it seldom looked off. It all blended so well, especially Serkis’ Gollum, which is weird when you look at some of the other motion capture work done in other films, which may or may not have been done by Weta Digital. The fact that this film’s CGI can still wow me, is so telling about the talents behind it all. Treebeard, although cloaked in much more shadow and dark colors, was just as impressive as Gollum. It became so easy to know and like this character, as he was mere feet away.

I think of all the CGI work done in this film, the Warg attack is my favorite. There were so many! So much detail had to be done, but in broad daylight. For me, it’s sometimes easier to spot when digital characters aren’t melding as well as they should, and it may become distracting. Not so here. The Warg’s each had phenomenal detail done, that I wanted to reach out and touch the fur on their bodies. Even when Gimli’s trapped beneath one and another’s climbing on it, I’m astounded. So real. Granted, that’s the point, but this was still the early 2000s, which I feel was largely hit or miss with big budget films. Maybe this says more about the company responsible for the CGI.

Okay, even though I wasn’t going to mention it so soon, I also liked the Ent battle at Isengard. One less thing to write about later. Anyway. Not only are there so many Ent’s, but it’s a battle scene! They all spring into action and to witness this is exciting! It’s beautiful from an artistic standpoint, and you’re just taking in this big sequence. Again, scope. Jackson wanted it all and he delivered! There was always something to look at on screen. This is actually how I came to laugh at one moment in this Ent battle, which was just a relief on its own. An Ent on fire quickly runs into frame and allows the flow of the just released river to wash over him and put out the fire. I don’t know if it was a somewhat sneaky way of bringing about humor, or if it’s just another way to show what happened to some of them while the battle went on, but it was funny. You don’t get that often, so I’ll take it!

I guess now is a good a time as any to talk about the epic battles that took place. These battles, after all, are seemingly half of the film, and they’re crucial for the next. They’re BIG! If you thought what you saw in the previous film was incredible in scale and scope, this is even more so. One thing that makes them that much bigger isn’t simply the size of the armies attacking our heroes and all other innocents, but the fact that these battles, when they finally arrive, are so long. They’re also, keeping with a common theme, shot so as to give you the best view. You know these fights are big, but now you must feel it. Putting you in, through camera placement and characters moving every which way, isn’t enough. You have to see it and know that danger is coming from all over. That it is persistent. And this is accomplished.

While these fight are incredible, it’s difficult to forget how long they are, especially the battle for Helm’s Deep. I didn’t come close to timing it, or the Ent’s battle, or the bit of action that occurred at Osgiliath, which was a bit less to begin with, but it all occurred pretty much at the same time. No rest. And when you consider how many breaks there were from the Helm’s Deep battle, you can only be grateful. As much as I loved the grand scale of the battle, I couldn’t help but think what it would’ve been like if it all occurred for the full time it was captured. Even if that time was 15 minutes, how hard would that be? Some fight sequences can last a while, but when they go on too long, they become tougher to sit through. With the breaks to the other storylines this is avoided, and I think this is for the better. While I didn’t fully get a breather, it certainly was relaxing.

One thing I’m wondering about, and it relates back to the use of CGI is, how much of the battle for Helm’s Deep was digital? I’m sure the answer’s in the special features somewhere, and looks amazing too, but I’ve not yet watched those. I’m just thinking of how much meticulous work had to be done, and how well it paid off. If the bulk of the army attacking is fake, coupled with the cinematography, I can’t tell. It also makes sense to do it this way. It’s easier. I believe it’s been done before, not that that is surprising or somehow new, but it simply allowed for me to think about this aspect of filmmaking.

Epic battles and fight sequences may be a large part of this film, but there’s something else that’s just as important, which really grounds this film entirely. All of the characters, new and old, and the various human elements that dig deeper than before, and make you care. No seriously, you care. I was amazed when that one elf was killed. The whole scene was powerful and emotional, and I didn’t (still don’t) know who that character was, nor anything about him. If it weren’t for these pitch perfect moments, I’m not sure what we’d have. It certainly wouldn’t justify a one minute shy of three hours film. But, again, we got these moments, and they worked. So many of the new characters didn’t really have anything all that deep revealed about them. Most that was told to us, other than who they are in the face of danger, was integral to the overall plot, not that that was a bad thing this time. I look at someone like Otto and see pretty much this. The same goes for Hill’s Theoden.

While this can be seen as a bit of a downside, we can’t forget our returning characters. Every moment they go through, even when they begin interacting with all the new characters, is done just right. We keeping seeing their loyalty and what makes them so good, but also we see them grow. The relationships deepen. Their bonds made stronger. Even Frodo and Sam, who go through more struggles with friendship, learn from this and still manage to show what a deep friendship and commitment can look like.

I also found that with these deep emotional character developments, that some surprising moments were able to be had too. This little thing called humor was able to squeak through, which is surprising given how heavy and emotionally draining this film is. Fortunately, be it accidental, intentionally pulled off, or something else, this humor didn’t at all overstay its welcome. It was there in the most surprising of places and then was gone mere moments later. But it did what was intended. Made you laugh or chuckle, and showcased the kinds of relationships these heroic characters had build over however amount of time has passed. Rhys-Davies certainly had his fair share of funny moments. The biggest goofball character, which I’m surprised worked at all, was Gollum. Dual personalities, each vying for something else, and it’s never awkward. Good comedy and humor is hard to come by, and when it’s this tiny, and organic, it’s even more amazing and welcome.

Sequels and adaptations are not always met with open arms. When the first film in a given franchise is done so well, and is an adaptation of a beloved book, you’re probably looking at the sequel with a lot more optimism than usual. There’s actually hope that this follow up will be just as good, if not better. This film certainly was. Even better, it showed how in capable hands, everything that makes a film almost three hours, is absolutely worth it. You can’t have this film without those seemingly slower moments, especially if they’re of the character variety. If only all slow burn or lengthy films could say that. It’s so rare for a film to always be worth the time needed to watch it repeatedly, let alone even once, but this film franchise is certainly worth it, and I must say, given how I’m responding to it once more, it forever shall be.

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