The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #54

The Journey Continues

Country: New Zealand & USA
Language: English & Sindarin
Runtime: 224 minutes (extended edition)* | 179 minutes (theatrical version)
BBFC: 12A
MPAA: PG-13
* 235 minutes with the interminable fan club credits.

Original Release: 18th December 2002 (UK, USA & others)
First Seen: cinema, December 2002

Stars
Andy Serkis (Burke & Hare, Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
Bernard Hill (Titanic, Franklyn)
Christopher Lee (Dracula, The Wicker Man)
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, V for Vendetta)
David Wenham (The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, 300)

Director
Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, The Lovely Bones)

Screenwriters
Fran Walsh (The Frighteners, The Lovely Bones)
Philippa Boyens (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)
Stephen Sinclair (Meet the Feebles, Braindead)
Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, King Kong)

Based on
The Lord of the Rings, a trilogy of novels by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Story
Frodo and Sam continue on their way towards Mordor, guided by the duplicitous Gollum. Meanwhile, the surviving members of the Fellowship attempt to bring the kingdom of Rohan into the fight against the hordes of orcs Saruman is assembling.

Our Heroes
As the Fellowship go their separate ways, you could argue that The Two Towers is where Aragorn really comes into his own: the self-exiled royal unveils his leadership qualities as he persuades the people of Rohan to abandon Edoras for the safe haven of Helm’s Deep, and leads the defence of that stronghold.

Our Villain
Once-good wizard Saruman is lent villainous credence by Christopher Lee — really, who else could it be? In one of Jackson’s few missteps, he deleted Saruman’s defeat from the theatrical cut of Return of the King… but the extended cut restores it, so that’s alright then.

Best Supporting Character
Although he’s covered by CGI in the final film, it’s Andy Serkis that really brings Gollum — and his alter ego, Sméagol — to life. It may have led to Serkis becoming the go-to expert in performance capture, but it’s also a great acting performance, full of light and shade, and creating sympathy for an ultimately villainous character. (See also: Truly Special Effect.)

Memorable Quote
“Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? They have passed like rain on the mountain, like wind in the meadow. The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. How did it come to this?” — Theoden

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation #1
“Po-tay-toes! Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew.” — Sam

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation #2
“My precious…” — Gollum

Memorable Scene
The climactic battle of Helm’s Deep is surely one of the greatest battles ever put on screen, as thousands of orcs attempt to storm a fortress defended by a small force of soldiers supported by a ragtag gaggle of old men and boys. Like the ninth episode of a season of Game of Thrones, it plays out over about an hour, but doesn’t flag because it’s so well realised.

Memorable Music
Howard Shore’s excellent score continues to evolve and develop, with the stand-out theme this time being for the realm of Rohan. Also of note is the track that plays over the credits, Gollum’s Song, hauntingly sung by Emilíana Torrini.

Technical Wizardry
Although Lord of the Rings features expanses of excellent CGI, much of it was also created with miniatures — or “Bigatures”, as production nicknamed them, due to the massive scale of some that they built (the largest was 9 metres tall). It lends the final images a physicality and realism that demonstrates why a combination of multiple techniques is often the best way to create a superb end result.

Truly Special Effect
Just a couple of years after The Phantom Menace featured the first major all-CGI character, Weta perfected the form with Gollum, a fully believable creature and an essential part of the narrative. (See also: Best Supporting Character.)

Letting the Side Down
The problem with being the middle part of a series is the story can lack a beginning or an end. Two Towers handily makes up for the latter with the epic battle of Helm’s Deep and the Ents conquering Isengard, but the former is an issue — the film takes a while to get up to speed.

Making of
The prop gate of Helm’s Deep was so well built that a real battering ram failed to knock it down. The door had to be weakened to get the required shots. On the film’s commentary track, Peter Jackson notes that if he ever had to defend a castle he’d want Weta Workshop to build the door.

Previously on…
The story began in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Next time…
The story ends in The Return of the King.

Awards
2 Oscars (Sound Editing, Visual Effects)
4 Oscar nominations (Picture, Editing, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Sound)
3 BAFTAs (Costume Design, Visual Effects, Audience Award)
7 BAFTA nominations (Film, Director, Cinematography, Production Design, Editing, Sound, Make Up/Hair)
4 Saturn Awards (Fantasy Film, Supporting Actor (Andy Serkis), Costumes (tied with Star Wars: Episode II), Make-Up)
6 Saturn nominations (Actor (Viggo Mortensen), Younger Actor (Elijah Wood), Director, Writing, Music, Special Effects)
1 Broadcast Film Critics Association Award (Best Digital Acting Performance (Andy Serkis, obv.))
4 MTV Movie Awards (including Best Virtual Performance (Gollum, obv.), Best Action Sequence (Helm’s Deep))
1 Kids’ Choice Award nomination (Favorite Male Butt Kicker)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form

What the Critics Said
“Gollum is a wonderful creation: voiced by Andy Serkis, and given the most heartbreakingly expressive face, he’s far more than a digital effect: he’s really there, taking up space, displacing air (part of the impact comes from the meticulous care with which all the creatures of Middle Earth are scaled relative to one another). Gollum is a vile mixture of servility and malice, yet watching him being beaten, throttled, kicked by almost everyone he encounters is as distressing as watching a child being hit. Frodo, for all his faults, is kind to Gollum, seeing in him his own disturbing likeness; Sam, for all his virtues, is cruel.” — Suzi Feay, The Independent

Score: 96%

What the Public Say
“The tricky thing with being the second film in a trilogy is that there is no beginning and end. It is almost as if the entire story arc is getting sidetracked by some other battles and new creatures and characters to be met. The film is a intense adventure film but the emotional pull of the two main characters and their journey is out on hold. What makes the Fellowship of the Ring one of the most completely amazing films is because there is a both an emotional and a physical journey the characters take. In the Two Towers we are constantly being told by an assortment of characters that a real war is coming and what they are experiencing are just small skirmishes. Are the filmmakers deliberately teasing us with the excitement of the next film or attempting to do the story its rightful justice?” — Brian Baumann, brianbaumannmoviereviews

Verdict

I was less than impressed by much of The Two Towers when I first saw it — the first hour or so drags, and the intercutting of the deathly dull Entmoot slightly hampers the momentum of Helm’s Deep. Nonetheless, there’s an awful lot to commend it, and the pace becomes less jarring with multiple revisits (when the Extended Edition first came out I even watched both cuts back to back on the same day, which is very unlike me). Some of the trilogy’s best characters first appear here, bringing with them plenty of plot developments that make my notion it was all almost done at the end of Fellowship seem suitably foolish. And, of course, the Battle of Helm’s Deep can’t be beat.

A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship… but it is not in #55.

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