Customer Reviews: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers [Blu-ray]
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on October 29, 2003
No movie protrayal can match a good book, but Jackson's attempt is the best ever effort in the history of movies. His team's enormous amount of research, attention to detail and love of the original literary work comes through. Yes, some plot lines are altered in minor ways to keep the off-screen characters part of the movie as it still has to serve an audience that didn't read the books, but overall anyone must admire their work. Yes, all of us Tolkien fanatics would love to see a movie of 139 hours in length that shows every scene and includes every line of dialog from the books, including Tom Bombadil and the everything else, exactly as written, but that obviously isn't going to happen.
Sam - please read the books again as many of your review details are wrong. Gollum does have an internal struggle of Smeagol vs. Gollum, it's right in the book. It is pretty obvious in the movie that Sam is disgusted by Gollum and Frodo is more pitying him, same as the book. There is the conflict between Arwen and Elrond about her relationship with Aragorn and her struggle with remaining elfen and going West vs. staying with Aragorn. But it is subplot not detailed in the books as much, but Jackson is trying to flesh out characters. Aragorn does have doubts and struggles about coming out of hiding to rise to the thrown, he sets this up more in movie #2 for movie #3 but it is there in the books. Saruman does have control over nameless character "A" which nameless "B" breaks with a struggle and in the movie he has to make it obvious (over-do-it) what is going on or movie-goers would go "what the heck?" since they aren't reading the book. Saruman does rip down all the trees and into forest which P-O's the Ents, moving them into action, which WAS inspired by Tolkien's dislike of the industrial age (more to come in movie #3 I'm sure as in the books). There are warg-riding (i.e. big rats) orcs (even back in the Hobbit books) - READ THE BOOKS AGAIN!!!
But some variations are needed for a movie version for the general public; I'll agree with you that all were not needed _FOR_US_, but there is the Joe Blow ticket buyer he is trying to entertain as well, to actually make money on this colossal project (which was completed, by the way, before movie #1 came out and was still a gamble then; hindsight only shows he could have gotten away with "less", perhaps).
It's easy to tear down pick on every detail especially when movies are based on books. But this has to be (with the others in the series) some of the best movies ever made, and clearly the best attempt to mirror books on the screen; especially with the fantasy setting and special effects requirements. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is another great adaption, but it's not so hard to find a small Southern town and a guy named "Boo" as it is to create Balrogs, Orcs, Rings of Power and the Eye that Never Sleeps. Give him a break.
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Peter Jackson has done what could not be done. Deemed unfilmable for decades (with the terrible cartoons as an example of why), "The Lord of the Rings" took the audiences by storm when "Fellowship of the Ring" premiered in 2001. In 2002, anticipation was even higher, dread was lower -- and "Two Towers" is an outstanding continuation of the epic fantasy tale.
The movie picks up where "Fellowship" left off: Merry and Pippin have been captured by Uruk-hai, and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are pursuing them. But they are sidetracked by an old friend: Gandalf, returned in a new form and with new powers, as Gandalf the White. He takes them to the kingdom of Rohan, whose king is bewitched by the evil Saruman. They barricade the people of Rohan in the fortress of Helm's Deep, for a final defiant stand against an army of Uruk-hai.
Sam and Frodo have left, to venture into Mordor alone so that Frodo can destroy the Ring in Mordor's Mount Doom. When the two hobbits become lost in Emyn Muil, Frodo realizes that someone is following them: Gollum, the tormented, twisted former owner of the Ring. They capture Gollum, who swears to serve "the master of the Precious." But even Gollum's shaky allegiance isn't enough for them to succeed, because the Ring has started to bend Frodo to its will.
While the first movie revolved around Frodo, the Ring and the Fellowship, here the focus widens. We get a better sense of the epic quality of the story and how it affects the whole world, not just our heroes. Gondor is crumbling, Rohan is beaten down by orcs, and even the forces of nature -- the tree-like ents -- are being attacked by Sauron and Saruman. It's nature versus the destructive machines, and the wild wrecking of Saruman's forges by these ancient tree shepherds is something to cheer for.
Elijah Wood blossoms in this film as Frodo Baggins, the little hobbit who could. In the first movie Wood played Frodo as an innocent who loses his innocence; here he takes it a step further, showing the darkness and violence that are swallowing Frodo up. Because we saw what a bright, sweet person Frodo was before, it's all the more horrible to see him starting to slide down (even attacking his best friend -- the look on Frodo's face as he comes to his senses is stunning). Sean Astin perfectly embodies Sam Gamgee -- increasingly desperate, trying to keep Frodo from going under. He serves as a reminder of what Frodo is fighting for, and Astin has perhaps the most powerful lines of the film, near the end: "But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer." These simply-worded lines will bring tears to your eyes.
But if Frodo is just starting to be addicted, Gollum is a junkie. Even if Andy Serkis doesn't appear in one frame in the entire movie, his motions and voice are heard and seen behind an exquisitely detailed CGI puppet. This is no Jar Jar or Dobby -- Gollum is detailed down to the last hair and wrinkle, believable in his appearance (I actually forgot he was animated for most of the movie), and has a multifaceted personality that reflects his own inner struggle -- Smeagol and Gollum, good and evil. The scene where Gollum's two halves argue is too amazing for words.
The other supporting actors shine almost as brightly. Viggo Mortensen turns his reluctant hero Aragorn into a leader and a warrior. Ian McKellen manages to make Gandalf more stately and majestic, yet keeps that little grandfatherly twinkle. John Rhys-Davies provides a bit of comedy as Gimli, mostly related to Gimli's stature, but never loses his dignity; Orlando Bloom is outstanding as ethereal elf archer Legolas once again. Liv Tyler captures Arwen's fear of mortality and loneliness. Billy Boyd's Pippin and Dominic Monaghan's Merry, the well-meaning goofballs of "Fellowship," are now forced to make their own decisions. And new cast members Miranda Otto and Bernard Hill also shine as the strong-willed Eowyn and tough old king Theoden, in roles that will bloom further in the third film.
Peter Jackson (who makes a few cameos) once again outdoes himself with camerawork and direction. His cameras as like living things: they swoop, dive, pull back for outstanding combat shots and then zoom in for exquisite close-ups. The battle scenes are dark, bloody, explosive, and full of chaos; only near the finale does any hint of glory shine through. He adds little human touches (the family split up by the war) that give a glimpse of what the non-heroic, ordinary people are suffering.
Of course "Two Towers" isn't as good as the book. Few movies are. But taken purely as a cinematic experience, and an adaptation, "Two Towers" is virtually without peer. Epic, majestic, action-packed and brimming with pathos, this is a treasure. And they say "Return of the King" will be the best of all...
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on December 25, 2002
It's hard to know where to begin in articulating a coherent summary of so spectacular an epic as Peter Jackson's rendering of Tolkein's masterpiece. Perhaps the most incisive comment I can make is that, having been a fan of "The Lord of the Rings" since I first read the trilogy nearly 35 years ago, I'm impressed by Jackson's fidelity to the spirit of the original literary work.
"The Two Towers" is a very different kind of film than its predecessor. Don't expect the intimacy of "The Fellowship of the Ring"; the evolution of the story precludes it. The dissolution of the Fellowship scattered the principal characters of the first film into three distinct sub-plots: Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), whose capture by the Uruk-Hai takes them into Fangorn Forest and their ultimate influence on the fate of Saruman (Christopher Lee); Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who re-unite with a resurrected Gandalf (Ian McKellan) in the climactic battle of Helm's Deep; and Frodo (Elijah Wood) & Sam (Sean Astin), who continue their quest to destroy the Ring at Orodruin (ably played by Mount Doom) in Mordor. That's a lot of threads to weave into the overall tapestry of the story, and it necessarily calls for some fairly abrupt and rapid scene changes. The action is so fast-paced that you will barely have time to catch your breath.
One of the most personally meaningful aspects of the film -- and so far, it has been true of both "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" -- is Jackson's uncompromising adherence to Tolkein's vision of the timelessness of the story itself. The author was determined NOT to write a story that served as an allegory for any of the current events of his time, but rather hoped to address much broader issues that are rooted in the fundamentals of human nature. In so doing, the trilogy has remained relevant to the human condition in a way that transcends nationalities, ethnicities, and the various idiosyncratic cultural zeitgeists of any of the historical periods it has spanned. I find real personal relevance in Aragorn's struggle with his own destiny. It's not a predetermined kind of destiny, as in "fate", but rather the self-determined destiny of one who follows his heart and his own integrity. Ditto for Eowyn (Miranda Otto), whose struggle to fulfill her desire for valor in the service of good is established in "The Two Towers", and will culminate in the final installment, "The Return of the King".
But Jackson's triumph runs much deeper than his artistry in character development; many great films share that characteristic. It is his mastery in the use of surpassing technological innovation as an aid in the storytelling rather than as an end in itself that raises the bar for all subsequent films. His combination of digital, fabricated, and natural scenery in creating the world of Middle Earth is simply breathtaking. The battle scenes are terrifying without being overwhelming in their reliance on gratuitous violence or gruesome bloodshed. [I will allow my daughters (8 and 12 years of age) to watch the films, and I am probably more protective of their sensibilities than most parents I know.] And Jackson's creation of the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis) is without equal or precedent in filmmaking history. Gollum is more than simply "believable"; he is real. His role in the story is pivotal, and it was Jackson's test of fire to create an all-digital character whose range of expression and movement could carry such an important part in the story. It is a masterpiece of moviemaking art.
It will seem incomprehensible to the uninitiated that my only lament about the three-hour film is that it is too short. That's hardly a criticism, for Jackson has included everything that is relevant to the story line in setting the stage for the trilogy's climax in the third film. As a matter of practicality, the film can't exceed three hours for simple economic reasons. A longer film would mean fewer showings -- not good for the profitability of movie theatres -- or a higher price of admission, which would not be popular with moviegoers. So, the filmmaker has had to accommodate those constraints, and I believe it's a job well done.
Still, it's inevitable that one who has read the book will find discrepancies or omissions in the film, but that's not the basis of my wish that the film were longer. Rather, it's more a matter of being sorry that it was over at the end. "The Two Towers" is so captivating, so utterly engrossing a film-watching experience, that I found myself wanting more. What better statement could one make about the success of the filmmaker who wants his customers to come back for the third and final part of this epic trilogy? The consolation to those who want more will undoubtedly be in the release of the special edition DVD, which -- like its counterpart for "The Fellowship..." -- will add significant additional footage to the theatrical version.
Finally, for all the unparalleled technological excellence of the film, the most compelling reason of all to see it is the story itself. If you love great movies crafted by professionals with vision who tell a remarkable story exceedingly well, you simply must see "The Lord of the Rings". It's clear that the trilogy has found a special place in moviegoers' hearts. I saw "The Two Towers" at Edwards Cinema in Brea, California at a matinee showing on December 23, 2002, in a full-house audience of people of all ages. When the initial title "The Lord of the Rings" appeared on the screen, the audience spontaneously burst into applause. I have never seen that happen at any movie I have ever attended, and for good reason - there has never been a movie like this before.
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on November 9, 2003
I give LOTR The Two Towers five stars. It is among the best movies ever made. And those Tolkien purists who complain about the differences between the books and the movies don't understand that the love story of Arwen and Aragorn was really close to Tolkien's heart.
The love story of Arwen and Aragorn is not found in the LOTR story itself, although it is found in an Appendix in Vol 3 ROTK, and is also found in Tolkien's Silmarillion. And so we know that the story is based on the love story of Beren (mortal man) and Luthien (immortal elf-maiden). In the movie FOTR (extended version), Aragorn as much as tells us this himself, when he sings the song about Beren and Luthien while he leads the hobbits in the wilderness on their way to Weathertop.
The love story of Beren and Luthien was important to Tolkien. After the Hobbit was a smashing success in 1937, the publisher asked Tolkien if he had any more material to be published. Tolkien gave him the story of Beren and Luthien, as part of the Silmarillion. The publisher declined to publish this story, preferring instead to print a sequel to the Hobbit. As we all know, this sequel is LOTR...
And here's the reason why the story of Beren and Luthien was so important to Tolkien. Beren is Tolkien himself, and Luthien is Edith Mary, the sweetheart of Tolkien's youth, whom he married in 1916, and faithfully adored until her death in 1971, two years before Tolkien himself died. You can see the inscription on their tombstone in the Wolvercote Cemetery in the northern suburbs of Oxford, UK ([...]
When Tolkien wrote that Luthien was the fairest elf that ever lived, he was writing about his wife. And when Peter Jackson decided that his movies should showcase the themes that Tolkien really cared about, he knew what he was doing when he included the love story of Arwen and Aragorn.
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on November 22, 2003
The extended version of The Two Towers is richer, flows more smoothly, makes more sense, fills in the blanks on missing motives of a number of characters, most notably Faramir and Eowyn, adds some important details about Aragorn. It provides more depth, background information, humor, and overall character development. Though many of the changes are small, they affected the way I interpreted scenes from the theatrical release, put a slightly different spin on things, making for a fuller experience. Which is not to say the theatrical release didn't hold together well - but the extended version is just a better film.
I'd like to add that I notice a number of people have commented on the disappointing editing done in the theatrical release - to be fair to Jackson, et al, I would say: Just remember the theatres make their money by having multiple shows. They probably limited the length of the film to get more showings in per day. It would take planning for an intermission and a greater commitment by theatres to fit in what is essentially a four-hour movie. I don't think that's intentional "dumbing down" for the audience, it is just a business decision a lot of us would rather they didn't have to make.
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on February 27, 2003
I loved every minute of this awesome masterpiece of cinematography. There, I've said it all up front and I make no apologies. Let's be honest, Jackson had the best of all stories to work with. The movie was never going to fail on story line, it was only doomed if Jackson couldn't pull off the monumental task of transposing the epic trilogy to the big screen while doing justice to the sumptuous splendour of Tolkein's book. The Two Towers revolves around the Battle of Helms Deep. A battle that ranks in my humble opinion as one of the most inspiring in cinematic history. Certainly it is 90% CGI, but that is mainstream cinema these days and it is accepted by this reviewer, who still appreciates old-fashioned moviemaking. The Battle of Helms Deep ranks with me as my all-time favourite movie battle, co-equal with the battle-scenes in the epic movie `The Battle of Waterloo' (...) and `Saving Private Ryan'. If the `Battle of Helms Deep' was spectacular then the creature Gollum was nothing short of brilliant. This is CGI gone mega-marvellous. Gollum left me gob-smacked. The creators at Weta Productions have set a benchmark here that leaves other notables fumbling for their keyboards and mice. Nothing George Lucas has ever done (and I am a great Star Wars fan) comes close to this wizardry. It's worth the price of admission just to see Gollum. Dare I repeat myself but I admire everything about the Two Towers. The great scenery, the story, the costumes, the creatures, the action. They form the ingredients for a feast that we savour for three swashbuckling hours. Let's dispense with the negatives. Sure the move is not absolutely true to the book. But there isn't a director on the planet that could have captured the whole story in just over three hours. Some things had to miss out, and I'm sure that was one of the tougher parts of the production, deciding what doesn't make the final cut. The ending was a big call, and readers of the book will know what I am talking about. I've no complaints, only elated anticipation for the third in the trilogy. And that's where I will end. Not only have we been given something truly special again. It's only the second instalment. I've got another eleven months to savour The Two Towers and my mouth is already watering for the third and final feature. Glorious, just glorious. Five stars just isn't good enough, take five galaxies Peter Jackson.
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on December 18, 2002
*Spoilers Ahead* - though being the second most read book of the 20th century, it shouldn't spoil much for many.
I went into the second movie with very high expectations, and I think with good reason. Peter Jackson did an amazing job with the first film, and as far as effects, the second film does not disappoint, with a couple small exceptions. The aspects that I was not as pleased with were major story changes and pacing.
In Fellowship, I was most irritated by Arwen's role increase, particularly as I am not a Liv Tyler fan. In Towers, there are a lot more serious changes that, I feel, dramatically alter Tolkien's work.
My criticism:
- The army of Elves does not march to Helm's Deep to help. The "Last Alliance of Men and Elves" was just that - the LAST. This is a MAJOR change. Tolkien's Elves were done interfering in the world of men.
- Eomer and his Riders do not come to help as late as they do - the forest moves in at dawn. That is the aid that Gandalf brings. The orcs disappear in the trees.
- The Ents make the decision at Entmoot to go to war. It's not the Hobbits' doing at all.
- Faramir is not tempted by the Ring. He does not make Frodo go to Osgiliath. He gives them provisions and helps them on their way. The point in the book is that he's the opposite of Boromir.
- I wish that another actor voiced Treebeard, as there is one cut that goes from Gimli to Treebeard and you can tell it's the same voice.
- The movie ends short of the mark. The last line in the book is "Frodo was alive, but taken by the enemy." The movie ends before Shelob's Lair.
- The whole Saruman possessing King Theoden was a little over the top. I sincerely doubt Tolkien meant anything about actual spiritual possession.
- Frodo's fall into the Dead Marshes was a little overblown as far as the effects. It seemed amateurish compared to other effects in the films.
- The other effects problem I referred to earlier are the shots of Merry and Pippin walking with Treebeard; you can really tell that a blue screen was used.
- Gimli was made into a joke. He didn't have a serious line in the film. And did they really need to bring Dwarf-tossing back into it?
The good stuff:
- Gollum was well done. I was happy with his animation and with the personality conflict that showed through.
- The Nazgul steeds were also well imagined, as it's not the clearest of descriptions in the text.
- Lots of good Legolas action - especially the mount onto the horse - you'll see what I mean.
- Music was excellent. Kudos to Howard Shore yet again.
- Great battle sequences at Helm's Deep.
- There are others, but I'm much more irritated right now then impressed, so I'm not remembering them all.
Overall, it was good but unsettling. It starts fast, but slows, then quickens, then doesn't have a main pace. It doesn't have near the character development that the first film had - and, of course, shouldn't need it, as many have already been established. But it feels like something is missing - that connection you had with the characters in the first film just wasn't there. This is a very difficult book to adapt, and I don't begrudge them the job. I just expected it to be truer to Tolkien's vision.
Of course, you really must see it regardless. It's beautiful and still the best anyone's ever done with the story. I greatly look forward to the Extended DVD and Peter Jackson's explanation of these story changes.
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VINE VOICEon January 19, 2003
When I love a film this much, it is difficult for me to write a review. I'm afraid I'll lose my perspective and not be able to see the film for what it is. So, I made sure that I saw "The Twin Towers" twice in theaters, and was lucky enough to live in a city where the second showing was the IMAX version. As you can imagine, that was totally mind-blowing!

A fan of Tolkien for the last 35 years, I was unafraid of the changes that director Peter Jackson would need to make to continue the story line without burdening it with too many characters. Anxious to see how he handled the split of the fellowship and its parallel plots, I felt that this was one of the strongest elements of the film! Each of the three plots had a sense of urgency, clear transitions existed between them, and, although the support of the Rohan and the Battle for Helm's Deep far outweighed the progress of Frodo and the journey of Merry, Pippin and the Ents, Jackson kept us riveted in all three. Many Tolkien loyalists have taken the changes, especially those involving Faramir, as a departure from what Tolkien originally intended. In contrast, I believe that Jackson and the screenwriters did a masterful job of simplifying, maintaining the good vs. evil theme, and keeping the pace of the movie on target. There are no plot changes that subtracted from the overall thrill of the film experience for me.

There is no question that the cinematography, costumes, compelling and sweeping vistas of the vast plain of Middle Earth don't take a back seat to characterization and plot in the movie. The overall visual experience is one of startled wonder, especially the capture of the gloom and fearfulness of Mordor and the evil that has overtaken Isengard. The music is a perfect counterpoint to the visual senses. Jackson allows his cast of strong players to once again assume their roles, but no one or group of characters, no plot line, no special effects outbalance the setting. It feels as though we are again watching the same genius that compelled George Lucas, when he made his "middle" or "bridge" piece (The Empire Strikes Back) the best of his film trilogy so many years ago. For me, the success of this film revolved around three startling elements:

1. Gollum. Gollum is a masterwork, in a film year that has seen some rapid developments and successes in computer aided special effects. Gollum, in the work of Tolkien, is the central force, a character that embodies the elements of good and evil in his life and in his actions. In the book, the dual characterization of Gollum (evil) vs. Smeagle (good) is difficult to follow, through their discourse. When the visualization is added on film, with a masterful voice (and, I'm told, a huge contribution to the special effects through his own body language) by Andy Smerkis, the character of Gollum (as evil as we know him to be) and the misguided creature befriended by Frodo meld their elements successfully. To say that Gollum is brought to life in a believable, charismatic way, is to understate how brilliantly the character worked on film.

2. The Battle for Helm's Deep. Never has a powerful and evil enemy come to life on the screen in the way that Jackson portray's Saruman's army. The sense of doom that permeates the stronghold of Helm's Deep is felt throughout the audience. The reliance of the world of men on the impermeability of the Helm's Deep fortress is put to the test, and Jackson gives us nearly an hour of incredibly intense battle, punctuated with views of the women and children trapped in the fortress. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas all play their roles perfectly in the height of battle, and the viewer is locked to the edge of their seats with every passing moment.

3. For me, the signature moment of the film is the white light arrival of Gandalf on the magnificent steed Shadowfax. With me, the theater audience cheered and clapped...the instant that he is seen by Aragorn, the surge of feeling and power felt on the screen in that second, will stay with me for a long time.

I think there are no words left to say that won't duplicate what I've already said - 5 stars only because 6 were not available...The Two Towers is a work of breathtaking achievement!
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on August 5, 2003
The plot of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels has already proven itself over time - in this trilogy of movies by director Peter Jackson it just needed to be brought successfully to the screen. The second installment of the series, `The Two Towers', at least equals and perhaps even surpasses `The Fellowship of the Ring.' The two highlights in my view were firstly the incredible portrayal of Gollum, both his internal turmoil as well as his wretched creature-like body (with the brilliant help of CGI technology); and secondly the epic battle of Helm's Deep that concluded the movie with a cast of thousands. Unlike the first movie, overall the tone is darker and there is significantly more violence and action, but not with a focus on gory instead of glory. Thankfully it does not degenerate to the distasteful gore and gratuitous bloody violence that marks much contemporary action movies. Other memorable aspects were the majestic New Zealand scenery, and the portrayal of an overwhelming sense of evil in connection with the forces of Sauron and Saruman.

It is only to be expected that some changes need to be made to the plot in order to condense an epic story into just three hours. However I was disappointed that unlike the first movie, Jackson appears to have made some adjustments to Tolkien's original that were simply unnecessary and unjustifiable, particularly the antagonism of Faramir, the portrayal of the Ents, as well as the incorporation of some extra drama involving Aragorn at the end of a battle, and the infusion of too much romance not present in the original. You don't need to be a Tolkien purist to find these kind of unnecessary changes somewhat annoying.

But once one gets over the initial shock of the adjustments to Tolkien, this is still a brilliant movie. The setting of Middle Earth, along with its characters and epic war really comes alive. This may be fantasy, but the choices and struggles are very human and very real. Perhaps this is most obvious with Sam's wise words at the end: "There's some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for." This is as true for real life as it is for Tolkien's world. It's also true of the movie itself: in a world of cinematic garbage, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings show that there is still some good left in this world, and these are movies worth fighting for. -GODLY GADFLY
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When the first film in the epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy thrilled fans and topped the box office for weeks, expectations rose even higher for the sequel, "The Two Towers." Would the follow-up be as beautifully crafted as the first?

The answer is yes -- and much more. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is not quite as beautiful and strange as the first movie, but it makes up for this by the even more epic, spellbindingly complex story. Jackson follows different groups as they make their way through Middle-Earth, encountering Anglo-Saxon-style kingdoms, talking trees and the most horrifying of nightmares.

The fellowship has been split, and two members are dead. Now Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are pursuing a band of orcs who kidnapped Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd). But soon Merry and Pippin are rescued by an ancient treelike creature, and the others encounter an old friend -- Gandalf (Ian McKellen), reborn as the White Wizard.

Meanwhile, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are making their way towards Mordor, and soon Frodo realizes that they are being followed by Gollum (Andy Serkis), who once possessed the One Ring and still lusts after it. But Frodo begins to pity the degenerate creature, and agrees to let Gollum lead them to Mount Doom -- but Sam suspects that Gollum cannot be trusted. And

Though billed as such, "The Two Towers" is not really a sequel. Instead, it's just a continuation of the story that left off at the end of "Fellowship of the Ring," when Frodo and Sam went off on a journey by themselves. So now, the focus spreads past our little band of heroes to include all of Middle-Earth -- it's not all about Frodo and the hobbits anymore, but about whole kingdoms being crushed by the bad guys.

While there are some humorous moments still ("Don't talk to it! Don't encourage it!" Pippin wails when a "tree" speaks to them), there is a darker tone to the overall story. Aragorn's quest along with his friends involves a seemingly hopeless battle against the evil wizard Saruman, which may involve the deaths of many innocent, ill-equipped not-soldiers. To top his previous work, Jackson creates three simultaneous climaxes, including the grimy, rain-soaked battle of Helm's Deep.

But as he tells the epic stories, Jackson doesn't neglect the smaller, more intimate stories, like Gollum's sometimes-chilling struggle between good and evil... which manifests as multiple personalities. And the final battle is capped by a magnificent, tear-jerking speech by Sam about what they are doing ("Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something").

And WETA Workshop's CGI effects don't disappoint. Not only do they manage whole armies and battles, but they brought the gruesome Gollum to life. He's probably the first convincing CGI character, to the point where you can actually forget that this Ring junkie is just a bunch of pixels.

Elijah Wood continues his magnificent performance as Frodo Baggins, with the deep friendship, compassion and weariness that he started to show before. But his performance deepens to include some serious Ring-lust, as Frodo increasingly is worn away by the Ring's evil. And Sean Astin's Sam becomes even more determined to protect Frodo -- from soldiers, Gollum, ringwraiths -- even as Frodo slips away from him.

But the supporting cast gets plenty of attention too. Mortensen shows Aragorn growing into a natural leader who passionately wants to save the people depending on him, and becomes enmeshed in a love triangle with Miranda Otto's strong-willed warrior-maid Eowyn. Bloom and Rhys-Davies also get to change their characters with time, becoming best buddies and competing to see who kills more orcs. And while McKellen isn't quite as much fun as Gandalf 2.0, he still has the wisdom and fire of his previous self -- and as his opposite, Christopher Lee gets to be disdainful and vicious.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is an epic done right -- it's crammed crammed with so much action, beauty and pathos that it never has time to suffer from "middle chapter syndrome." An amazing continuation.
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