A story generally consists of three acts; The first act is the beginning where you introduce your story & its characters. The second act is the middle part where the majority of the plot surfaces & character development takes place. And the third & final act is where you tie up all the loose ends & bring your entire tale to a satisfying conclusion. Before penning down these stories, almost every writer has a very clear conscience of how to begin & end their tales but the most troublesome part for each one of them is always the middle act. Because no matter how great the opening or closing part may be, if this vital act isn’t handled well, the overall experience of the entire story will unfortunately amount to nothing. And that’s true for whether you are writing a book or a play or a movie.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is that middle act of Peter Jackson’s on-screen adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle-Earth saga. And because, just like the novel, The Lord of the Rings is meant to be viewed as a single film edited into three parts of which The Two Towers is the second part, there is no definite beginning or ending to this film. Plus, what’s even more challenging this time is the fact that unlike the first film, which had a single plot to focus on, The Two Towers deals with multiple storylines & has to make each one work efficiently in order to accomplish its goal. Nevertheless, the great news is that even though The Two Towers doesn’t follow the novel’s story as faithfully as The Fellowship of the Ring did, it still succeeds as one rare sequel that improves upon the original and, just like its predecessor, is one of the greatest films of its genre.
Picking up right from where The Fellowship of the Ring signed off, The Two Towers tells the aftermath of the breaking of the Fellowship & intercuts three storylines. The first plot line concerns Frodo & Sam, who are continuing their journey to Mordor to destroy the One Ring but soon their peril deepens as there is another who hunts the ring. The second plot line deals with Merry & Pippin, who were captured by Uruk-Hai in the last film but manage to escape, meet Treebeard the Ent & help to plan an attack on Isengard, where Saruman is breeding a massive army. The third plot line covers the trio of Aragorn, Legolas & Gimli who, while pursuing the flock of Uruk-Hai that took Merry & Pippin hostage, meet an unexpected ally and then make their way to Rohan where Saruman has King Theoden under his spell while an impending war looms upon those free lands. The title refers to the union between the two towers; Barad-dûr, fortress of the Dark Lord Sauron & Orthanc, stronghold of the wizard Saruman.
The direction by Peter Jackson doesn’t lose any of its potency for this sequel as The Two Towers manages to live up to all hype & expectations, which was even more this time considering the massive critical & financial success of the first film. And not only it delivers everything it promised but also shows major improvements in almost all filmmaking departments. The three story lines are extremely well written & narrated and enough time is given to develop every single one of its new characters, without interrupting the development arc of any of the reprising cast. Also, the film smoothly switches from one plot to another without confusing its viewers and the decision to conclude this film at a different event from the novel makes sense for it sets a perfect stage for the finale. Narrating multiple stories within the same film is never an easy task but Peter Jackson has done it again & what’s even more admirable is that he gave equal importance & value to all three storylines.
Coming to the technical aspects, all filmmaking departments get significant upgrades & are more fine-tuned this time. The production design continues to impress as the miniatures used to represent Rohan, Helm’s Deep & Osgiliath are meticulously detailed down to the smallest of things, thus making art direction & set decoration a winning aspect, once again. Still, what makes these sets look even more appealing is their ideal fusion with the beautifully photographed landscapes of New Zealand. The cinematography immerses the viewers into Middle-Earth just like its predecessor, and the camerawork is at its absolute best when it comes to the film’s action sequences. Make-up & Costume Design stay true to the timeline it depicts. Sound feels more authentic this time & is spot-on where it matters most. Editing trims the film down to 179 minutes & although it’s very effective in that 3 hours of runtime, I recommend the extended version instead as it adds 45 minutes of new & extended scenes and further develops the film’s characters, adds greater depth to its plot & enriches the overall experience of The Two Towers.
Weta Digital made history with The Fellowship of the Ring when it brought alive Middle-Earth in breathtaking detail but the enhancements it brings in the visual effects of The Two Towers is even more groundbreaking. Gollum & Treebeard are entirely computer-generated & it was a VFX milestone of its time. But it’s the Battle of Helm’s Deep where the visuals are at its finest and without this team’s creativity & breakthroughs, it wouldn’t rank today as one of the greatest screen battles of all time. Another scene where visuals really shine, but doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves, is the Flooding of Isengard sequence, which undeniably is one hell of an eye-opener you don’t see in cinema very often. Finally, the background score by Howard Shore introduces new tracks for Rohan, Gollum & many more sequences while the music heard in the first chapter further develops & expands into new realms. Splendid where it is meant to be, touching where it needs to be & magnificently pleasing to the viewers’ senses, the soundtrack of The Two Towers is an outstanding follow-up to its predecessor and continues to enhance the emotional journey of this exceptional adventure.
As far as the performances go, The Two Towers doesn’t disappoint in this aspect & adds even more strength to its ensemble cast. The new cast is no let down but another right step in the right direction while the reprising cast continues to evolve with their respective characters. Everyone from Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin to Aragorn, Legolas & Gimli has a stronger sense of their characters in comparison to the last film. However, Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, gets a fresh makeover in this film & has a new dimension to explore. Amongst the new cast, making their presence felt are Bernard Hill as Théoden; King of Rohan, Miranda Otto as Éowyn; Théoden’s niece, David Wenham as Faramir; Boromir’s younger brother, Brad Dourif as Gríma Wormtongue; Saruman’s agent at Rohan, Karl Urban as Éomer; Théoden’s nephew & John Rhys-Davies as voice of the Treebeard; Leader of the Ents. But the most notable amongst both the new & reprising cast turns out to be none other than Andy Serkis’ rendition of Gollum / Sméagol. Heartwarming & heartbreaking at the same time, Serkis’ gives this CGI character its very own soul and delivers such an intense, energetic & show-stealing performance that it’s impossible to not love as well as pity this wretched character. Easily the finest performance of the saga, so far.
Director Peter Jackson & his crew, in spite of deviating greatly from the film’s source material, not only succeed in making the middle part of The Lord of the Rings a smooth continuation of The Fellowship of the Ring but also a worthy expansion & evolution of Middle-Earth. The artistic license taken by Jackson, Walsh & Boyens does alter the overall tone & style of the film but they still manage to keep everything very much within the realms of Tolkien’s world & true to its spirits. Also, if one envisions this second chapter as an adaptation of the middle act of Tolkien’s complete novel rather than conceiving it as an adaptation of only the second volume, then the writers’ decisions start to make much more sense. And honestly, apart from few purists, most won’t even mind this tweaking because, in spite of all the modifications, The Two Towers makes up for another successful, spellbinding & engrossing epic that effortlessly blends art & entertainment into a staggering masterpiece. On an overall scale, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is another landmark film of its genre that ably meets & exceeds the genre-defining standards set by its predecessor, breaks many filmmaking barriers of its genre with its revolutionary production and signs off as an extremely satisfying sequel which sets an even higher benchmark for the final chapter of Tolkien’s legendarium.