Sequels, whether it be for books or movies, are the most difficult parts of a story to be actualized. There is that pressure of being consistent and whether it lives up to the first part, and there is the fact that it doesn’t really have a definite beginning or an ending, unlike the first and last installments of your story. This was the same with “The Two Towers”, the second installment of “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy. However, in the end, Peter Jackson and company were able to successfully pull it off on the silver screen, while presenting the audiences with battle scenes that they will never forget, and innovations that truly awed audiences and critics alike. Of course, some of the book purists might become offended by the changes he made both to characters, scenes, and the narrative structure, but, just like in the first film, one can see why those creative choices were made.
“The Two Towers” picked off where “The Fellowship of the Ring” ended, with the breaking of the Fellowship. From there, the story split into two. We follow Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) as they searched for the hobbits Peregrin “Pippin” Took (Billy Boyd) and Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan); and we follow Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Samwise “Sam” Gamgee (Sean Astin), as they began their journey to Mordor. In between all of that, we also follow Merry and Pippin’s adventures in Fangorn Forest, where they end up meeting Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), an ancient creature called an Ent or Tree-herder.
New additions to the cast included Andy Serkis in his groundbreaking performance as Gollum/Smeagol; Bernard Hill as Theoden, the King of Rohan; Miranda Otto as Eowyn, Theoden’s niece; Karl Urban as Eomer, Eowyn’s sister and Theoden’s nephew; David Wenham as Faramir, Boromir’s (Sean Bean) brother; Brad Dourif as Grima Wormtongue, the corrupt adviser of Theoden; and John Noble as Denethor II, Steward of Gondor and Boromir’s and Faramir’s father.
Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Sir Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee also reprised their roles.
Whereas the first movie did a lot of character work, and introduced us to the characters, and showed us the ominous beginnings of war; the second film was darker, more action packed, more fast paced, and saw the actual start of the battles. Because of this, it also showed us how particular moving pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together.
While “Fellowship” saw some cinematic achievements, “The Two Towers” pushed boundaries once again, and created cinematic masterpieces in The Battle for Helm’s Deep, Treebeard, and of course, Gollum/Smeagol.
The Battle of Helm’s Deep was an achievement as they were able to give us a full scale battle of epic proportions, that even though bigger battles would be fought in “The Return of the King”, this one will be remembered for its emotional impact, and all the amazing work that was put into it.
Treebeard was another innovative piece of work, as they were able to create creatures such as the Ents, and make them totally believable on screen.
The crowning jewel of the entire film trilogy is the creation of Gollum/Smeagol. This creature was made possible thanks to the motion capture performance of Andy Serkis and all the animation and digital effects that were done by WETA Digital. According to the behind the scenes documentaries in the Extended Edition DVD, Serkis was actually physically present in a white jumpsuit physically interacting with Wood and Astin, he did additional recordings for dialogue and motion capture, and WETA Digital also made animating and acting decisions as well. All of this combined allowed them to create a complex digital creature that seemed so realistic, and actually had the ability to emote on screen.
While there were already many changes in “The Fellowship”, there were even more changes made in this particular film. These changes can be seen a lot in Eowyn and Faramir, and can be seen in the narrative structure as well. However, it can be understood why Jackson and company made these choices, as they did want to put these characters more in focus, and because having the film end with the Battle at Helm’s Deep and at Isengard would allow for a more emotionally satisfying ending.
For this film, I do recommend the Extended Edition over the Theatrical Cut because it adds more background story and character development to characters like Aragorn, Eowyn, Theoden and Faramir. This also allows us to understand their motivations, and why they made the particular choices that they did in the film. Aside from that, the Extended Edition’s first few scenes had a lot of much needed humor that allowed for some much needed levity, and it gave us wonderful moments of bonding between Frodo and Sam.
“The Two Towers” is a great follow up to “The Fellowship of the Ring”, and while it won’t blow the socks of critics away, it stands out as they were able to push innovation forward with scenes such as The Battle of Helm’s Deep, and with creation of creatures such as Treebeard and Gollum/Smeagol.
From here on out, you know the drill, there will be spoilers!
The way that Jackson managed to split up the two or three stories that were happening simultaneously for “The Two Towers” was done in such a masterful way, that even while watching the Extended Eidtion, it seemed as if time flew by quickly. They were able to find a good balance to it, even though they had to change a lot of things so that they would be able to translate it better for the big screen.
This meant that instead of ending with Gandalf and Pippin riding out to Minas Tirith, and ending at Shelob’s Lair; they decided to end it right after the Battle of Helm’s Deep. However, this presented Jackson and company with the problem of what to show with Frodo and Sam as they would be stuck in the Emyn Muil for a while. So, they used that time to really introduce the character of Gollum/Smeagol, and had Faramir become sort of an antagonist to Frodo, which is a huge departure from the Faramir of the book. However, it must be noted that Faramir in the film is more interesting than the one in the book.
Also, ending it at the Battle of Helm’s Deep was a more natural ending to the film, as it also gave the audience a more satisfying conclusion, with the knowledge that even though there will be harder battles to be fought, that there is hope.
This film saw more moments with Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf, and audiences were able to see their characters a little bit more and see the bonds of friendship deepen with each other. The Extended Edition allows for more Gimli and Legolas moments, and it also allows for Aragorn’s character to be explored more. Here, it is revealed that he is 87 years old, that he is one of the Dunedain, and they were able to expand on Aragorn and Arwen’s relationship by taking some scenes right out of the appendix of the book. Gandalf returning as Gandalf the White was definitely something to behold.
Pippin and Merry’s characters were also expounded upon in this film, and Monaghan and Boyd really gave it their all, especially as most of their scenes with Treebeard involved them interacting with a Treebeard puppet. Aside from their individual characteristics coming out, I love the fact that the Extended Edition allows their more hobbit side to come out, especially in the aftermath of the Last March of the Ents.
Serkis and WETA Digital, however, are the clear stand outs in this film with their collaborative portrayal of Gollum/Smeagol. It truly is a testament to what they were able to achieve as audiences were disgusted, annoyed and also pitied this creature that was corrupted by the ring. Also, it is a testament to Serkis’ performance not only with his voice work, but with all the actual physical acting he did in this film. Also, it is amazing that Serkis was able to do that whole Smeagol/Gollum debate ALL IN ONE TAKE.
Wood was great here once again, and we saw how he was slowly being taken in by the Ring; and how he pities Gollum and hopes that he will be redeemed as it would give him hope that he too can be saved just in case the Ring truly takes him over.
However, Astin’s Sam stood out more here than Wood’s Frodo. Not only did he put in great physical and emotional work here, but he truly showed why Sam is Frodo’s rock, and why many fans of the trilogy, book and movie alike, call Sam the true hero of the series.
Aside from the technological achievements of Gollum, Treebeard, and even Helm’s Deep; that moment when Saruman showed Wormtongue his armies that numbered tens of thousands was also pretty amazing.
As I mentioned earlier, I loved the Extended Edition of the film, and suggest that you forego the Theatrical Cut and watch this one instead. Aside from the fact that it makes you understand the character motivations better, it works better as a film, and it contains bits and pieces that were brought in from the book.
The new scenes that were added that I particularly loved was the whole Boromir flashback sequence, Merry and Pippin drinking the Ent-draughts, Merry and Pippin finding Saruman’s store room, the bonding moments of Sam and Frodo in their beginning scenes with the rope and the box with salt and seasoning, Gandalf being relieved that Sam went with Frodo, more Aragorn exposition, and of course, the final kill counts of Legolas and Gimli.
In the end, “The Two Towers” was a great sequel that was darker, much more action packed, and truly set up the stage for what we all know will be an epic conclusion with “The Return of the King”.
Have you seen “The Two Towers”? What did you like and didn’t like about it? What did you think about the changes that were made to the films? Let me know what you think in the comments below!