The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, by Albert W. Vogt III

When I am writing a review, there is always one other page open on my browser: the listing on the International Movie Database (IMDb.com for short) for whatever movie about which I am writing. It is a great resource, but it can be frustrating. Sometimes it lists the actors and actresses in the most idiosyncratic order, with the real stars of films often buried way down the line and not displaying their characters’ full names. This becomes even more of a problem for this reviewer when it comes to films like today’s, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002). Try it some time. Go to the IMDb.com page for The Two Towers and see its cast. There is this little notation at the top that says “Cast overview, first billed only.” Now, I thought the star of this movie was Elijah Wood, who plays Frodo Baggins, the diminutive hobbit inexplicably charged with destroying the most (at least as it seems to me) powerful magical item in Middle Earth, the One Ring. Is his name among those on the first page? No. You have to scroll past the likes of Man Flesh Uruk (Sala Baker), whoever he was, click on the link that says “See full cast,” keep going past all too “memorable” characters like Grishnakh (Stephen Ure), and then finally you get to just “Frodo.” This is especially problematic for me because if you read my review of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001), you will know that I am pretty lost while watching these films as to who anyone is or why they are doing what they are doing. The Two Towers was no different for me. This is all a long way of saying that sometimes I have to resort to also having Wikipedia open so that I can convey to you a better sense of my thoughts on a given film.

Okay, I get that Frodo, joined by Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), just “Sam” on IMDb.com, is attempting to make his way to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. My brain had to scramble for a moment to recall why they were on their own in The Two Towers because they had previously set off with a group of assorted magical humanoids to accomplish this mission. So I remembered that they had decided to go off by themselves, but for the life of me I cannot remember the reason for it. They are soon joined by Gollum (voiced by Andy Serkis), a pitiable creature who once possessed the ring and is obsessed with it. I am sure there is an explanation for it, but he just shows up and pledges his loyalty to Frodo for the sake of the ring, even going so far as to call the hobbit “master.” Meanwhile, in another part of Middle Earth, Aragorn Elessar (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas Greenleaf (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), the other magical folk (save for Aragron) mentioned a moment ago, are chasing down a group of orcs who had captured the two other hobbits that had left the Shire with Frodo. They are Peregrin Took (Billy Boyd) and Meriadoc Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan), Pippin and Merry respectively, for what its worth. They are not rescued, however, and they go off to spend the rest of the film attempting to convince the tree people to fight against Saruman the White (Christopher Lee). That is just what this film needs, yet another plot thread. Aragorn and company instead end up in the kingdom of Rohan, which is important because the movie says so. They are joined (for a time) by Gandalf, now “the White” (Ian McKellen), who sticks around like enough to break King Théoden (Bernard Hill) from a spell cast on him by Saruman. By the way, Gandalf is alive despite when last we saw him he was hurtling down a seemingly endless chasm while also fighting the crazy beast known as the Balrog in the previous film. He survives because magic says so. After the king is freed, they decide that they must abandon their capital city to take up a more defendable position at Helm’s Deep against Saruman’s massive army. Fast forwarding here (this film is nearly three hours long, and there are various cuts that are even longer), Aragorn and friends triumph at Helm’s Deep, the tree people attack Saruman’s tower and flood it, and Frodo, Sam, and Gollum reach the outskirts of Mordor. Some other things happen in the middle, but meh.

Before I talk about some other aspects of The Two Towers I am critical of, first allow me to build it up somewhat. As I mentioned in my review of The Fellowship of the Ring, I appreciated the clear line between good and evil. This carries over into The Two Towers. Also, despite my annoyance with his near constant fainting problem, Frodo redeems himself in this film. This is particularly noticeable in his interactions with Gollum. Proverbs (not generic wise sayings, but the ones in the Bible) tell us that a person profits little by selling his soul in order to gain riches. Clearly people look at the One Ring as an avenue to power and wealth, and it seems to cast a spell on virtually everyone who comes near it. Why it does not seem to also hold Sam is beyond me, but that is another story. At any rate, Frodo is apparently completely taken by the ever gleaming jewelry, and begins to react more violently towards any perceived threat to it as the film goes on. And then he faints (and this is the person tasked with destroying the ring?). Yet with Gollum, though, Frodo is provided with an example of what the ring can do to a person through long exposure to its power, and it keeps him grounded. Also, he has the opportunity to have Gollum killed when they encounter a group of humans from Gondor, but Frodo intervenes and saves the life of a potential rival. It is my firm belief that goodness comes from God, a notion shared by Tolkein, by the way. Goodness is something that resides in the heart. In other words, it comes from within, and is therefore difficult to touch. Frodo seems to have a good dose of it.

So Frodo is a more noble character in The Two Towers, despite his jelly legs. Aragorn is too, though made of sturdier stuff. So again, why did Frodo and Sam have to travel alone? I do not recall the reason, and as before this is probably just me because I have not read the books, but I do not understand why much of anything is going on in the movie. What is so important about the kingdom of Rohan? Why can they not rely on Gondor? Why are the elves leaving Middle Earth? I get that this story is part of a trilogy, but it seems like unless you are immersed in this world (which I clearly am not), then one can get completely lost. While watching it last night, I kept calling out questions, to which my elderly roommate eventually replied, “You’re thinking about it too much. Just let it wash over you.” I am sorry, but this is something I have never been able to do while watching a film. Perhaps the character that causes me the most frustration is Gandalf. If he is truly as powerful as he supposedly is, why does he allow so much of what does go on to occur? I have trouble grasping where his power begins and, maybe more importantly, ends. My aggravation also extends to the more technical aspects of the film. Usually, having so many plot threads going on at once is a recipe for disaster, and to make matters worse it does not seem like any of them are resolved in this film. Finally, I had to chuckle in the final moments of the battle at Helm’s Deep. So Aragorn and King Théoden are discussing what to do with the orcs battering down the last barrier between them and the women and children of Rohan. We see them talking, cut to the orcs and their ram with our heroes still talking over the din, cut back to the interior and suddenly Aragorn and King Théoden are on horseback leading a band of mounted warriors. When the heck did they have the time to gather the horses and men, and put on extra armor?! Hire a better editor, Peter Jackson.

So there you have my thoughts on The Two Towers. I am sure if you are a fan of these novels and movies, then you understand them much better than I do. If you are a parent and looking for something to calm the kids down, and do not mind a few sword fights, I believe these films could work in a pinch. There is a good chance they would be out before any serious violence anyway. Still, I want to like these movies, I really do. In some respects, I feel like I am a bad Catholic because I do not enjoy them. I sit here and sigh every time a character feels the need to tell us his family genealogy whenever they introduce themselves. Whatever the case, if you like these films, I am sure there is nothing I can say that will dissuade you, and that is fine too. To be honest, I really hope you continue to give them your patronage because on some level they are worth it.

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