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:: Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

The Two Towers, the “central” piece in director Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s trilogy was the only other film released this year which was surrounded by a similarly frenzied level of anticipation as the release of Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones. There is also the extent of the fan base of Lord of the Rings generally, the book being one of the most popular of the 1900’s and fans of the story have been waiting almost 50 years since it’s first release in 1954 for the trilogy to be adapted into a motion picture. The larger than life themes of the trilogy of good vs evil, the individual vs the world and nature vs industry are the very stuff epic tales are made of. The celebration of friendship, loyalty, bravery and ordinary people overcoming insurmountable obstacles to triumph in the end, might have been done hundreds of times before and since, but who can deny that they aren’t still universally popular, particularly in conjunction with a constant stream of beautiful people to look at. The Lord of the Rings has all of this and more.

Unlike the first film in the trilogy, which focused on The Fellowship as a unit, this film finds the group splintered and struggling under the strength of the alliance between the Two Towers, the Wizard Saruman’s Orthanc Tower in Isengard and the Dark Lord Sauron’s fortress at Bard-dur. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are lost in the hills of Emyn Muil trying to find their way to the Black Gates of Mordor in order to destroy the Ring in Mount Doom. They capture a creature, once a Stoor Hobbit named Smeagol (Andy Serkis) who for over 500 years was the Ring’s bearer, the burden that Frodo now carries. The weight of carrying “the precious” Ring gradually warped and corrupted Smeagol into the creature he has now become, Gollom. After being captured, Gollom, despite Sam’s protests, agrees to act as the hobbits guide through Emyn Muil and the Dead Marshes to Mordor. Along the way the common decency of Frodo inspires Smeagol to fight the influence of his alter ego Gollom and gradually he begins to remember the hobbit he once was. However Sam’s distrust of Gollom and the increasingly strong hold the Ring has over Frodo begins to threaten the friendship between the two hobbits.

Meanwhile the other two hobbits, Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merrie (Dominic Monaghan) have been captured by Uruk-hai who think they are the hobbit ring bearers and plan to deliver them to the Wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee). Infighting amongst the Uruks enable Pippin and Merrie to escape, but their only escape is into the haunted Fangorn Forest, inhabited by ancient trees called “Ents”. However, when the most of ancient of all Ents, TreeBeard (John Rhys- Davies) discovers the hobbits and they inform him that his old ally Saruman has betrayed him by culling enormous tracts of the forest in the name of industry, the hobbits manage to inspire the Ents to align with them and join in the battle for Middle Earth.

But the real focus of The Two Towers is on the people of Rohan led by their Royal Family, Theoden (Bernard Hill), Eowyn (Miranda Otto) and Eomer (Karl Urban). Theoden has been betrayed by his most trusted adviser WormTongue (Brad Dourif) who is loyal not to him, but to the Wizard Saruman. Gandalf (Ian McKellen), despite plunging to his death in the pit at Khazadum during an epic battle with Balrog in the first film reappears, having shed his title of “Gandalf the Grey” along with his mortality and returns as Gandalf The White, an even more powerful incarnation of his old self. Gandalf discovers the effect Wormtongue is having on Theoden and the consequences of that for the Rohan empire and enlists the help of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys- Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) to restore Theoden to his right mind. An angered Saruman retaliates by unleashing the army he has been growing of 10,000 strong, against the “world of men”. Aided by Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and Gandalf, the people of Rohan go to war against Saruman in the Battle for Helm’s Deep and ultimately for Middle Earth.

The Two Towers not only visually recreates an epic tale that has existed only in imaginations before, but is the result of a production which is itself epic in proportion. The first time a trilogy has ever been filmed back to back over a year and a half, Peter Jackson commanded a production team of 2,400 people to bring the Lord of the Rings to the big screen. Phenomenal statistics surround every aspect of the production including the use of over 26,000 extras, 48,000 pieces of hand crafted armour inscribed with messages from one of the 14 Tolkien languages, the design of roughly 30-40 costumes per actor, the making of 1,600 hobbit feet as each pair only lasted 2 days, the shooting of a scene which required no less than 250 horses to ride alongside one another and the recording of a crowd of 25,000 people at Wellington Cricket Stadium for sounds such as chanting, stomping and slapping their chests to use in the battle scenes. Tolkien experts were even brought in to consult on the sources Tolkien used to develop the Elvish language and how it would sound when spoken given that it has never been heard before. Tolkien illustrators were also brought in to construct storyboards and an “animatic previsualisation” of the film before shooting even commenced. All in all a spectacular effort. The Two Towers reigns supreme. So if you ask me, let the hype continue, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final film in the trilogy, is due for release on 17 December 2003.

Screening on general release