U.S. Release Date: December 18, 2002
Distributor: New Line
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh
Producer: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh
Composer: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis, Karl Urban, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett
Running Time: 2 hours and 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (epic battle sequences and scary images)

A Rousing Continuation...
by C.A. Wolski

Taking place only hours after the tragic events that concluded The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is that rarest of movie sequels, a rousing continuation of the original story and a stand alone movie in its own right. And like its predecessor, director Peter Jackson's follow up is a lush, exciting, beautifully realized adaptation of author J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy creation.

Beginning without a prologue to remind the audience of what happened in the previous picture, The Two Towers jumps right in to the action with the surviving members of the broken fellowship of men, hobbits, elves and dwarves facing danger at every turn from Orcs, evil sorcerers and even nature itself. What quickly develops are three separate storylines with the human Aragorn, dwarf Gimli and elf Legolas becoming involved in the defense of the besieged kingdom of Rohan; hobbits Merry and Pippin escaping their Orc captors and befriending the giant Ents; and hobbits Frodo and Sam continuing their quest to the evil land of Mordor and their ultimate goal to destroy the ring of power.

It could all be pretty standard fare—considering that Tolkien invented the standard with the books—but Jackson and his team of screenwriters have succeeded in rendering a story that is both epic and surprisingly intimate with incredibly realized battle scenes and heartbreaking moments of real emotion with the strong twin thematic elements of hope and personal responsibility informing all of the characters' actions.

To describe The Two Towers as anything but epic would be a disservice to it. The movie's large set piece battle at Helm's Deep is dramatic, thrilling and savage. Filled with iconographic moments—Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) entering the city on the brink of battle, elfin archers loosing their arrows, the last defenders riding out on a doomed charge—it is the kind of cinematic moment we see far too infrequently.

But for all of the thrills, it's Jackson's ability to handle the intimate moments of his characters' lives that makes The Two Towers memorable. In an absolutely heartbreaking sequence featuring Arwen (Liv Tyler), we get a glimpse of the fate that awaits her and Aragorn—the price her love and the rejection of her elf heritage will cost her.

Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam's (Sean Astin) adventures in Mordor though fraught with danger and action, emphasize the moral cost that the ringbearer Frodo will be expected to pay in the form of Gollum (computer-generated but voiced by and modeled after Andy Serkis), the morally bankrupt creature who once was ringbearer and who has been driven insane by the evil object. Frodo fears yet also identifies with the pathetic and tragic Gollum.

The structure necessitated by the three separate storylines is the movie's only major flaw, causing Jackson to cut from key moments during the battle of Helm's Deep to the less compelling adventures of Merry and Pippin and the Ents. That said, the pacing is brisk and the acting and writing sharp enough to make up for it.

Wood gives the stand out performance, making the little hobbit Frodo into a kind of tragic hero fated to give up, if not his life, his soul to save the world from evil. Wood could have played him as a dour, moody character, but instead shows nobility in accepting his fate and even joking with Sam about their place in the cultural history of the future in another lovely, intimate moment Jackson has crafted. Mortensen, Bernard Hill as King Theoden of Rohan and Miranda Otto as Eowyn of Rohan all project heroic gravity in the face of overwhelming odds. The only miscast actor is David Wenham as Faramir, brother of the slain Boromir (Sean Bean), who seems to have been cast more for his resemblance to Bean than his acting talent.

The Two Towers stands tall as not only one of the best pictures of the year, but as one of the best sequels ever made.

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