Saturday, December 21st, 2002
The Two Towers
Peter Jackson has said from day one that The Lord Of The Rings isn’t intended to be three separate movies, but one nine-hour epic, just as the source material wasn’t meant to be three novels, but a single tome. What this means is that taken on its own, outside the context of the other two films, The Two Towers had some built-in disadvantages that it would have been impossible to avoid. For example – there is no proper beginning or end, as you’d expect in a conventional film. You’re dropped into the middle of a story and three hours later, extracted again, so while the interim is exhilirating, you will likely leave with a curious sense of dissatisfaction that extends a little beyond the ‘I want to see what happens next!’ phenomenon. Also, you’re no longer marvelling so much at how convincing all the actors look in their roles or the still-breathtaking New Zealand vistas. The audience will now take all that for granted and demand a new set of marvels.
But this is not anyone’s fault, and I’m even hesitant to call it a flaw – it was unavoidable and will cease to be an issue as soon as it’s possible to see all three films as they’re intended in a single viewing. It’s just one of the reasons I’m unable to call The Two Towers a perfect film.
But there’s other reasons, too. I’m not one of the purists who goes trainspotting to pick out where Jackson strays from the source material (and be warned – in The Two Towers, Jackson takes far more liberties with the original storyline than he did in Fellowship). The books are the books, the films are the films. They’re not the same thing, nor could or should they be. If you want the book, go read the books and if you want a 100% faithful adaptation, get behind the camera and make your own. This is Peter Jackson’s vision and I for one think he’s done a bang-up job. In fact, I would say that the purists should thank Jackson for making some changes from the original text, because it reintroduces that element of ‘what happens next?’ that is crucial to good films – knowing exactly what happens next can’t help but diminish one’s enjoyment of a film. That said, The Two Towers stumbles precisely where Jackson strays from the books the most.
I don’t mind that Arwen’s role has been ratcheted up considerably, nor that the Eowyn-Aragorn-Arwen love triangle is being made a greater focus in the story. That human element, which can sometimes be missing from the book, makes for more engaging cinema. However – there is a middle sequence of scenes that was just a clumsy melange of flashbacks (to scenes implied in Fellowship), dream sequences and narrative exposition that left me scratching my head as to exactly what was happening. Did this happen or is it imagined? Elrond was looking sternly at Arwen, and all of sudden he’s looking sternly at Galadrial? Is Galadrial talking to him or doing voiceover again? Etc etc.
I think the gist of these scenes could have been better conveyed. A final complaint about Faramir, who is stripped of the nobility that made his character distinct from his brother and redeemed his house. Maybe they’ll rectify this in Return Of The King, at least I hope so.
So those are the criticisms. Now the good stuff – the film is as spectacular as the first, if not more. It’s true, the film is mostly a series of extraordinary battle scenes, but the necessary character development still comes through. Gollum is a remarkable piece of CGI, though unlike some others I never really forgot I was looking at a piece of computer-generated animation (though the integration of the motion capture eliminated most if not all of my usual complaints about fully computer-generated animation – namely, the unnaturalness of movement). What was most impressive about Gollum was the effectiveness of Andy Serkis’ acting beneath all the technology. His performance more than any special effects is what makes Gollum real. The ents were fantastic. Helm’s Deep was… beyond extraordinary. The new standard by which epic battles on film will be measured (are you paying attention George Lucas?).
Without getting into any (more) spoilers, it’s probably worth summing up that The Lord Of The Rings – all nine hours of it – will be a far greater whole than the sum of its parts. Considering how bloody amazing those parts are, it’ll be something to see in its entirety.
I have little doubt that Return Of The King will be my favorite… even in the books, I preferred Minas Tirith to Helm’s Deep.
I have to wait HOW long till it comes out?!?
np – Longwave / Endsongs