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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

The second film of the epic trilogy, "The Two Towers" continues the fellowships' journey towards Morodor where Frodo will once and for all destroy the coveted ring. But with the fellowship split up will they be able to withstand the harsh evils of Middle-Earth in pieces? As Frodo and Sam make way for Morodor with none other than the precarious Golum as their guide, Merry and Pippin march towards Saruman's tower with "Treebeard" and other ancient Endis. In the meantime Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli travel across Middle-Earth in search of Merry and Pippin, all the while engaging in multiple battles with Ork, and other enemies. With the evil Saruman preparing a massive battle to destroy all of mankind, it appears that Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli will have to, with the help of King Theoden and Rohanans, fight for the right of man. A surprise visit from Gandalf the Grey brings momentary relief to the fellowship's quest.

The cast includes: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, and John Rhys-Davies.

Written by: J.R.R. Tolkien (novel) and Fran Walsh (screenplay).

Directed by: Peter Jackson.

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Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy.

Tagline: The journey continues…

Rated: PG13 for epic battle sequences and scary images.

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Commencing right where the prequel, "The Fellowship of the Ring", left off, THE TWO TOWERS opens with Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) heading east to the fiery pit of Morodor in their quest to destroy the ring once and for all. Along the way the covetous schizophrenic other-ling Golum (Andy Serkis) will soon become their tour guide, leading them through precarious swamps, caverns, and other treacherous landscapes en route to the black gate of Morodor.

Meanwhile Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have been taken captive by the Uruk-hai (at the conclusion of the last film) and march obediently along the terrain in captive of their grotesque guides. It appears the Uruk-hai are on their way to the white wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) who is currently manufacturing an immense army of unthinkable number and force in a plan to wage war against Middle Earth. At the expense of local forests Saruman gives rise to metal and industry, obliterating all adjacent life in the process; birthing, instead, diabolical, formidable Ork and other fantastically grotesque war-wrought creatures.

While Pippin and Merry do their best to get free from the deadly Ork, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) fight their way across the plains of Middle Earth in search of their hobbit friends. Encountering riders of Rohan, lead by King Théoden’s loyal, albeit exiled nephew, Eomer (Karl Urban), Aragorn discovers that his neighboring kingdom, Rohan has been taken by the wizardry of the evil Saruman who has overtaken Théoden (Bernard Hill) with magical spells that paralyzes him into an aging, immobile, mute shell.

After the exile of her brother and the death of her nephew, Théoden's son, Eowyn (Miranda Otto) despairs in the dark halls of Rohan under the watchful, albeit slimy and diabolical eye of Théoden’s ambivalent consul, Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Sure that he is in ill-favor of the king he serves, Eowyn does her best to avoid his approach until help reaches Rohan. As such, help appears in the form of Aragorn’s trio, via an escort, the great Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen); once dead now brought back to life as Gandalf the White for a periodic time to help the fellowship in their quest.

With his magical staff in hand, Gandalf exercises Saruman from Théoden; releasing Théoden from Saruman’s paralytic spells and restoring him to good health. Once restored however, Théoden has many painful lessons to learn: in his state he suffered the loss of much of his kingdom, many men, the exile of his nephew, and the death of his son. Forewarned by Aragorn that impending open-war is approaching in the form of a formidable army raised by Saruman, Théoden hesitates to join the attack. Instead of confronting the Isengard warriors Théoden requires that the citizens of Rohan retreat to Helms Deep (Rohan’s mountain-bound fortress).

Though Aragorn is sure it is a trap and that all will meet their death at Helm's Deep, all the same, he, Legolas, and Gimli follow Théoden and his people to ensure their safe arrival at Helm's Deep. Of course a few good fight scenes with Ork will have to take place; one possibly suggesting the end for Aragorn who has fallen off a cliff and disappeared.

Meanwhile the now exiled Grima runs to Saruman with details of Théoden’s plan and assists in helping Saramun calculate an offensive against the men of Middle Earth. All the while Merry and Pippin have escaped from the Ork and have been taken captive by the Endi (old, living trees of the forest), namely the shepherd of the forest, Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies; voice) who, together with the rest of the Endi, wage war against Saruman’s tower after discovering his forbidden annihilation of the Endi-wrought forest. While Treebeard, Merry, Pippin, and the Endi annihilate Saruman’s headquarters, on the other side of Middle Earth things aren’t looking so good for either Frodo and Sam, nor Aragorn and the Rohanans.

With Frodo and Sam skeptical to trust Golum it seems that at times their adventures become unnecessarily dangerous. Still, until their capture by Gondor representative Faramir (David Wenham), fallen fellowship member Boromir’s brother, it seems Golum has been true to his word. All the same, a covetous Faramir complicates Frodo’s plans to destroy the ring. While Faramir prepares to snag the ring to restore order to Gondor's obliterated lands (annihilated by Saruman’s army), Frodo grows more and more weak, giving in to the power of the “precious”. So too is Sméagol beginning to battle his evil “other” that is the nefarious Golum.

Still, with war on the horizon Aragorn returns to Helms Deep just in time to help lead the 300 man/child Rohanan army into battle against the 10,000+ force of Saruman’s army. With things looking unprofitable for both Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the Rohanans, and Sam and Frodo, it seems its only a matter of time, and a third and final film, before the fate of the fellowship’s quest is revealed.

Whereas "The Fellowship of the Ring" is the classic epic journey, and "The Return of the King" marks its conventions as that of the timeless tale of kin and friendship bonds (also epic in scope) arguably, “The Two Towers”, though also undeniably epic in much the same respects, shifts its focus to the more violent theme of the three films: war. This film is steeped in archetypal and symbolic tradition of literary and cinematic war epic. From the classic “arming of the warrior” scenes (which occurred for both Théoden and Aragorn, and again with Gimli for comic relief) to the lengthy intermittent “mini-battles”, with “The Two Towers” all perspective of hope is challenged against the interminable approach of darker days, possibly the end of days for Middle Earth and Man. As one critic notes, “Two Towers is an unadulterated war movie of heroic proportions.”

In contrast to the other films, here the dialogue seems far more archaic and poetic, true to its epic and dated genre. Likewise, in additional to the formal structure of narrative, here we get the opportunity to view sweeping panoramas of Middle Earth's lesser known regions (the comforts of the shire and Rivendale are completely absent) in the midst of war-wrought scenes. Everywhere abounds carnage, death, destruction, and multiple diatribes on the impending evil of the "rise of industrialism and modernism" (think Saruman and Treebeard's contrasting speeches about the death of trees for steel and machine). Ironically despite its anti-modernism monologues, the film also shifts the metaphor to function as a patriotically isolationist and Western perspective; arguing that our world is still one "with some good in it" and that we need to fight for it… all is not yet lost. Other commentary supporting the defense of "westernism" appears in quotes like "the sun has gone down in the West", which parallels notions of “there won’t be a shire anymore Pippin". Here the medium of cinema is an artistic vehicle to unveil the impending crises of conflicting perspectives of contemporary socio-political issues.

Still, with all the various distinct perspectives of each film, from their focus on character and plot development, etc., THE TWO TOWERS reserves a niche for itself as the darkest of the three; though there is still a light at the end of the tunnel. Here we are swept away from the fancy of the fantastic and steeped in the impending psychological crises of the death of a “golden age” and the formidable threat of the dawn of a new, albeit unwanted era. With impeccable cinematography, soundtrack, costumes, set direction, dialogue, and performances to back the vision, THE TWO TOWERS is a success as much in its own right as it is as a member of one of this century’s most prolific cinematic trilogies. J.R.R. Tolkien would be proud I think.

That said, as usual, one enjoys watching the 7 main characters grow and develop in complexity and scope. Unforgettable of course, is the continued competitive streak between Legolas and Gimli which serves as a much needed albeit disarming comic relief to the impending doom of their ill-fated situation at Helm’s Deep. Likewise mini-narratives such as Liv Tyler’s memorable role as Aragorn’s guardian angel, and the plight of Eowyn, etc. also produce memorable characters who deliver solid performances. So too does Cate Blanchett return to narrate the impending fate of Middle Earth in an unnerving manner. Though Wenham’s Faramir was underdeveloped, Karl Urban’s Eomer on the other hand, was not. Likewise, another pleasantly new addition was the increased perspective on Golum whose conflicted character is truly the hallmark depiction of an prototypical “tragic character; he makes Hamlet look like a one-dimensional character, even if only momentarily.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" won 2 Oscars (2003): Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects. It was also nominated for 4 other Academy Awards: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Picture. Additionally THE TWO TOWERS received another 55 critical film awards, including a Grammy for Best Score (Howard Shore) and received another 67 nominations.

Main Characters:

Elijah Wood plays Frodo Baggins, the "chosen one" of the fellowship who protects the ring on its journey to Morodor.

Sean Astin plays Sam "Samweis", a hobbit fellowship member and, specifically, Frodo's sworn protector and best friend.

Orlando Bloom plays Legolas, the fellowship's elfin archer.

Billy Boyd plays Pippin, another hobbit in the fellowship.

Viggo Mortenson plays Aragorn, the notorious mortal warrior in the fellowship.

Dominic Monaghan plays Merry, the fellowship's fourth hobbit.

Miranda Otto plays Eowyn, King Théoden's loyal niece.

Bernard Hill plays Théoden, King of Rohan.

Liv Tyler plays Arwen, Aragorn’s immortal elfin love.

Hugo Weaving plays Elrond, Arwen’s father and leader of the elfin nation.

Karl Urban plays Eomer, Théoden's loyal nephew. Andy Serkis plays Gollum/Sméagol, the nefarious "other-ling" obsessed with "my precious".

David Wenham plays Faramir, Borimir’s brother, heir to Gondor.

Christopher Lee plays Saruman the White, the nefarious "white wizard" who wages war to control Middle Earth with Samon.

Ian McKellen plays Gandalf the Grey/the White, the fellowship's benevolent wizard.

Brad Dourif plays Grima Wormtongue, King Théoden's personal consul.

John Rhys-Davies plays Gimli "Treebeard" (voice)