Original US release date: December 18, 2002
Production budget: $94,000,000
Worldwide gross: $926,047,111
My #ThrowbackThursday journey to Mount Doom continues with The Two Towers. I did a #ThrowbackThursday column on The Fellowship of the Ring, a while back (right here, if you missed it) and now it’s time to take a look at the next chapter. This is the Extended Edition that I’m discussing, here, for your information.
This middle chapter has the benefit of being able to hit the ground running. We start the film with an absolutely exhilarating action sequence that follows up on a pivotal event from Fellowship. As long as the film is, the pace rarely slows. Of course, there is time taken for exposition and to introduce new characters, but the narrative still moves along rather briskly.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that the most notable inclusion among the main cast is Andy Serkis’s Gollum. Gollum appeared briefly in Fellowship, but he takes front-and-center in The Two Towers and, as a result, was catapulted into the public consciousness, becoming a household name almost immediately. References are still (and likely will forever be) made in everyday conversation to his “my precious” catchphrase but his presence is worthy of more remembrance than that of just a simple one-liner.
Gollum’s most famous and noteworthy scene involves a conversation between his two disparate personalities, but beyond that, he is a very complex character, beautifully realized by Serkis and the WETA visual effects house. Serkis’s performance – both in his voice work and motion-capture – brings Gollum to life and makes him feel as if he’s really there with the remainder of the cast. The writing fleshes him out; he can be funny and endearing one moment, then untrustworthy and frightening, the next. He is the Yoda of Lord of the Rings in the sense that he’s a creation of the special effects team and is yet the one who comes out of the series with the strongest fan sentiment.
In the midst of all of the spectacular effects (Gollum isn’t the only memorable CGI creation, as we are also introduced to Treebeard) and action set pieces, there is some tremendous character work that goes on all across the board. Frodo and Sam experience growing pains, we learn more about Aragorn, an unexpected friendship blooms within the remnants of the Fellowship, and there’s plenty more on top of all of that. This extended edition even gives additional background to Boromir. The runtime of the film is not wasted.
And of course, it all looks gorgeous. Peter Jackson knows how to frame a shot and he and his location scouts made a genius decision when choosing to film in New Zealand. Not only did it cost significantly less to shoot there (check out that production budget, up above) but it’s so beautiful that it almost looks like a different planet.
For me, personally, the scale of this film is perfect. It’s still small enough that we aren’t flooded with too many characters to get to know them, but large enough that the battles feel grand and bigger than what we see in most other films. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is spectacular and my favorite large-scale battle of the series (I still love the smaller battle in the Mines of Moria from Fellowship, a bit more). Jackson always knew how to strike the balance between action and story/character and he was never better at it than he was in this middle installment. In fact, many middle chapters suffer from feeling incomplete as they are neither the beginning nor the end of the overarching narrative. But Jackson made several adept choices when he decided to shift certain story elements around amongst the three chapters and we got much better films because he did so. The Two Towers is structured is such a way that keeps it from suffering that “Middle Child Syndrome”, thanks to the exquisite development of several subplots that achieve both genesis and resolution within this single film.
I’m not entirely sure which of the three chapters of the Lord of the Rings series is my favorite, but I’ve always leaned a bit towards this one. I enjoyed Return of the King but always felt it got a little too bogged down in less-consequential characters. So, it’s close between Fellowship and The Two Towers. I really appreciate the more intimate feel of Fellowship and thoroughly enjoy its well-executed character development. But the well-balanced nature of The Two Towers puts it about a half-step above it, I believe. It doesn’t really matter, though. This is the second entry in a legendary trilogy and no film fan’s collection is complete without a copy.
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