Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, and John Rhys-Davies in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)


(director/writer: Peter Jackson; screenwriters: Stephen Sinclair/Philippa Boyens/Fran Walsh/book by J.R.R. Tolkien; cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie; editor: D. Michael Horton; music: Howard Shore; cast: Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf the White), Sean Astin (Samwise ‘Sam’ Gamgee), Andy Serkis (Gollum/Sméagol), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Christopher Lee (Saruman the White), John-Rhys Davies (Voice of Gimli/Ent), Dominic Monaghan (Meriadoc ‘Merry’ Brandybuck), Billy Boyd (Peregrin ‘Pippin’ Took), Bernard Hill (Théoden, King of Rohan), Mirando Otto (Éowyn), Karl Urban (Éomer), David Wenham (Faramir), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Orlando Bloom (Legolas Greenleaf), Brad Dourif (Gríma Wormtongue), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Sala Baker (Man Flesh Uruk), Craig Parker (Haldir); Runtime: 179; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Barrie M. Osborne; New Line Cinema; 2002)
“This version of the sinister classic tale of battle between the forces of good against evil even tops the brilliant first part because of the tremendous imaginative scope of its continuing story and all its graphic nonstop action scenes and fantastic overall visual effects.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

New Zealander Peter Jackson’s brilliant 179 minutes long epic sword-and-sorcery adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings resumes in its middle part and is entitled eerily enough “The Two Towers” (I can’t help thinking from the title about 9/11 and the attack on the WTC!). This version of the sinister classic tale of battle between the forces of good against evil even tops the brilliant first part because of the tremendous imaginative scope of its continuing story and all its graphic nonstop action scenes and fantastic overall visual effects. The story picks up without explanation in medias res where “Fellowship” left off. The hobbits chosen to save the world from evil are the heroic Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his loyal friend Sam (Sean Astin), who are lost in the hills of Emyn Muil (filmed in the stunningly gorgeous crags and peaks of New Zealand). They are journeying to Mordor to destroy the world-threatening One Ring. Frodo has been designated as the Ring bearer, as the good-hearted hobbits ventured out of their Shire for the first time in their lives. They are joined unceremoniously by a naked character but for a loincloth who is an absolute delight on the screen, the gibberish speaking, avaricious, nasty, split-personality, reptilian-like Gollum (a magnificent, computer-generated creation with human features, superbly voiced by Andy Serkis). Gollum, who became crazed because he held on to the ring for too long and whose body goes into all sorts of contortions as he talks to himself, first attacks the hobbits but is shortly captured by them and then Frodo bargains with the Gollum for his release if he can lead them to Mordor and promise to serve them and not attack them anymore.

The fellowship that was organized to destroy the ring in the volcanic fires of Mount Doom for the benefit of the residents of Middle-earth has been splintered in battle. The hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) escaped from the terrifying Orcs who snatched them and wander through the enchanted Fangorn Forest where they’re adopted by an even more special creation, the curmudgeonly tree creature Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies); the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has fallen presumably to his death into a canyon of fire and water while fighting the flying dragon Balrog (but amazingly returns resurrected as an angelic all-white aura); the human Boromir was slain by enemy soldiers; and, the hunky human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) impossibly leads the kingdom of Rohan with only an army of 300 against an opposing army of as many as 10,000 Orcs trained by the evil sorcerer Saruman (Christopher Lee), who wants to rule the world, as the film builds to its last part huge climactic battle at the fortress at Helm’s Deep. The quest begins to turn around two colossal towers, each with a beastly army trying to reclaim the ring. The third part will open up from the end of the battle and with the hobbits prepared to finish their mission of destroying the ring and saving civilization from evil. “Two Towers” crosscuts at will among the three stories moving smoothly from one story to the next, as it has the prankster hobbits with the wise old Ent who takes his time deciding what to do about his captives, the heroic hobbits with their guide Gollum are seen pushing on to Mordant and encountering many dangers on the way, and the main story focuses on the adventures of Aragorn as he goes into battle and proves his real love for Arwen by not being tempted by the beautiful Eowyn. The final part of the trilogy will open next December and it will be filmed by the same excellent crew.

To make things a bit easier for the viewer to follow this epic tale, which can be a chore to keep up with, I will provide the following primer to the “Lord of the Rings” characters as gathered from the press guide and from the AP’s Anthony Breznican.

Frodo Baggins, hobbit, as performed by Elijah Wood. Growing up in the hobbits’ peaceful land, the Shire, Frodo longed for adventure. When he inherits the all-powerful One Ring from his elderly relative, Bilbo Baggins, Frodo must set off to destroy it to neutralize its awful power. Despite being small and without magic powers, he is able to withstand the ring’s temptations better than many others. He is the first to volunteer for the quest that leads to the formation of the fellowship.

Gandalf, wizard, as performed by Ian McKellen. This powerful, magical being has a soft spot in his heart for the simplicity of the hobbits. After learning that his mentor, Saruman, has gone over to the side of evil, Gandalf helps Frodo in the quest to destroy the ring. Although Gandalf appears to die in the Mines of Moria, wizards can be reborn in more powerful forms.

Samwise “Sam” Gamgee, hobbit, as performed by Sean Astin. Sam, a simple gardener, becomes a loyal ally to Frodo and promises Gandalf that he will protect his friend. When Frodo tries to flee the fellowship in a boat, for fear that the corrupting power of the ring will destroy them all, Sam nearly drowns trying to catch up with him. Frodo rescues Sam from the water and they set off together, with the ring, for Mount Doom.

Aragorn, human, as performed by Viggo Mortensen. Eons earlier, Aragorn’s royal ancestor, Isildur, cut the ring from the hand of its creator, the evil Sauron. But instead of destroying the ring, Isildur became corrupted by its power and eventually lost it. Aragorn, heir to the throne, has avoided humans, living in the wilderness under the name Strider. Now he hopes to reverse his family legacy by helping Frodo on the mission to destroy the ring.

Gimli, dwarf, as performed by John-Rhys Davies. The gruff, ax-wielding Gimli feels the dwarfs’ old animus toward the race of elves, but agrees to team up with one of them on the fellowship because he fears the power of the ring more. Gimli urges the group to take a shortcut through the Mines of Moria, where he is shocked to find an entire underground city of dwarfs has been destroyed.

Legolas, elf, as performed by Orlando Bloom. An expert archer, Legolas puts aside his disdain for dwarfs and joins the fellowship. He and Gimli develop first a grudging respect and then real friendship that could be the seed of reconciliation between their feuding cultures.

Peregrin “Pippin” Took and Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, hobbits, as performed by Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan. These prankster friends become embroiled in the adventure when they run across Frodo and Sam during a pursuit by the wicked Ringwraiths. Later. in a fierce battle, they manage to steer the enemy away from Frodo but are captured themselves.

Arwen, elf, as performed by Liv Tyler. Daughter of elf leader Elrond, this immortal princess is in love with the human Aragorn, and is willing to become mortal to spend her life with him. She saves a wounded Frodo from the Ringwraiths, and inspires Aragorn on his quest.

Galadriel, elf, as performed by Cate Blanchett. This forest queen offers shelter to the fellowship and encouragement to Frodo, who fears he is too weak to keep the ring. Frodo tries to leave the ring in Galadriel’s care, but she rejects it, realizing that Frodo can resist its lure better than she.

Elrond, elf, as performed by Hugo Weaving. The immortal Elrond was present at the battle in which Aragorn’s forefather chopped the ring from Sauron’s hand. Centuries later, weary from a lifetime of war, he explains the ring’s history and helps create the fellowship charged with destroying it. He is protective of his daughter, Arwen, and worried about her love for a human, Aragorn.

Theoden, human, as performed by Bernard Hill. King of the land of Rohan, Theoden has fallen under the spell of Saruman through a spy planted in his kingdom. Although he intends to do good, the bewitched ruler is not in control of his power.

Sauron, dark wizard, as performed by Sala Baker, Man Flesh Uruk, assorted special effects. Long ago, this dark lord gave rings to all the rulers of Middle-earth, promising them unlimited power. But he himself had another ring, which controlled the others and would give him dominance over all life — until the ring was cut from his hand in battle. His spirit survives through the One Ring, which was lost for centuries. From his tower in the Land of Mordor, he has been gathering his evil forces to find the ring and take it back.

Saruman, wizard, as performed by Christopher Lee. Once a member of the Council of the Wise, this top-ranking wizard betrays Gandalf by succumbing to the temptations of Sauron. While using magic to thwart the fellowship, Saruman turns the lush countryside around his tower, Isengard, into an industrial furnace and builds an army of monsters.

Ringwraiths, former humans, as performed by assorted stunt arists and special-effects. These nine horsemen were powerful kings and sorcerers before being corrupted by power and forced to serve Sauron. They hide beneath black cloaks and travel in search of the ring, to return it to their master.

Orcs and Uruk-hai, ghoulish soldiers as performed by assorted stunt artists and special-effects. The orcs are savage, mutated cannibals who attack only in darkness because the sun weakens them. Sauron has commanded them in vast armies, but his ally Saruman breeds hybrid orcs called Uruk-hai, which are fiercer, stronger and impervious to light.

Gollum, Stoor hobbit, as performed by Andy Serkis and computer animation. Gollum was once a Hobbit-like creature named Smeagol. After discovering the One Ring, his obsession with its power transforms him into a withered, hissing wretch. He calls the ring “My precious” and spends years searching for it after Bilbo takes it from his lair. Gollum is tortured by Sauron’s forces until he reveals Baggins’ name; he later refuses to chase Frodo and the ring.

Grima Wormtongue, human, as performed by Brad Dourif. This duplicitous adviser to the King of Rohan has pledged his loyalty to Saruman and serves as a spy in the kingdom.

Eowyn, human, as performed by Miranda Otto. Niece to King Theoden, she recognizes a leader in Aragorn and tests the warrior’s love for the elf Arwen.

Eomer, human, as performed by Karl Urban. Brother of Eowyn and heir to the throne of Rohan. He is loyal to his uncle, the king, even though he mistrusts the adviser Wormtongue.

Treebeard, an Ent, as performed by John-Rhys Davies. A living, walking tree-shaped shepherd is the oldest being in Middle-earth.

Faramir, human, as performed by David Wenham. The brother of the slain Boromir, Faramir’s respect for Gandalf prompts him to join Aragorn and the remainder of the fellowship on the quest to destroy the ring.