Director Peter Jackson surprised many when he announced in the late 1990s that he intended to film JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy as three separate movies made back-to-back over a three-year period to maintain the same cast and sense of continuity, and do all of this in New Zealand. When the first film in the trilogy, The Fellowship of The Ring was released in 2001, few could criticise Jackson's dedication to the project or his breathtaking interpretation of Tolkien's world.
December 2002 saw the release of the second instalment, The Two Towers, which, in addition to following the exploits of characters from the first film, managed to introduce a significant number of new characters and appears to involve much greater diversity in terms of setting and locations, as the separation of the characters at the end of the first film required three separate plot lines to run concurrently through the second film.
With the filming undertaken in one three-year-long shooting, the production team remained largely unchanged from the first film, however there are some additional credits for production, direction and writing (a full run-down of the cast and crew can be found here).
The Two Towers follows on directly from The Fellowship of The Ring and charts the progress of the hobbits in their quest to destroy the One Ring.
We learn that the forces of Saruman (Christopher Lee) are poised to destroy Rohan and fall on Gondor from the north, while Sauron continues to look for the ring and readies his armies to attack Gondor from the east. Meanwhile, hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) were captured by a band of Uruk-Hai and are on course for Isengard. And as a reborn Gandalf (Ian McKellen) joins Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) to rouse the nation of Rohan to defend itself against Saruman, elsewhere Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are on a terrifying journey across wastelands in an attempt to cut through the enemy's defences and reach Mount Doom.
The film goes on to cover the period from the breaking of the Fellowship, through to the fall of Isengard, victory at Helms Deep and the start of Frodo's journey through the Morgul Vale.
The Finished Production
Once more the scenery is fantastic. New Zealand really shows itself to be a perfect setting for this film. However, there is an apparent shortage of flatland locations for Rohan. Indeed the general lack of flatland appears to have forced Jackson to adopt a false horizon showing distances of hundreds and even thousands of miles from the characters. Although strange at first the technique works well and lends a unique appearance to the film. Indeed, as with the first film, the art direction is delightful. Versions of Tolkien's own maps and original artwork were used extensively with fine attention to detail.
The dialogue is well crafted, drawn extensively from the books and suits the legendary aspect of the films. Merry and Pippin grow considerably as characters and Jackson manages to convey something of the realisation felt by many of the futility of youth. Yet the pair show real maturity and try to change things even though they lack the hope that they can succeed.
Aragorn continues to be plagued by doubts and shows little growth from the character encountered at Bree. He almost seems resigned to Arwen leaving Middle Earth and appears to be seriously considering dallying with Eowyn. That is, until the battle at Helms Deep, which provides both respite from romance and a welcome opportunity to demonstrate his leadership abilities.
Legolas and Gimli, and in turn Frodo and Sam, show strengthening friendships that ultimately form the basis of the entire film. In particular the struggle of Frodo and the strength and determination of Sam come across strongly.
The casting continues to be skillful. Brad Dourif turns Grima into a suitably nasty lackey of Saruman; Miranda Otto plays a fragile Eowyn; and Bernard Hill is in the end a magnificent King Theoden. However, amongst the many new characters introduced, by far and away the star is Smeagol, better known as Gollum. Andy Serkis provided the voice and the frame over which the CGI (computer-generated image) construct was built. The team behind the animation of Gollum have produced a superb and very convincing artifact conveying real facial expression and emotion, ground-breaking animation.
A word of caution to parents in particular though, the material of the second film is stronger, darker and much more violent that that of the first. The higher age certificate the film received in many countries on its cinematic release is deserved.
This instalment is slightly shorter than the first film, coming in at around 165 minutes.
Variations From The Book
Merry and Pippin escape from the Uruks purely by chance rather than by guile. However the changes to their role in the rousing of the Ents is more significant. Rather than allowing the Ents to reach their own decision regarding Saruman, they are led by Pippin to see the need to attack Orthanc.
Quite unnecessarily, except perhaps as a device to shorten and simplify the film, Jackson has separated the action at Orthanc and Helms Deep. A consequence is the absence of the Ents from Helms Deep and a lack of a reason to explain Gandalf's absence from the Hornburg. This is accommodated by the banishment of Eomer and the exorcism of Theoden. Together, these provide sufficient delay and reason for Gandalf to be absent and allow him to arrive just in time with Eomer's cavalry.
The arrival of elves at Helms Deep creates bigger problems. Elrond is portrayed as someone with little time for men (hard to believe of the great-grandson of Beren and brother of Elros, Aragorn's ultimate grandfather), yet Haldir claims he and his archers were sent by Elrond. This is implausible as they came from Lothlorien and would answer to Celeborn and Galadriel before Elrond. Furthermore Elrond is shown preparing to leave Middle Earth and persuading Arwen to go with him.
Elsewhere Faramir is portrayed as untrustworthy (just as his brother had been), despite his apparently nobler character. This is an unnecessary change, which ultimately leads Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath. Here Frodo is seen with the ring by one of the Nazgul, an act which must surely reveal at least part of the plan to the enemy. However its does provide a key point in the journey of the ring bearer to match the destruction of Isengard and victory at Helms Deep.
Finally, the film finishes some distance short of the book ending. Missing are Frodo and Sam's battle with Shelob (a giant spider-like being), Frodo's capture, and Gandalf's final meeting with the now-defeated Saruman.
Jackson has continued to treat the story with care; however, more so than in the first film, this is clearly his interpretation rather than a blindly-faithful adaptation. Still, the changes are largely justifiable and the director maintains a level of attention to detail that would undoubtedly please Tolkien.