Reviewed by: Ken James
It’s easy to get lost in all the strange sounding names and places if you’re unfamiliar with “The Lord of the Rings”. This series of stories penned by Christian British author J.R.R. Tolkien was first published in 1954. Since then it has had a profound effect on generations of readers, defining for many the archetypal struggle between good and evil.
In it, we are introduced to many races: Hobbits or halflings (Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin), Wizards with great power (Gandalf, Saruman), wise and peaceful Elves (Legolas, Galadriel, Arwen), Humans (Aragorn, Eowyn, King Theoden), Dwarfs (Gimli), the fiercesome and evil Orcs, and others.
In this epic adventure, Frodo is entrusted with an ancient and most powerful ring (one that rules over all 20 rings originally forged) that the evil Sauron wants for himself. It was lost long ago. If Sauron can capture it, he can become an invincible ruler of all Middle Earth. Frodo must make his way to Mordor where he can cast the ring into a great chasm of fire, forever preventing Sauron from his wicked plan of domination. The entire fate of Middle Earth rests in the hands of a lowly Hobbit.
Starring: Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, Dominic Monaghan, Viggo Mortensen, Miranda Otto, John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis, Liv Tyler, Karl Urban, Hugo Weaving, David Werham, Elijah Wood | Directed by: Peter Jackson | Produced by: Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh | Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson (based on the novel by JRR Tolkien) | Distributor: New Line Cinema
Awaken companions. Middle Earth awaits. The time for “The Two Towers” has come. The second film in the epic trilogy based on the writings of JRR Tolkien has opened to fans around the world.
This three-hour long story is darker than the first, devoid of the happy times of the Shire as Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) press on toward Mordor, now separated from the fellowship that set out from Rivendell. While the bearer of the ring continues in his journey, Aragorn the Human (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas the Elf (Orlando Bloom) track down Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) who were abducted by Orcs at the conclusion of “The Fellowship of the Ring” and are on their way to see Wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee).
Several new characters are introduced in “The Two Towers”. Among them is the CG-based Gollum (voice and movement given by Andy Serkis, perhaps destined for an Oscar for “Best Supporting Actor”); Humans of Rohan King Theoden (Bernard Hill), his niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto) and Nephew Eomer (Karl Urban), the evil adviser Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), and others. The animated trees of the Fangorn Forest, led by the Ent Treebeard (voice by John Rhys-Davies), also come to wonderful life and play a big part in the assault upon Isengard.
The heavy violence, use of wizardry, and frightening images (demonic in appearance) in “The Two Towers” are the most concerning elements. There is no sex or profanity. (Gollum isn’t wearing much, but he’s a CG character and doesn’t show anything.) Aragon shares a few more kisses with his love Arwen the Elf (Liv Tyler). Battle after battle ensue: the fierce Uruk-hai vs. the Riders of Rohan, Orc mounted upon Wargs (a mix of bear, wolf and hyena) vs. Rohan warriors again, and the MASSIVE** 10,000 strong army of Saruman vs. every man, woman and child of the Rohan Kingdom in the battle at Helm’s Deep.
More specifically, we witness one or two head dismemberments (though not particularly gory), a head impaled upon a stake as dead Orc bodies smolder, and a large number of sword fights and stabbings. But if the first film didn’t bother you, this one probably won’t either. That said, I don’t recommend this for those under fifteen.
** MASSIVE is the ground-breaking software that WETA Digital has developed that enables the CG Orcs numbering 10,000 strong to each independently choose from several offensive and defensive moves as they are engaged in battle. Each computerized warrior has its own brain, in essence. In an earlier version of MASSIVE, Producer Barrie Osborne told me of how about half of the Orcs that approached the enemy decided to run away as deserters rather than fight their opponent!
The evil in “The Two Towers” can be quite frightening, seen personified in several characters: the Human Grima Wormtongue (and the bewitching he has done upon King Theoden as his trusted adviser), the beastly Orcs, and the dead spirits in the Dead Marshes that seek to make captive Frodo and Sam. The two towers are said to represent different kinds of evil: Barad-dur, fortress of the Dark Lord Sauron, sends out a dark mist of evil that pervades entire regions, whereas Orthanc, Saruman the White’s tower of Isengard (a sickening flattery of Barad-dur) represents a more personal evil. No matter what kind of evil it is, our unlikely heroes know that it must be fought.
Tolkien himself was anti-war, having fought in World War I and penning this story during the events of WWII. He faced horrible tragedy in the loss of his closest friends and saw firsthand the evil that exists in our world. A committed Christian and contemporary of CS Lewis who helped him along in his own pursuit of the Creator, Tolkien clearly denied that “The Lord of the Rings” is an allegory of the gospel. Yet there is much to glean from its pages.
The most positive elements include the bonds of friendship, the continual battle against evil, redemption of those who seem perhaps beyond hope (in Gollum), the choices one can make to choose the right, concern for the environment (with the substory surrounding the Ents, Keepers of the Forest), and one word: HOPE. There is always hope. Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s faithful companion, becomes a narrator during this tale and offers profound thoughts, perhaps the chief of which is “there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”
(For a more detailed look, we recommend Finding God in the Lord of the Rings by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware).
I noted several spiritual themes in this story that are worth a closer look. Frodo and Sam find themselves disagreeing about Gollum and the role he should play in helping them. Can he be trusted? Frodo feels a certain bond to him, as they both share the experience of being a bearer of the great ring. Yet Sam believes Gollum will betray their trust and murder them in the night, stealing back “my precioussss.” Is one so foul in appearance beyond redemption? Surprisingly, you can’t help but begin to find a soft spot for the pitiful Gollum. And such an extension of grace and trust by Frodo begins to bring out schizophrenic episodes in Gollum as his darker self begins to argue with the goodness and innocence that tries to come to the surface. I found these scenes particularly interesting and clever; even humorous.
Those who know the story already will also know that Gandalf returns as an even more powerful figure. In a dream sequence Frodo has at the start of the story, we witness how Gandalf the Grey fought with the fiery demon Balrog as the two fell deep below the earth in the Mines of Moria. Gandalf eventually defeats his enemy, but lies near death until he is supernaturally revived and healed, sent back to Middle Earth to complete his task not yet finished. The parallels to Jesus’ defeat of Satan through his death, burial and resurrection can be recognized for those who look.
In one scene with spiritual warfare significance, Gandalf the White enters the oppressive darkness of the Court of Rohan where King Theoden is under the spell of the serpent-like Grima Wormtongue (a pawn of Saruman). He breaks the spell the King has been under, and with dazzling light a scene of exorcism takes place. The nearly-dead King is restored to health and vigor, able to see things for what they are and no longer willing to take the counsel of his once-trusted advisor.
When I spoke with Director/Producer/Writer Peter Jackson, affectionately known as “PJ” by the tight-knit cast and crew who describe him as a genius, he made it known that “The Two Towers” is simply the second act of the larger trilogy. It is really a 10-hour epic film, though released over a three-year period. There is no “when last we saw Frodo and Sam they were…” So if you’ve seen “Fellowship” and enjoyed it, I know you’ll love “The Two Towers”. If you’ve not seen the first movie, spend a few bucks and watch it before this one. You’ll be lost without, unless you’ve read the books.