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"The Lord of the Rings"
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"The Hobbit"
by J.R.R. Tolkien(Leatherette Collector's Edition)

"The Silmarillion"
by J.R.R. Tolkien
(Edited by Christopher Tolkien)

"Atlas of Middle-earth"
by Karen Wynn Fonstad
. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

This sequel of the J.R.R. Tolkien epic tale doesn't go out of its way to bring you up to date and if you haven't read the book or seen the first installment (and remember it) you will get more out of it with a short synopsis of the story line and characters.

It's all about power: who created the ring to control it, who would go to any lengths to obtain it, and what has been set in motion in an attempt to destroy the evil it propagates.

The figure who has it but wants more of it for demonic intent is Sauron, the Dark Lord. To increase his power, he wants to conquer Middle-earth and rid the planet of men. He takes the mountainous land of Mordor and there builds his Dark Tower of Barad-dur. Between the dipoles of its roofline, he appears as a giant fiery eye in an electrical arc.

To put his clever plan into motion, (according to the book -- not detailed in the movie) he disguises himself as Annatar, the Lord of Gifts and tutors the Elves of Eregion in secret things, like forging the Rings of Power, which he distributes to the nine Kings of the region. Then, in the fire-mountain of Orodruin, he secretly forges the One Ring, by which he could know, and control, the thoughts of the bearers of the other Rings. But, the Elves become aware of his deception and remove their Rings, destroying the plan.

Sauron creates an army of foot soldiers, called Orcs, which are descended from elves tortured and disfigured in the depths of Mordor. They are hindered by the physical weakness that they cannot stand the sunlight.

For a mighty sorcerer, Sauron loses a lot of battles. In one, he actually loses the One Ring, which is then passed from hand to hand for generations of terribly bad destinies and corruptions. In time, the One Ring finds its way to The Shire, a pastoral land inhabited by the peace-loving Hobbits, who are men at about half height. They're not in any other way diminutive. Demonstrating a better understanding about the tools of demonic power than their predecessors, they refrain from wearing the ring, instead appointing ring bearers. In the first episode, this duty fell to our hero, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Woods) who reveals his possession to Gandalf.

Gandalf (Ian McKellan) is one of the five Istari wizards sent to Middle-earth as the protectors and helpers of the free peoples. Their single task is to help create an alliance against Sauron. Chief of these wizards is Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), who, unknown to the others, has been taken under Sauron's control. He occupies Orthanc, the second of the two towers of the title, one of unbreakable black obsidian.

Gandalf discovers Saruman's treachery when he innocently consults him about the Hobbit's possession of the One Ring. Saruman invites Gandalf to take the ring from the Hobbits, bring it to him and, with it, join him in ruling Middle-earth. Gandalf sees what ambition makes Saruman unable to see and rejects the offer saying, "The Evil one does not share power and yours will return to him." Untouched by this insight and in order to obtain his goals, Saruman breeds goblin-men and orcs to create a hideous army of super size and no visible weakness which are able to travel great distances with seemingly indestructible strength and a clever array of offensive armaments. Their march across the plains is a relentless goosestep.

Once Gandalf's eyes have been opened to Saruman's evil, he swiftly returns to Frodo and impresses upon him that the destiny of man rests on his destroying the One Ring in his possession, which can only be done by carrying it to the fire-mountain of Orodruin in Mordor, and throwing it into the inferno that made it possible to create.

Young Frodo, wise beyond his years, accepts this charge, which is the underlying motivational force of the saga. With Gandalf planning the mission and Aragorn taking the lead, Frodo hides the ring under his tunic and sets out with 8 other warriors, forming the fellowship. They embark on an adventure strewn with exquisitely designed intraterrestrial digital creatures, mad and mortal dangers, death, fires, battles, and more effects than you can shake a magic sword at. The beginning of the journey is recounted in film chapter one, "The Fellowship of the Rings".

In "The Two Towers", film chapter two, our band of brethren includes the rugged, no-nonsense Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas Greenleaf, the master archer, Gimli, the dwarf Welchman and tough warrior, the elf queen Galadriel (an angelic Cate Blanchett) who advises and protects Frodo in his sleep wanderings, Arwen (an ethereal Liv Tyler), an immortal who has fallen in love with an earthling, none other than Aragorn, who returns the feelings.

But this tie to an immortal is problematic for Aragorn. Since he's mortal, as her father points out in an attempt to sway her away from her feelings, Arwen will see him grow old and die. For Aragorn's part, so long as he's held in the love of Arwen, Aragorn cannot feel the emotion for his fellow mortal, the beautiful White Lady of Rohan, Eowyn (Miranda Otto), niece of Theoden, King of Rohan. She's hard to get, but she discovers Aragorn's worth and this is destined to become an alliance with legs once she accepts the restraints immortality imposes.

The fellowship breaks off into differing paths, which we follow individually and episodically. Let's look at a few:

Frodo is making his way through the landscape with his servant and devoted protector, Sam, at his side when they come across a cgi creation called Gollum (digitized animation and voiced by Andy Serkis), a freaky looking fellow with a round man's face and a somewhat distorted short, long-limbed body of considerable strength. All of it's guided by a wicked, multiple personality mentality, at times sociopathic and dangerous, at times helpful and obsequious. He is very interested in acquiring the One Ring, by whatever means opportunity may provide, despite the fact that he's been turned somewhat mad by a previous encounter with it. He manages to win Frodo's trust (and our awe at the state of the digital art that gives him such expression) and guides the pair to the fire-mountain of Orodruin in Mordor.

Another wizardly computer creation is Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), chief of the Ents, a race of tree herders who stride the forests. Once you get over your fright at a moving, talking tree, you'd like to put your arms around it for its laid-back good nature. (There's a pun here) But that doesn't mean these creatures are weak. It's Hobbits Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Meriadoc 'Merry' Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan) who stumble onto Treebeard and his long limbed cronies and try to convince them that it's in their interests to get into the fight with Saruman. As a council, they decline, until Treebeard sees the destruction of part of his forest. His retribution is swift as he gathers his team of herders in an attack on the barriers surrounding Saruman's tower, unleashing powerful waters from the mountain above to destroy them.

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli arrive at King Theoden's castle at Edoras in Rohan and, once accepted as friends, find the king prematurely aged and in thrall to Saruman's man, Grima Wormtongue, the king's trusted but totally untrustworthy advisor. With the threat of Saruman's force of 10,000 crazed Uruk-hai (combat bred Orcs) on the march to conquer Rohan and destroy man, Gandalf appears and casts away the spell over Theoden, who then, with the better advice of Aragorn orders his people to their inpenetrable sanctuary at Helm's Deep, a fort built into a mountain for ultimate defense.

Saruman attempts to take advantage of this escape by dispatching some of his troops, the bio-engineered orcs riding wargs, huge hyena-like critters, to attack Theoden's people while they are on the trail and vulnerable. But they are vanquished by our assemblage of warrior heroes, however, and the people of Rohan make it to the fort. They take up arms and discuss defensive strategies as Saruman's main army marches toward them. The great set piece of this movie is the battle of seemingly insurmountable odds between 300 of Rohan's finest against the army of Saruman's 10,000, a study in medieval warfare.

Of course, people who have read and are familiar with the Tolkien saga will have a unique perspective on these film versions. To them I extend my apologies if what's discussed here doesn't include all the relevant parts or, worse, makes mangled mincemeat out of them. It's fair to expect, however, that the greater part of the audience will not have a prior familiarity with the underlying history and we have attempted to provide some of its details to clear up confusion and make the purely movie events more intelligible. For those with a greater knowledge of the source material, please bear this in mind as you imagine what it might be like for a movie goer who is being exposed to this epic literary vision only through that medium. If I've gotten anything wrong in the complexity of events and characters, your corrections will be appreciated.

While there is much to admire in this series, I would perhaps give the highest marks to director Peter Jackson and his casting crew, led by Victoria Burrows, for a team of actors that seem so right for their parts. While some have found Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn somewhat cold and aloof, I bonded with this role model of controlled intensity, a man of almost casual self confidence that fills the screen with charismatic purpose, absorbed in devotion to his cause.

No less so is Orlando Bloom as the unerring marksman whose medieval arrows are as swift and lethal as a rifle bullet. He plays the role with a lighter touch but equal presence and sensibility. These two are standouts in roles that could easily degrade into male macho caricatures.

The CGI critters that are introduced in this installment, namely Gollum and Treebeard, get very high marks for digital creation in the service of imagination and story-telling. To achieve the remarkable vitality of Gollum, classically trained English actor Andy Serkis played his scenes with Wood and Astin while wearing a black Lycra jumpsuit covered with hundreds of pinhead sensors. These transmitted relative coordinates to ease the transition by the CGI team to digitize their creation in all its movements and expressions. From the gloss in the vein-crazed eyes to the sheen off the pallid skin, the sense of reality in the figure is exceeded only by its ability to express the emotions called for by the script. Together, a character is born and a technique perfected.

After J.R.R. Tolkien, there were the screenwriters: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and director Peter Jackson. The brilliant cinematography is by Australian Andrew Lesnie ("Babe", "Babe in the City"); editing is by D. Michael Horton ("Saving Grace"); and original music is by Howard Shore ("Gangs of New York", "Panic Room") who won the academy award for best original score for this installment's predecessor, "Fellowship of the Rings".

Whatever one might criticise about this ambitious series of films, its makers are clearly committed to its monumental character and content. Its broadness of detail is too much to be rendered entirely in the film medium, even across multiple episodes, but there's great fun, if not magic, in the attempt, bringing us visualizations of an inspired, rich literary mind.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner
                                       Jules Brenner  

For an excellent collection of frames and production stills,

The Soundtrack Album


Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Very well written

I haven't seen the movie yet, but this was an excellent review. I wouldn't bother to send feedback unless a piece was really good.

                                                 ~~ Nony
Poorly written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Rating: 3

It is agreed that the film is an exceptional one. Although, the review did not need to include information from the book that was not in the movie.

                                                 ~~ Erik

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Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo and Sam
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