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
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
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
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.
For an excellent collection of frames and production stills,
~~ Jules Brenner