Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Year: 2002
Production Co: Wingnut/Weta (SPFX)
Studio: New Line Cinema
Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh
Writer: Fran Walsh/JRR Tolkein
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortenson, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett
The bad news first - New Zealand wunderkind Peter Jackson's second act of Tolkein's timeless classic is not perfect.

Like a lot of other directors, Jackson apparently finds it important to 'break up' long scenes of relentless action, adventure, drama or tension with humour.

It's achieved mostly by one line quips delivered by dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and they almost make him another Jar Jar Binks - a vehicle of cute comic relief that just gets increasingly irritating.

Also, if you aren't a Tolkein fanboy who knows every family tree and blade of grass in Middle Earth, the film doesn't take much time to explain the identities of certain (apparently very important) characters or races.

Together with a shot of Legolas the Elf (Bloom) 'stair-surfing' down into a clutch of orcs in the battle for Helm's Deep, the cheesy comic relief and assumed knowledge keep LOTR from being possibly the best film you'll see for the next year (and then probably only because of the Christmas 2003 release of LOTR: Return of the King).

'Huge' is the only way to describe everything about Lord of The Rings - if you thought the first film was big, you won't believe how much bigger The Two Towers can get.

And not just in comparison to Fellowship of the Ring, either - it continually surpasses itself in every aspect from poetic dialogue to special effects of staggering visual complexity and realism.

Just when you think the cataclysmic battles can't get any bigger, the orcs can't get any meaner or the heroes of the Fellowship can't get into bigger trouble, another scene will make you stare in awe.

At the risk of drawing the ire of the book's devotees, it also handles the many stories going on at the same time better than Tolkein did - the separate adventures of each party are intertwined and well paced.

The Fellowship is broken and scattered - Boromir is dead, Gandalf fallen into the Mines of Moria, Pippin and Merry have been taken by orcs with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in pursuit, and Frodo and Sam have taken off alone to deliver the Ring to the fires of Mount Doom.

Sauron is massing his armies, created and marshaled by the wizard Saruman, kingdoms and villages are falling to orcs and goblins, even the Elves of Rivendell are leaving.

Generally, Middle Earth is up the creek.

The slimy creature Gollum, who had the ring before Bilbo Baggins came across it years before, has tracked it down, determined to take it back. Sam and Frodo overpower him and strike a deal for him to lead them into Mordor.

Meanwhile, while in pursuit of Merry & Pippin's captors, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli come across the banished riders of Rohan, whose king is under Saruman's spell. They join forces with the Kingdom of Rohan - next on Sauron's list of conquests - defending the kingdom's people at the fortress of Helms' Deep from the marauding orc armies.

And Merry & Pippin, after escaping their captors during an ambush by the riders of Rohan early on, stumble into the Forest of Fangorn and there meet the incredible Ents, custodians of the forests and kin to the trees, who set about delivering them out of danger.

The three distinct plot streams allow for some of the most astounding things ever seen on a film screen, and the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

The sweeping New Zealand vistas are awesome enough alone to behold, but the writing team have created a credible work of drama with real feeling for every character and the running time (3 hours) makes for a richly detailed story.

For most people, of course, the real star is the effects. Kiwi effects house Weta have outdone themselves and anything that's ever come out of Hollywood before. The tree-men race of Ents - living, walking trees that attack Isengard at the climax - are amazing.

The battle scenes - particularly the climactic fighting at both Isengard and Helm's Deep - are almost beyond description. The line between dozens of real extras and CGI hordes of roaring, bloodthirsty orcs is indiscernible.

A smaller but no less stupendous feat is the creation of Gollum. Rarely has a CGI character shown such emotion on its face or had such a detailed effect on its environment - his leering, hissing face and snake-like voice will give you chills.

Propping up the biblical-scale effects is a very talented team of sound designers and sound editors - what we know has been done with a mouse and 3D software somewhere is brought to life with every vast beast's crashing footstep or falling boulder.

More new faces crop up - Miranda Otto as the King of Rohan's daughter and David Wenham as Faramir of Gondor among them - and the old characters still continue to surprise and engage you.

LOTR has been one of the most anticipated releases of the year, and it's one of those very rare films that will live up to its incredible buzz through its sheer size and scope.

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