A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 189 – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – September 5th, 2010

I knew going into this that these were going to be a little tough to review. After all, these movies were almost made as a whole, split up into three, not as three distinct movies. We’re not dealing with the Matrix movies, or the Pirates trilogy. Of course each movie has its own plot, with its own goals and climax, but the overarching quest – for Frodo to get the ring to Mordor and destroy it – carries through the whole movie and is, at the same time, not the sort of big overarching plot that say, the original Star Wars movie have (to defeat the Empire). It’s a personal quest for Frodo as well as the goal of everyone else. This is one reason we wanted to watch these this weekend. We knew we would have three days with plenty of time to sit and watch the extended editions, no breaks needed. I don’t want to watch something else in the middle and break up the trilogy. I want to get it all. We’ve done it all in a single day before, but I’ll talk about that experience tomorrow.

This movie does what many other epics do: It splits the plot. The title alone should tell you that we’ll be going in two directions. There’s a lot of playing with twos here, and if I was going to actually go and analyze the content I’m sure I could find a lot to say about Gollum and Smeagol, Gollum and Frodo, Merry and Pippin, Rohan and Gondor, Gandalf and Saruman, the Ents and Saruman, and so on and so forth. But I finished my academic career and while I love knowing that there’s a whole host of things going on here, I don’t want to spend my whole review talking about them. So I’ll point to them. Look at how many times you can see things paired here, as opposites, as mirrors, as divergences. Gollum is the most obvious example, but it’s everywhere if you start looking.

Let me take a moment to talk about Gollum. He is, simply put, one of the most amazing accomplishments in this movie. Technically speaking, he’s a brilliant effect, blending in impressively with the live action. His skin, his hair, everything about him is hideous, but in a wonderfully convincing way. And then there are his facial expressions and his character in general. And for everything but the visual effects, the brilliance of Andy Serkis is to be commended.

Also to be commended is the interweaving of the plots. With the party split up we follow Frodo and Sam (and Gollum) as they head towards Mordor with a pit stop in Gondor with Faramir and we follow Merry and Pippin into Fangorn Forest to meet with the Ents and we follow Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli into Rohan to deal with Theoden. There are difficulties in each as our main characters have to rally those they meet to their cause. There are battles in each as Saruman and Sauron attack from all sides with new allies to help them. Things seem truly bleak at the climax of the film. Bleak on all fronts, until everyone seems to come around. While the bulk of the movie focuses on the battle at Helm’s Deep, it’s intercut with scenes from the other two storylines. We see Frodo and Sam follow Gollum and go through the Dead Marshes before getting held up in Osgiliath while Faramir debates turning Frodo and the ring over to his father. We see Merry and Pippin growing ever more frustrated with the plodding deliberations of the Ents, who take an entire day to say good morning to each other. The way it’s all done, each plot is meant to have its own story but also follow a similar arc. So while there are a lot of things changed, they’re done to build a strong visual story and I don’t so much mind.

My one complaint about this movie is the Ents, and seeing as I really do quite like them, my complaint boils down to wanting to like them even more than I do. I love the feel of the Ents. I love their overall tone and the sound effects used for them. I love their faces and how different each tree type is. I love the details of them and their pacing. The thing is, they feel a wee bit spindly at times. Their legs aren’t trunks, they’re more like masses of roots or vines wound together. But everything else about them is so spot on, I can’t really bring myself to get too fussed. After all, whether the Ents’ legs are solid or not doesn’t really have much bearing on the larger part of the movie. And I must say, I love the Ents sacking Isengard.

There are some truly brilliant scenes and images in this movie. The approach to Edoras on the mountains is breathtaking. Theoden’s speech while he puts on his armor before the battle at Helm’s Deep. The Nazgul hovering in front of Frodo at Osgiliath. The Ents storming Isengard. All beautifully put together and all shining examples of the quality not just of the filmmaking but of the effects as well. Everything supports the story so well, but you have to appreciate the visuals. That’s why this is a movie, not an audio-book.

By the time we reach the end of the movie and there’ve been triumphs, but at great cost, it’s clear just how much more there is to overcome. The entire story of the second movie builds up the risk and danger. But it also builds up not just the tension, but the anticipation for the finale. To the point that even midway through the movie tonight we were both thinking about putting the third one in right away, review project be damned. Andy suggested putting it in at midnight so we’d technically be watching it on the 6th, but then it wouldn’t be over until 3 and that might be a bit much. But as I said, this is why we did this on a three day weekend. We’ve got to watch the third movie tomorrow. I can’t wait.

September 5, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

September 5, 2010

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Ever since I was a young lad and my father read these books to me and my sister The Two Towers was my favorite of the Lord of the Rings books. It has so much going on, with so many divergent plots as the fellowship all go their separate ways. It has a less enigmatic bad guy in Saruman, who is so much fun in his twisted attempts to take power for himself. And it has by far my favorite character in any of the books – the Ent Treebeard who shepherds Fangorn Forrest. So when I was waiting for this movie to come out in the theaters it was with the greatest anticipation and the greatest trepidation.

I said in yesterday’s review that I wanted to talk about the changes that Peter Jackson wrought upon the source material to make it work as a movie. The reason I wanted to leave that for today was that this movie, more than the other two, is filled with radical changes. There’s Aragorn’s fall in battle. There’s the inexplicable presence of the elves at Helm’s Deep. There’s Faromir’s radically altered attitude towards Frodo and Sam and their detour to Osgiliath. There’s the postponing of the battle with Shelob to the third movie.

I can understand why the changes are there. It’s all to make the movie more tense and cinematic. Aragorn has to fall so that they can have all these flashbacks to Rivendell and keep his romance with Arwen in the picture (not that romance is a big part of what Tolkien was about.) The elves at Helm’s Deep are there, I suppose, to re-enforce that the threat from Saruman and Sauron is to all Middle Earth and not just to the race of men. In the books Faromir is a worthy and upstanding man who simply acts to re-supply Frodo and send him on his way, which doesn’t make for much dramatic tension.

But there are a couple changes that sadden me somewhat. Mostly to do with the motivations of Saruman and Sauron. The movie says several times that Saruman is a puppet and a pawn of Sauron. It is implied that his mind has been taken over, or that he sees himself as subservient or thinks there is some advantage to be had for throwing in his lot with the side he thinks will inevitably win. It’s not at all how I recall Saruman from the books. In the books it’s pretty clear that he wants the ring for himself so that HE can rule all of Middle Earth. I’m not sure why this fell by the wayside. Perhaps Peter thought that the saga should have only one chief bad guy and that it lessened Sauron’s impact to have infighting amongst the evils of Middle Earth.

Then there’s Treebeard. Hoom. The depiction of the Ents in the movie never quite matched up with the pictures I had in my mind. Treebeard in my imagination was a vast, powerful force of nature. A broad wide rumbling wall of bark and leaves. And of course there are his eyes. Like deep pools of still water I remember them being described. The Treebeard of the film is all lanky and tall. Not at all what I had in my head. It just goes to show how brilliantly everything else must have been realized that this is the only thing in the entire trilogy that doesn’t live up to or exceed my expectations. Still… the Ents were always my favorite part of the book – nature literally fighting back and all – so in this one small way the movies never quite lived up to my expectations.

In most other ways, however, this movie is as awe-inspiring as the first one. It has things like Andy Serkis’ unforgettable turn as Gollum, supported by the huge team of motion capture artists and animators who distilled his performance into the digital character we see on the screen. It has the siege at Helm’s Deep, which is the primary focus of most of the action in the film. It has Grima Womtongue. It brings Theoden, Eomer, Eowyn and the rest of Rohan into the film world of Middle Earth. Where the first movie concentrated on introducing the world and laying out the stakes, this is the movie where things begin to take on an epic grandeur. It’s got larger battles, more characters, and deeper peril. And it lays the groundwork for the sheer unbelievable scale of the conclusion in Return of the King.

September 5, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment