Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2002 - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Although my interest in soccer mostly died out after my stint in the Under 8's, I have to admit that I've still come down with a bit of World Cup fever. My parents are a little more devoted and are currently in South Africa on a tour, where they will attend all the matches featuring the Australian team. While it must have been difficult for them on Sunday to be first-hand witnesses to the Socceroos' humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of the German team, imagine how Kat and I felt as we watched the game at the Bohemian Beer Garden. Although the venue is technically a Czech and Slovak pub, the painted German flags on patrons' faces made it clear which team had more support. Not to mention the four rousing cheers that erupted. Yes, that's right. Four.

Today, I watched another nominee from 2002's Best Picture shortlist...

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Peter Jackson
Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson
(based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkein)
Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, John Ryhs-Davies, Ian McKellen, Bernard Hill, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
2 wins, including Best Visual Effects

Picking up where The Fellowship of the Ring left off, Frodo (Wood) and Samwise (Astin) continue to make their way to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring. On their way, they encounter one of the ring's previous owners, the emaciated and bipolar Gollum (Serkis), who acts as their guide. Meanwhile, Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd) escape the Orcs and find themselves riding a talking bearded tree named Treebeard.

But the Hobbits take a relative back seat in this instalment as the story focuses on the other surviving members of the Fellowship, the imposing man-elf-dwarf combination of Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (Rhys-Davies). The three soldiers, with a little help from Gandalf the Wizard (McKellen), take up the task of assisting the Rohan, led by King Theoden (Hill), in defending themselves against Saruman's (Lee) army in the Battle for Helm's Deep.

There is something slightly odd about reviewing the three Lord of the Rings films separately. They were all shot simultaneously with the same key creative crew, so it seems unlikely that there would be any major differences between them, certainly in respect to the film-making process. The cinematography is still spectacular this time around, utilising New Zealand's landscapes admirably. The make-up is still remarkable, especially the Uruk-hai. And the visual effects are still mind-blowing. Thus, one is left with the differences in story and the additions to the cast.

Perhaps it's a sign of my television habits, but I was a little disappointed that The Two Towers did not begin with a voice over (by Ian McKellen, let's say) announcing, "Previously on ... The Lord of the Rings," followed by a recap. It certainly would have been helpful to me. Nonetheless, the opening does replay one sequence from the first film before the action begins in earnest.

Story-wise, The Two Towers and its predecessor hold similar ground - they could both be described as action/adventure. However, whereas The Fellowship of the Ring leaned a little towards the adventure, its sequel falls towards the action. The battles are more epic and more violent, involving a great deal more participants. Plus, this focus on action has an added bonus. It allays an issue with which the first film struggled, namely superficial dialogue. With more screen time devoted to battle sequences, we are spared some of the overly sentimental moments. They still exist, but there are fewer of them.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the amazing technological feat that is the character of Gollum (pictured). We got a taste of him in Fellowship, but here, he is something to behold. Although it is abundantly clear that he is entirely computer-generated, the exquisite detail in his facial expressions almost allows you to forget that fact. No doubt, Andy Serkis is a large part of Gollum's effectiveness.

Some of the cast from the first film are given the chance to shine a bit more in The Two Towers, particularly Dominic Monaghan, who gives us a rare glimpse of a pissed-off Hobbit. John Rhys-Davies supplies a lot of the picture's humour with short person jokes aplenty. Incidentally, he also provides the voice of Treebeard. Bernard Hill joins the main cast for this film with a moving performance as the King in an impossible predicament. He is accompanied by two fellow Australian thespians, Miranda Otto as the strong but sweet Eowen, and David Wenham as the proud Faramir. Most impressive, however, is Brad Dourif, whose sinister gazes are the embodiment of evil. Is there any other way to play a character named Grima Wormtongue?

1 comment:

  1. Our mutual friend, Sal, is soon on his way to Germany for a month stay with some of his former co-workers for the World Cup matches. He tells me that he is their good luck charm in that Germany never loses when he's watching a match with them. He promises me that he will root for the USA if they play Deutschland. He also tried to give me pointers on how to enjoy soccer more than I do. It's just that when it is 1 to 0 after 80 minutes (which is often the case) it just tends to be somewhat boring. My suggestion is to increase the goal to twice its size and use 2 goalies. This way it can be fun watching them run into each other sort of the way outfielders sometimes do going after a high fly in baseball. One less player on the field would also make for more offense. All right, bad idea, but what do I know.

    Now to something I'm more familiar with, movies. First off, I must say I admire and am a bit jealous of the way you can synopsize a movie plot. When I tried writing about The Two Towers, I came up with a run-on sentence about paragraph in length, that made absolutely no sense.

    So as far as The Two Towers: What Matt said.

    It is the middle section and as such, its momentum is smoother, with less exposition and fewer fits and starts. It did however remind me of serialized television as it switched from one storyline to another. It think this is the nature of the action/adventure story. The Star Wars films did the same. Speaking of television, this viewing, every time I saw Dominic Monaghan, I kept thinking there's a younger Charlie from Lost.

    As far as the action, splendid as it was, it got to be rather preposterous at Helm's Deep. I don't care how many dwarfs you throw into the enemy, 10,000 Uruk-Hai will win out every time. And I guess all those forged spears that Gandolf the White and the accompanying horsemen ran into, were 'really' paper mache - maybe a wizarding glitch by Saruman. I'm nitpicking; if fantasy adventure is your cup of tea, you just can't beat LOTR.

    A quick word about Gollum. An amazing achievement, shared by Andy Serkis and the CGI artists. He would get on my nerves in the final installment, but in The Two Towers, his character took the prize.