Today, I watched another nominee from 2002's Best Picture shortlist...
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
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
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?