LOTR, Chapter Two: Don’t Do It, Mr. Frodo!

(LOTR is an ongoing series.)

Wow. The Two Towers (2002) is a vast improvement on The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001). I had forgotten about that. The last time I saw it was nine years ago (good Lord, I’m getting old) and in theaters, so watching it a second time had some unexpected surprises.

Back in 2003, my friend Ilana sent me an e-mail with her review, describing it as “Lord of the Rings II: A LOT More Stuff Happens.” She then did a hilarious abridged screenplay of the film. Seriously, check it out. It’s painfully accurate.

But Ilana is right. The reason why Towers outshines Fellowship is just that: a lot more is happening. We already know who most of the characters are and what they’re up to. The difficult part is juggling the three main plots and keeping track of the new characters as they’re introduced, which is no easy task. Gollum is becoming a more central character, for example. There are the inhabitants of Rohan. There is Faramir, Boromir’s long-suffering younger brother. Also, aren’t there are a bunch of talking trees? I’m just checking to make sure I wasn’t tripping on mushrooms.

Keep in mind that I’m watching the extended versions of these films. I know, I’m a little masochistic. Despite this, these longer versions pay some dividends, and overall I feel like I understand the characters in the LOTR universe a little bit more. Of course, not all of them have dramatically evolved since the first movie. One of my hang-ups about Fellowship was just how fucking useless Merry and Pippin were. In Towers there is a little improvement, but their subplot is so lame they’re falling asleep during it and so am I.

Also, Gimli is now “sarcastic comic relief dwarf guy”! Is a scene getting too expository? Just end it with someone pointing out how short Gimli is. Everyone laughs and Gimli acts all cranky. I think this happens 160 times, but it was still pretty funny.

The subplot involving Frodo, Sam and Gollum takes up quite a bit of time, but this isn’t surprising. Frodo is the main character, although the film’s scope is so large you could easily forget it. My problem is I’ve never understood why Frodo gives so much leeway to Gollum, almost to the point of ridiculousness. Sam is trying to keep the situation in check, but Frodo keeps insisting, “But Sam, feeelings and stuff” (wide-eyed stare). It just reminded me of MADtv’s Family Feud parody of the series, in which Frodo stupidly listens to Gollum’s suggestions. Sam’s only lines are “Don’t do it Mr. Frodo!” and nearly crying. I thought, “Wow, that was pretty accurate.”

But Towers isn’t always heroics and levity- and believe me, there’s a lot of that. In my case its biggest surprise was Prince Théodred’s funeral and, in particular, the following scene in which King Théoden (Bernard Hill) confesses his tortured feelings to Gandalf: “No parent should have to bury their child.” Hill’s acting is so anguished here it took me off guard. It reminded me that as epic as the this series tries to be, it is most effective on a personal level. You don’t need tons of CGI or dramatic music to move your audience. What works best are moments that remind us of our humanity and how vulnerable we truly are.

I had heard the scene is one of the most memorable in the series, and that the actors and filmmakers are still approached by people who have lost their children. I was also surprised to learn that this exchange was based Hill’s experiences, and wasn’t originally in the script. In my mind it is the most true-to-life moment in the trilogy thus far.

Other than that, The Two Towers is an impressive spectacle of good vs. evil, and I enjoyed it. In response to Ilana’s review I had written, “I was thinking about watching the movies again someday. Now I know I don’t have to.” I’m glad I changed my mind.

Of course, watching Ian McKellen shout and destroy things with his staff is always entertaining. I’m realizing that watching men over 60 inflicting tons of damage is one of my favorite pastimes. The scene in which Aragorn tries to throw away Éowyn’s soup was also a stand-out. Once again, it was a scene that was personal and human rather than heroic.

And, without fail, I’m enjoying the Peter Jackson cameos. I’m able to identify him immediately, and each time it’s hilarious.

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