Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 12/18/02
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, John Rhys-Davies, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett

After raising the bar and setting a new standard for cinematic excellence, "The Two Towers" fits comfortably in the mould of "The Fellowship Of The Ring" (2001), and even offers some improvements. Picking up immediately after the first film, hobbits Sam and Frodo make their way into Mordor while Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli attempt to rescue Merry and Pippin from their Orc captors. Meanwhile, the evil wizard Saruman unleashes his army of doom upon Middle Earth, causing the humans of Rohan to seek shelter in the fortress at Helm's Deep. Outnumbered 30 to 1, the humans make a desperate attempt to hold off their attackers while Gandalf seeks assistance.

At first I was rather unimpressed by the film and its exhausting scenes of combat and medieval warfare, which reminded me of why I had such a hard time reading the book (which I never did finish). But I gained a whole new level of appreciation on the second viewing. The actors seem more comfortable and confident in their roles, and everything seems to feel a bit tighter than the first film. The scenery is breathtaking, the cinematography is utterly gorgeous, and the visual effects are mind-boggling. The craftsmanship of the film is truly remarkable, and the battle sequences are as terrifying as they are magnificent. Jackson also does an excellent job of portraying the horror and madness of war at both an macro level and at a very intimate and personal level. The carnage is not gratuitous or graphic, but sickening all the same. As a result, the film is less emotionally engaging than the first one, but much more viscerally engaging. It's also much more testosterone fueled and homoerotic than the original, and is literally bursting at the seams with handsome, strapping young lads bonding through sweat and physical violence.

Some artistic license was taken with the story, which reeked of Hollywood enforced sugar coating and political correctness. But not being a Tolkien purist, I didn't find the alterations offensive or detracting. The film also tries to lighten the tone by continuing to use Gimli as a comedic foil, and while it's amusing, it seems inappropriate and out of place. While initially offensive, this too improves with multiple viewings. Overall, this is another modern masterpiece from Peter Jackson, and "Return Of The King" (2003) will surely be something incredible.