“(…) And he looked at the slain, recalling their names. Then suddenly he beheld his sister Éowyn as she lay, and he knew her. He stood a moment as a man who is pierced in the midst of a cry by an arrow through the heart; and then his face went deathly white, and a cold fury rose in him, so that all speech failed him for a while. A fey mood took him. «Éowyn, Éowyn!» he cried at last. «Éowyn, how come you here? What madness or devilry is this? Death, death, death! Death take us all!».”
Director - Peter Jackson, Cinematography - Andrew Lesnie
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something…. That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Epic Movie (Re)Watch #199 - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Have I seen it before: Yes
Did I like it then: Yes.
Do I remember it: Yes.
Did I see it in theaters: No.
1) According to IMDb:
New Line Cinema wanted Peter Jackson to start the film with a prologue done by Cate Blanchett, something that Jackson didn’t want to do. Ironically, a year earlier, New Line Cinema had been opposed to opening the first film with a prologue narrated by Blanchett, something, of which, Jackson was in favor.
2) Beginning this film by revisiting such an iconic moment from the first (The Bridge of Khazad Dum) and continuing to push said moment past where it ended in Fellowship helps to make the film unique. It won’t just be a retread of familiar material but instead something which continues to push the story forward as all the best sequels do. It also sets the bar high for all ensuing action, as this was one of the (if not the) best moments from the original.
3) This film really doubles down on deepening the relationships introduced in Fellowship, with the romance kinship between Sam and Frodo. It is their relationship which the audience invests in, it’s something personal we can attach to. Sure Frodo losing his life or soul to the ring would be awful, but seeing how it effects Sam just ups the pain.
4) Andy Serkis as Gollum.
Holy shit, Andy Serkis as Gollum. Don’t let the fact that this is a CG role fool you, this is pretty much ALL Andy Serkis. Gollum’s facial features were based on his performance by the animator. All the physicality, all the vocals, the emotion, the heart, the character is Andy Serkis. He is so freaking otherworldly as the iconic character, blending completely into the role in a way only the best actors can. You don’t SEE Serkis in the part because he casts anything that is him aside to embrace the devious Gollum. And while I cannot possible undersell the importance and absolutely stellar work Serkis put into the part, a motion capture role is either limited or supported by the animators behind it. The character of Gollum is a perfect marriage between animation and performance, making you not doubt for one second that this is a real living character. Stealing pretty much every scene he’s in if not the entire film, Serkis should have been nominated for an Oscar because of his role in these films but wasn’t because it was motion capture. But this does not undermine the fact that Serkis by far gives the best performance in the entire trilogy.
5) The fact that the Fellowship was broken up in the last film allows for much more character development in this one. The heroes are not fitting for screen time or development in a scene with eight other characters. By separating them into the groups of Frodo and Sam; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli; and Merry and Pippin, all the characters get more room to shine and be developed.
6) Karl Urban may not have a lot of room to shine but that doesn’t mean he’s not as good in this movie as he is in others. Urban is a wonderfully gifted character actor, able to blend into any role which comes his way and Éomer is no different. You don’t see Urban so much as you just see the character.
7) One of my favorite things in the entire trilogy really begins to take form in this film and that is the bromance between Legolas and Gimli.
Legolas [after Éomer threatens to cut off Gimli’s head, pointing an arrow at him]: “You would die before your stroke fell.”
8) There’s this wonderful scene in the movie where Aragorn and company are at the site of the orc fight (where Merry and Pippin last were). What makes it work is that we briefly got a glimpse of this moment earlier. The orcs began fighting attackers and it looked like Pippin was going to be crushed by a horse when it just cut away. But by flashing back to what really happened while Aragorn figures it out for himself does two things well. First of all, it follows the rule of show don’t tell. Secondly: it doesn’t waste the audience’s time by showing us what happened THEN having Aragorn realize it himself. By combining it the film’s pacing improves.
I really like Treebeard, he’s a wonderfully multifaceted character. He is able to be slow, paced, patient, but also has some deep anger sometimes. Voiced by John Rhys Davies (who also plays Gimli), the actor does a good job of making Treebeard sympathetic and interesting when (in lesser hands) he could’ve come off as boring. I dig it.
10) As with many parts of the trilogy, the Dead Marshes scene has a wonderful sense of place to it. It’s viscerally creepy and eerie, making your skin crawl and your stomach turn. Peter Jackson’s roots as a horror director really come in handy in these scene as it’s a place you know the characters should leave ASAP.
11) Can I just so: Gandalf is really freaking dramatic.
When he’s revealing to Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas that he’s been RESURRECTED (dramatic enough on its own) he even disguises his voice to make it sounds like he’s Saruman just to screw with them. And then we have this wonderful moment after Aragorn calls him Gandalf:
Gandalf: “Gandalf? Yes, that is what they used to call me.”
Dude! You did NOT forget your name! You remember literally EVERYTHING ELSE! You remember Aragorn and Merry and Pippin and everything. Take a chill pill, Gandalf.
12) I really like the whole Merry, Pippin and Treebeard subplot. It’s largely conversation but it brings up a lot of really interesting ideas about why the trees should participate in the war. Not only that, but it very organically develops Merry QUITE well. He and Pippin both started out as pretty immature in the first film, but by the end of this movie (through the subplot with Treebeard) he’s accepted his responsibility and is ready to fight for what’s right.
13) Miranda Otto as Éowyn.
Although Éowyn really gets her shining moment of glory in Return of the King (and the best damn moment in the entire trilogy), I love her from the first moment we meet her in this film. She’s my favorite character in the entire trilogy. I love that she can cry/grieve but still comes off as incredibly strong. She always has the best for her people and king in mind, always looking to fight against those who threaten those she loves and constantly frustrated when others try to get in her way. She is a great leader and a great fighter, as no moment fills me with such joy as seeing this badass royal practicing how to fight with a sword. I just…gah! I fucking love Éowyn.
14) This is one of those lines in a movie which has stuck with me my entire life.
Théoden: “No parent should have to bury their child.”
It really speaks to the grief Théoden is going through and an honest truth. Children are meant to outlive their parents, not the other way around. According to IMDb:
One time while Bernard Hill was in England, a woman came up to him and told him about how one of her children had died shortly before then, and that parents shouldn’t have to bury their child. His confrontation with this woman affected him so much, that he asked to have a line put in about it.
15) Cutting between the three groups in the film could have easily dogged down the pacing, but the film knows when to make their cuts. The tension continues to build organically and the structure is never disrupted.
16) The conversations between Gollum and Sméagol.
Mostly I talk about how scenes like this work from a storytelling aspect as opposed to a technical aspect. And while these moments clearly illustrate the conflict and layers within Gollum/Sméagol, I am actually more impressed with the technical aspect of it. The scene works very well with two basic rules of filmmaking: Eye line and the 180 degree rule.
You can probably gleam what eye line means just from the name of it, but it’s making sure that when you cut between two characters looking at each other between shots the eyes match. Not only is that done very well here, but so is the 180 degree rule. The 180 degree rule is very simple: it means that when two character are in the same scene they should always be on the same side of the frame. Whether the shot is a wide, over the shoulder, or whatever, unless there is movement going on in the scene they should be on the same side of the frame so the continuity matches. In this scene, Gollum is always on the left while Sméagol is always on the right. Even though they’re the same physical person sitting in the same spot, the way the scene is framed just drives home the idea that they’re talking to each other because it follows the 180 degree rule. I just really dig that.
17) One of the most tragic things about Sméagol/Gollum is that for like MOST of this film he’s actually trying to redeem himself. He’s trying to be the good buy, he’s trying to help Frodo and Sam, but it is the harm done to him by fearful men which results in his regression back to a greedy backstabber. The more you sympathize with a villain, the more powerful they are.
18) I like the little update we get on Arwen and Aragorn’s relationship via flashback, but the later extended sequence with her, Elrond, and Galadriel is always something I zone out during. I like that she’s not forgotten but also the 15 minute segment where her arc is developed can feel a little pointless TO ME at times.
19) The Wild Riders attack.
While a little long, the set piece is very well done. It has interesting, well choreographed action which takes advantage of the wide space its in and a wonderful sense of tension. And it has some very real consequences, with Aragorn not being the untouchable hero trope but instead taking a fall off a cliff and being presumed dead. Also, Legolas and Gimli have their first of many competitions of who can kill the most bad guys in it and I love that.
20) A film is a story told in cuts.
Wormtongue [after talking about how it’ll take tens of thousands to take Helm’s Deep]: “But my lord, there is no such force.”
[Saruman shows Wormtongue such a force.]
21) I get that Elrond is Arwen’s dad and he’s worried about her, but she’s an adult who is living her life. Can’t he just respect the choice she’s made to live for Aragorn instead of pressuring her out of it? Please?
22) David Wenham as Faramir.
There’s a lot more patience with Faramir than his brother Boromir had. You can see a far amount of grief in Wenham’s performance. He’s wiser than his brother but not as favored (as we will get a better peek into in Return of the King), which causes a conflict in him. He wants to please his father and make him proud, but he also understands that his father is not always the best decision maker. This conflict shows greatly in Wenham and he’s able to make the character very interesting because of that.
Faramir: “A chance for Faramir, captain of Gondor, to show his quality.”
23) Get friends who react to you not being dead like Gimli and Legolas do with Aragorn.
24) I know the source material dates back to 1954, but I HATE the, “get the women and children to safety,” trope. Like, Éowyn proves that women are capable of defending themselves just as well as men can. But they’re constantly infantilized, LITERALLY thought the equivalent of children, needing to be protected and hidden away from danger. If they trusted women to fight in the battle of Helm’s Deep there wouldn’t be all this talk about, “Oh, we don’t have enough men to fight for us.” THEN FIND SOME WOMEN WHO ARE GOOD WITH A SWORD! YOU’RE LITERALLY HAVING TEENAGERS FIGHT, YOU DON’T THINK YOU CAN FIND A WOMAN WHO IS AS SKILLED WITH A SWORD AS TEENAGERS!?
25) Aragorn really gets to go on a great journey throughout the three films. I mean in the first film he’s a loner, a ranger who doesn’t lead men. But in this film he begins to accept his responsibility as a king and lead the fight in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. It’ll only grow in the third film and I appreciate that.
26) One thing that these films do really well is they don’t let situations get too dire. This is a story largely about hope and fighting because of that hope, so to have a battle be too depressing goes against that idea. Legolas and Gimli are great of keeping the human heart of a scene.
Gimli: “What’s happening out there?”
Legolas: “Shall I describe it to you? Or would you like me to find you a box?”
27) Battle of Helm’s Deep
This is an absolutely incredible climax to the film in the truest sense of the word. While the battle is INCREDIBLY long the filmmakers do a great job of carrying the action and pacing so that it never loses your interest. Legolas and Gimil help with that, but so do the character choices. Théoden gives up, Aragorn is ready to fight. The battle has tides, it changes favor, and it really just does a great job of holding your interest the whole time.
Théoden: “Is this it? Is this all you can conjure, Saruman?”
30) While this film does feature a tone of development for Merry, it is Pippin who knows what to do so Treebeard will get invested in the war. So he’ll fight. He’s a tricky one, that hobbit.
Théoden: “What can men doe against such reckless hate?”
Honestly (and Aragorn’s actions prove this): unite. Stand up against hatred and bigotry together and show the world that you will not stand for it.
32) One thing I haven’t talked much about for this film which also plays a much larger factor in Return of the King is Frodo’s continued corruption. The ring is getting to him, it’s darkening him, tempting him, causing him to doubt and fear. Wood plays this VERY well, this development. It feels organic, it makes sense even if it is brought upon by an outward force. It just really works.
33) According to IMDb:
When Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are in Osgiliath, Sam says, “By rights, we shouldn’t even be here.” This was a nod to the deviation the screenplay had taken from the book’s storyline. In the book, Sam and Frodo never passed through Osgiliath.
34) I freaking love this. I forgot about this exchange and honestly it gives me hope.
35) Deciding to end the film on Gollum/Sméagol deciding to betray the hobbits in Return of the King I think works really well. It resolves his crisis of identity that has been featured in this film. He tried to be good and it didn’t work so now he’s going to be bad. I think even when a film ends on a cliffhanger there needs to be some form of resolution to it.
There’s really not a weak link in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Two Towers continues the excellence which began in Fellowship by giving each character more room to shine, continuing the battle of Middle Earth in an epic and investing way, while making sure these films still have a beating human heart to them. It’s just really great.