The Lord of the Rings (II):
The Two Towers

Review by
William H. Stoddard

Based on The Two Towers,
second of three volumes of the novel
The Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolkien

Director: Peter Jackson

  • Sean Astin — Sam Gamgee
  • Sean Bean — Boromir
  • Cate Blanchett — Galadriel
  • Orlando Bloom — Legolas
  • Billy Boyd — Peregrin "Pippin" Took
  • Bernard Hill — Theoden
  • Christopher Lee — Saruman
  • Ian McKellen — Gandalf
  • Dominic Monaghan — Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck
  • Viggo Mortensen — Aragorn / Strider
  • Miranda Otto — Eowyn
  • John Rhys-Davies — Gimli; Treebeard (voice)
  • Andy Serkis — Gollum / Smeagol
  • Liv Tyler — Arwen
  • Karl Urban — Eomer
  • Hugo Weaving — Elrond
  • David Wenham — Faramir
  • Elijah Wood — Frodo Baggins
  • etc

New Line Cinema: 2002

179 minutes (original release)
223 minutes (extended release)
January 2003

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.


In this second installment of his film trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien's three-volume novel The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson takes on a difficult job of filmmaking: following the characters from the now broken Fellowship of the Ring through three different storylines that still form an integrated work of art. The result isn't quite as satisfying as The Fellowship of the Ring, either in capturing Tolkien's story or in producing a work of cinematic art, but it's certainly good enough to be worth watching. And it's still visible that Jackson genuinely knows and loves Tolkien's story and his fictional world and that his goal is to retell that story in film, not to make up his own story and cash in on Tolkien's title.

Some of Jackson's original scenes — by no means all — seem to have been written purely for the sake of action, without sufficient concern for drama. For example, in the first storyline, as the Rohirrim travel to their fortress at Helm's Deep, they encounter a scouting party of orcs and (not very convincing) wolves; the result is a battle in which Aragorn is wounded and separated from the Rohirrim — but the suspense is purely physical, adding little to Aragorn's character. It isn't as if this storyline lacked action; the battle at Helm's Deep takes up a quarter of the film and is full of combat.

The second storyline of Merry, Pippin, and the ents leads up to the assault on Isengard, also an impressive battle scene. Though this is one part of the film where Jackson's special effects fall short; many scenes of battle show ents from a distance, at which they are small figures that convey no sense of overwhelming physical force. Akira Kurosawa's film Throne of Blood, despite its primitive special effects technology, handled the motif of trees going to battle — inspired by the same source of Tolkien's, the Birnam Wood scene in Macbeth — much more compellingly, partly by its artful use of fog and darkness to preserve a sense of mystery.

In contrast, the third storyline about Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, though it has action, is primarily about character interaction. The portrayal of Gollum is brilliantly handled, bringing his inner conflict over the Ring to life; this sequence will set a new standard for the use of animated characters in live action film. I've talked with viewers who found this Gollum a revelation, like the first film's Boromir; I wasn't among them, but I certainly agree that Jackson revealed aspects of Gollum that were present, but not obvious, in Tolkien's story (it took me several readings to recognize them).

Jackson's treatment has many points that will interest libertarians. There is the argument that the Rohirrim, faced with an aggressor, cannot simply take shelter and keep the peace, but must fight to defend themselves. There is the portrayal of Aragorn, torn between his loyalty to other men and his fear that he will be corrupted by power, like his ancestor Isildur. And there is the continuing presence of the One Ring that corrupted Isildur, eating away at both Frodo and Gollum. Jackson shows once more that he was an unexpectedly good choice to bring Tolkien's theme, story, and vision to life.


© 2003 William H. Stoddard

First published in Prometheus, Winter 2002-2003
Libertarian Futurist Society

W.H. Stoddard reviews Peter Jackson's films
of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:

  1. The Fellowship of the Ring
  2. The Two Towers
  3. The Return of the King

More by William H. Stoddard

The Lord of the Rings
films' official site

J.R.R. Tolkien at Troynovant


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