Movie Review - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

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Peter Jackson
New Line Cinemas
for epic battle sequences and some scary images

The Fellowship of the Ring didn’t exactly end happily, an unfortunate necessity in the world of trilogies. So, when The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers begins playing, I suppose it makes sense for it to start out with every single character but the villain in dire straits. And, since there are still three or four hours of the story left, when the credits roll, I suppose it makes sense for the characters to be in dire straits at the end, too. Even so, The Two Towers is definitely a darker film than its predecessor—not just in the “Well, this is only act two” way, nor even in the “I just love scary villains” way. Darker, as in “I don’t think this part was in the book.”

Of course, anyone who has already gone over my review of The Fellowship of the Ring has a pretty good idea which direction this one is headed toward, and is familiar with my position on the basics—elves, magic rings, violence, feminism and finding God in The Lord of the Rings. And since watching the second film in the trilogy without seeing the first one really doesn’t work well with this series, consider this “part two” of the review, and assume that what was present in the first movie is present in the second. I’m going to try not to repeat myself too often.

Cultural Stumbling-Blocks:

For example, I’ve already commented on the ale and tobacco.

Sexual Content:
The immodesty and the… familiarity, however, are both noticeably upped in The Two Towers. There are kisses and then there are kisses. And then there are more kisses. Maybe four out of the five wouldn’t have seemed in quite such poor taste, if she hadn’t been wearing an all but completely sheer costume that, moreover, drew attention to her bare shoulders and her low neckline—and if that scene hadn’t been connected with his sleeping quarters.

Violent and Intense Content:
Reprise all of the villains from the first movie, add a few new ones, reduce the eeriness and increase the gore, and you should have a decent idea of what went on in The Two Towers. The orcs, while still visually intimidating, don’t have quite the same look now as they did in The Fellowship of the Ring, and somehow having them argue amongst themselves in thick British accents while they cannibalize each other (no, I did not watch the decapitation or the disembowelment, this time), didn’t help draw me into the story much. I’m not especially fond of gore, anyway, but, even worse, it felt like most of the gore was just gratuitous. Yes, impaling the heads of enemies after a battle has been usual practice in history, but the close-ups of it, even if it was only an orc, seemed rather pointless in the context of the scene. The hobbits’ encounter with white-eyed elf ghosts felt meaningless and excessive, as well.

The battles are bloodier, deadlier, and a lot longer than in The Fellowship of the Ring, and there are twice as many of them. Giant canines add another superfluous touch of shock and gore. Human bad guys attack both men and women in one scene. Gollum, the other creature, bites and chokes the hobbits, and disturbs viewers by (among other things) alternately threatening and pleading with himself, when his crazed split personality stops by.

The exorcism scene could go under either this category or Violent Content, really. It’s eerie, to be sure, but it seems to me that being demon-possessed, not by a demon after all, but by a wizard that is just as much flesh as spirit, and just as much outside the victim as in him, would have some serious worldview implications as well. You already know what I think about wizards of this sort.

And you know what I think about telepathy and false prophecy. You can at least guess my opinion on trees with unresolved anger problems.

The feminism has a slightly different focus in The Two Towers. We meet a new girl, who gives us the message that, for a woman with spirit, anything less than front-line combat experience is, in her words, “a cage”. She is so preoccupied with searching for a self-satisfying “chance of valor” that she almost refuses the chance to lead her people to safety because she believes she can fight in the battle, too. The only reason she reluctantly accepts is that her uncle, the king, made it sound like a personal favor—not because it was her duty, not because it was actually worth her effort, not because it occurred to her that playing with swords in her spare time was not adequate training for real battle. Those realities just sort of fade into the background. It’s not all quite so egocentric, though, and the trick is that it’s not all bad. Her remark that “those without swords can still die upon them” isn’t a call for a female regiment in the national army, and her fearlessness is still commendable, even if it hasn’t been put to the test. As happened in the first movie, the feminism deprives women of their responsibility, not their femininity. The girl really thought she could lead a cavalry charge in her jumper.

Meanwhile, the elf maiden we met in the first film is going through a season of conflict with her father, and with her betrothed… who is also in conflict with her father. It’s interesting to note that there are no father figures in the entire trilogy that are on either the right side or the winning side of the argument.

Before the lady got into this tension with her lover, she gave him an amulet that represented her immortality (a subject I’ve already dealt with) and her affection for him. Back then, she was encouraging him in his quest with statements like, “If you trust nothing else, trust this [amulet]. Trust us,” and “May the grace of the Valar protect you.” The first quote is obviously a problem. The second quote refers to a group of lesser gods*, who, under the supervision of the “father of all” god of Tolkien’s elaborate spirituality, created the world and all that is therein. They, with their wives, generally take a position of benevolent neutrality when it comes to earthly affairs, but any spiritual intervention may safely be attributed to them, rather than to the still-supervising father god. It’s a complex arrangement, and if you’ll pardon my saying so, the religion of Middle Earth reads more like pagan Norse mythology than like biblical theology, and (pardon me again) I think it might be easier to imagine God into The Lord of the Rings, the movie, if you just ignore any connection to the book; and where the movie fails to define words like “Valar”, I suggest you let it.

Other hints at religion in the film include the assurance that the spirit of a man’s dead son “will find its way to the halls of your fathers,” and the vessels of incense and whatnot in front of the son’s grave. Of course, The Two Towers’ alternative to those heavenly “halls”—annihilation or turning into a malicious ghost—are equally religious in nature. I don’t think any of it is my religion. One character takes a spiritualized view of natural phenomena. Other characters fall somewhere between animal and vegetable, and they are moral agents on top of that. Still other characters seem given to fatalism of one kind or another, whether optimistic or otherwise. More is said about the undead, undying state of certain villains, and about the ring’s actions, desires and “its goal”.

Given my position on the first Lord of the Rings film, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I found The Two Towers to be Not Worth Watching Again. However, those ratings I use are only markers on a continuum, and just because two movies get the same rating doesn’t mean I thought equally well or poorly of them. The Fellowship of the Ring has elements that still appeal to me, but the worldview was just a little too unbiblical for me to be able to enjoy it in good conscience. The Two Towers only added to the worldview problems, and to the gore that I was already avoiding, and I found that, as a movie, it simply didn’t appeal to me as much as the first one. If your taste in film is like mine, I would have suggested skipping the second movie, and going straight to the third, if it hadn’t been for the new characters and situations that might be a little tricky figuring out. If you’ve got a really good imagination, I think I might suggest it anyway, in spite of the challenges. Of course, if your convictions about film were exactly like mine, it would be a non-issue. There’s more gore and sexual content to turn away from (and more worldview to be explained), but otherwise anyone old enough to watch the first film is probably old enough to watch the second.


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