I wouldn't say I was dying to visit Middle-earth again. Last year's installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, called The Fellowship of the Ring, pretty much satisfied all my cravings for swords and sorcery. But there's still a long way to go before Frodo hurls that band of gold into the everlasting fires of Orodruin, so here's the second installment, called The Two Towers. Two towers...hmm, where have I heard that phrase before? Like Nostradamus, Tolkien may have had prophetic powers. He always claimed that the trilogy had nothing to do with, say, World War II. But the thing about fantasy epics like this one is that they continue to resonate year after year, century after century. The New York Times recently floated the idea that The Two Towers
I thought The Fellowship of the Ring was great filmmaking but not a great film, great storytelling but not a great story. Director Peter Jackson did everything in his power ' and the guy has a great deal of power ' to overcome the limitations of Tolkien's epic, which, like most hero's quests, boils down to a series of jams the main characters get themselves in and out of. But The Two Towers doesn't have what The Fellowship had going for it: a whole new world to define and explore. Almost all the characters are back, but not one of them develops any further, and that's after three hours of getting in and out of jams. Only the arrival of the Gollum, a CGI critter who looks like Steve Buscemi after a thousand-year bender, provides any thematic resonance. A set of bones with shrink-wrapped skin, he embodies the battle that's being waged throughout the trilogy. Everybody else is good or evil. He's both.
As I said, the main characters tread water, albeit in different pools, for the movie follows three storylines when the fellowship splits into sub-fellowships. Jackson tries to give each its due, but there's no strong connection among them, and the scenes set among the Ents ' trees that can walk and talk and, it turns out, kick orc ass ' almost seem out of another movie altogether, one involving Muppets. Everything's building toward the battle of Helm's Deep, where the forces of absolute good and absolute evil clash by night. Once again, Jackson pulls out all the stops, and once again this includes stops we weren't even aware existed. He may be one of the great visualizers in movie history, tipping his hat to such disparate forebears as The Wizard of Oz and Triumph of the Will. But visuals may not be enough to carry any but the hard-core fans to the end of Frodo's journey. The Two Towers is three hours of one stunning image after another. Ho-hum.u