The Two Towers: A Banal List


A review of The Two Towers is somewhat irrelevant – you’ve seen it, you like it, and you know why. This isn’t a film that requires (though it would surely stand up to) hard critical examination. So, in order to reinforce my adherence to banality, I present you with a list!

Top 10 11 Things To Celebrate About The Two Towers

11) It is a film.

I don’t mean that as distinct from a “movie,” but rather as distinct from a “bucket of crap.” An adaptation of L.O.T.R. had all the chance in the world to suck as mightily as any nearby vacuum, natural or man-made, had it not been helmed with the proper mindset. Peter Jackson brings that mindset, making sure the film does not play like a filmed book, but just like a film – its own creation.

10) It is a GOOD film.

This is even more surprising. Jackson has shorn and shaved and carved until he has crafted an excellent film out of cobbled-together parts of Tolkien’s world. Since film is visual, it requires less literary craft to make the fake seem real, but a great deal still to make us care about either. By constructing the movie as an escalation of both emotional turmoil and the pitch of action, Jackson has made a brilliant adventure film, probably the best in a generation.

9) It upsets idiots.

There’s a segment of the reviewing establishment that is like a Simpsons‘ wealthy dowager, fainting and saying “Oh! I never!,” particularly at extremely popular films. Normal humans do not offend them, but they must invent convoluted reasons for why innocuous elements are deeply horrifying. These are the asses that scream about the racism of Jar-Jar Binks or the hyenas in The Lion King or the unwholesomeness of Harry Potter. (From different sides do these idiots come, but it’s all the censors’ psychosis: That which I can view with no harm is dangerous to YOU. I think they are also related to the sort of numbskulls who believe that America’s Army is evil Nazi propaganda.) Already, articles have surfaced on the racism of The Two Towers (since, when that author sees rubber-skinned, screaming pig-men, all he can think of are people of African descent, or war mongering). I love to see idiots throw themselves against pikes, and The Two Towers affords them that opportunity.

8) There’s nothing camp or ironic about it.

Except for maybe one passage near the end, when Frodo and Sam talk about somebody telling their story some day, the movie does not wink or nod. It doesn’t take any time to look at the camera and say, “Hey, isn’t all this kind of ridiculous?” Of course it’s ridiculous. Coming into the theater, we know that these things don’t exist. To be told so would be insulting and stupid. A lesser movie would desire reality checks, because the film wouldn’t have the strength to believe in its own excesses.

7) Orcs are men in suits – and they’re great.

There are many ways to do orcs, and all of them sound like they would suck: CGI? Puppets? Make-up? In the end, Weta (Peter Jackson’s FX production house) has gone with fake rubber masks and greasepaint. And they look gorgeous – in an ugly fashion. Creepy, unhuman, but not plastic. The most amazing element is the mouths. Watch the battle of Helm’s Deep, see the Uruk-Hai as they bellow beneath the outer wall. Look at the way their skin stretches, how their mouths open and their lips peel back in ways decidedly unhuman. These orcs are not Klingons, (folks with knobby foreheads), they are a monstrous creation of mud and filth. (By the way, I know “unhuman” is
not in Webster’s, but (in this case) I prefer it to “inhuman.” Conrad pique, youcan call it.)

6) It kept the Ents somewhat ridiculous.


Ents are some of the silliest creations in the novel. They move and talk very slowly (in the book the Ent council takes several days), and when they do talk, it is very distinct, full of “Hoom!” and “Baroorum!” and other admonitions to the little folk. Really silly stuff, and a lot of it is kept in the film. Just enough to make it all the more impressive when they embark on their last march and destroy Isengard.

5) This was the only shot at ever having good fantasy films, and they finally got it right.

I like fantasy. So do you, or you should. But we have to look ourselves in our collective eyes and not lie: never before has there been a great fantasy movie, at least not beyond the silent era of film. Elements of previous fantasy films have been laudable, but can you say with any seriousness that The Dark Crystal is terrific cinema? Or that Jason And The Argonauts would be even half-remembered were it not for a few Harryhausen skeletons? Naw, this was it, our one chance, since everything that comes after this will inevitably rip off its trappings and ignore the real reasons it is great (much like a novel by Robert Jordan or Terry Brooks or Stephen Donaldson), going for the more easily replicable elements. So, thanks Pete.

4) Peter Jackson’s finally getting the love he deserves.

And again, I say “Thanks, Pete, ’cause you’ve deserved it for years.” Heavenly Creatures received warm critical notes but almost no distribution, and The Frighteners was sold as something it was not: a summer blockbuster (though, indeed, its late August release showed Miramax didn’t even have the confidence it would be that). Jackson’s previous films are known only to dorks like myself and the illustrious Jack. And now Jackson may well be nominated for Oscars and other wonderful awards. Since he was always the sort of guy I believed was deserving of praise when he made Brain Dead (a.k.a. Dead Alive), it is gratifying.

3) Gollum is well-done.


CGI? Gasps were heard across Christendom. Can’t be done, they said. He’ll look like Abe from Oddworld – he’ll suck. It won’t work. The spectre of Jar-Jar Binks was raised, my friends. Well, the naysayers did not know they were dealing with Weta. Few (read: no) computer-graphics effects artists take the time to create reality with such attention and care. Even when they first got their silicon graphics machines back with Heavenly Creatures, the effects were magical. They were like the ones back in Star Wars, with their own weight and reality, not the new masturbatory (and low-quality) digital puke that George Lucas has foisted upon us. Gollum – and while we’re at it, let us not forget there was a human on the set, the real-life Andy Serkis, who also does the voice of the pathetic, sad thing – Gollum is not a trick, but a character.

2) God, but isn’t Brad Dourif greasy?

The whole cast deserves commendation, but Brad Dourif gets the chance to do a speech, which is almost absent in today’s movie writing. (Samwise Gamgee gets one, too.) He piles the pain and offal upon the gorgeous Eowyn with such bluster and nastiness that I wanted to hiss. He needs better roles than the ones he’s had since his Oscar-nominated turn in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and his strange and delirious performance in The X-Files. This is one.

1) Tolkien’s stories and themes are used as a jumping-off point rather than as a constriction.

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