|'The Uruk-Hai are scary when they growl but as soon as they open their mouths to talk they look and sound like a war-painted battle re-enactment society from Chichester'|
The one in which Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) spend the entire film in a tree. Such was my recollection of The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, before I sat down to spend the best part of four hours in its company. Not the most enticing prospect for an evening's viewing, I was forced to conclude.
The reality was anything but as dull as that sounds. Where Fellowship occasionally flounders in odd plotting and Return Of The King warbles on for what feels like aeons, Two Towers is exciting, well developed and satisfying. It builds in both poignancy and action to the climactic battle for Helm's Deep - a sterling example of how to produce big screen banging and crashing - and ends on a justifiable note of both warning and near-smug grinning and what it knows it has achieved.
The balance here too is better than in both of the other franchise offerings. Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), restrained in the other two films, is allowed to be the full on comic relief, lending a lighter touch to a serious film. Merry and Pippin begin their significant arc (arguably started at the point of Boromir's death), which finally sees them have some plot importance, rather than merely being a cacophony of frying pans and demands for breakfast. These elements play off nicely against heroic Aragorn's (Viggo Mortensen) quest to be a nineties action hero (this time by managing to woo Miranda Otto's Eowyn with very little effort) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam's (Sean Astin) attempt to simply walk into Mordor.
This is also the film in which Andy Serkis' Gollum shines, including the unforgettable moment where he talks to the competing feelings within himself, shot perfectly by director Peter Jackson. Gollum, especially in Return Of The King, can be over-snivelling and over-changing, distracting and un-inventive, but here his part is played to perfection and his impact is great.
The overall feeling Two Towers leaves you with is that this was a film where Jackson knew exactly what he was doing and how he was going to get there. Bernard Hill's Theoden, often ignored in any coverage, is endemic of a director who understands character and its importance. He makes all of the wrong decisions, yet each one is made understandable and come the end we don't have an antagonist, but a fraught man desperate to right his wrongs in the only way he thinks he can. He is literally caught between the rock of Helm's Deep's walls and the hard place beyond it.
There are perhaps minor problems. Orlando Bloom is not given great lines, something which he desperately needs to have any chance of showing acting nous. The Uruk-Hai are scary when they growl but as soon as they open their mouths to talk they look and sound like a war-painted battle re-enactment society from Chichester. It's arguable that, at least in the visual department, Gollum is starting to look dated.
Minor quibbles. This is the best of the three films, the one where Jackson found his stride, an absolute joy to spend four hours in the company of.