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Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

It was worth the wait

The greatest fantasy movie ever made just got better. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the follow-up to last year's technically masterful and skillfully directed Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is a darker, more violent (yet somehow funnier and more romantic) continuation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic novel.

Despite its three-hour plus length, from the on start till the very end - from the outstanding intro to the Battle of Helm's Deep to Samwise (Sean Austin) and Frodo's (Elijah Wood) perilous trek to the evil realm of Mordor - you will find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat; disappointed, in spite of yourself, when the movie comes to a close. There seem to be two theories regarding the purpose of feature films: one says it is to entertain and offer a sense of escape while the other says it is to explore contemporary social issues. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers does both.

The epic continues almost exactly where it leaves off in the first film. If you've never read the book, sifted through the million plus web sites or seen The Fellowship of the Ring, you may be thoroughly confused. Do yourself a favor and rent the Fellowship.

In this second installment, Sam becomes an even better friend, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) becomes even better looking, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) becomes even dirtier, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) get a chance to redeem themselves and Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) will have you laughing in your seats. Oh, and Gandalf (the amazing Sir Ian McKellen) is a bad ass.

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are hot on the tails of the Urak-hai (really ugly dudes created by Gandalf's nemesis and wizard-gone-bad Saruman (Christopher Lee)) who have kidnapped their friends Merry and Pippin. They then find themselves helping King Theoden (Bernard Hill) and the people of Rohan in a monumental fight against Saruman at the Battle of Helm's Deep.

Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin are tramping around Fangorn Forest with a bunch of tree creatures called Ents that look and act like your grandfather after he eats a big fat Thanksgiving dinner but who have the strength of the entire women's East German Olympic swim team.

The Two Towers in question are Orthanc Tower in Isengard (Saruman's abode) and Sauron's (aka the Lord of Darkness, the most evil entity in all of Middle Earth) fortress at Barad-dor in Mordor (a scary place you never ever want to go to for vacation). The unification of these two places of power represents the spread of evil and the increasing strength of Sauron. Sam and Frodo are taking a not-so-pleasant road trip into the heart of Mordor to destroy the ring (the thing which gives Sauron his immense power). Frodo's starting to act like a smack addict and Sam's the concerned friend trying to keep it all together. Into this complicated mix add: Gollum (Andy Serkis), a schizophrenic creature who lost his mind obsessing over the ring and who would do anything to get it back into his greasy hands, and a love triangle.

Aragorn finds himself pining over his love Arwen (Liv Tyler) whose father disapproves of their relationship and has guilted his daughter into sailing into the West (the place where Elves go to bask in their immortality while the rest of the world dies horrible deaths). But then King Theoden's niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto) steps into the picture and his woes are mysteriously eased. One could also argue that there's a subtle homosexual love triangle between Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas but that's a different review altogether.

The cast of characters in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is so extensive it runs like a Robert Altman film set inside a Muppet movie. You are introduced to more races of Middle Earth such as the Kingdom of Rohan, the Kingdom of Gondor, the Ents and mysterious warriors who look like they may have been pulled off the set of Xena: Warrior Princess.

Director Peter Jackson's vision of this tale brings certain chapters to the forefront, particularly the battle scenes that are only about one chapter in the novel, and inserts romantic elements that are only found in the back alleys of the appendixes. Die hards might be taken aback by these artistic liberties; however, Jackson deserves his own interpretation and overall it does not detrimentally affect the film.

This second film is decidedly darker and surprisingly scary at points. The first time I saw the Fellowship of the Ring, there was a family with about 10 little kids who wailed and cried and sighed for three hours; this movie is not appropriate for children. You don't have to be a Trekkie or a fantasy freak to enjoy this flick. It is simply, based on its technical merits, skillful direction and powerful acting, one of the most entertaining and gripping films of the year, if not ever.



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Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Rated PG-13
2 hours 59 minutes

Elijah Wood
Sir Ian McKellen
Sean Austin
Orlando Bloom
Viggo Mortensen
John Rhys-Davies

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