Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lord of the Rings: an Annual Viewing, part 2 of 3

Last time, we considered the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, a film which, through no fault of its own, has diminished over time. We watched too greedily, our hearts desiring knowledge, and we learned secrets about the filming that cannot be unlearned.

Which isn't to say we exercised caution with The Two Towers: we saw all the extras, listened to the commentaries, and looked through the production photographs, just as we did with Fellowship.

The difference is that this knowledge doesn't impact the film as directly. With Fellowship, there's a sense that every other scene contains a shot dealing with the scale of the hobbits compared to the larger characters. Learning the various ways these were accomplished makes it difficult to watch without spotting. When the Fellowship breaks apart, this becomes less significant.

The Two Towers is concerned with more personal stories and journeys. Much of the movie is dedicated to Aragorn, Theoden, and Eoywn. All are human, and their stories unfold in a believable manner.

The other major plot follows Frodo and Sam as they try to make their way towards Mordor. The technological achievement of the film, Gollum, never feels fake or out of place: the performance captured by Andy Serkis and Weta was Oscar worthy.

Much of the material added for the extended edition revolves around Treebeard, Merry, and Pippin. On first viewing, this seemed a bit anticlimactic, but the scenes have aged well. While Helm's Deep was, in many ways, overshadowed by Pelennor Fields in the last movie, it remains one of the best fantasy battle ever put on film. In some ways, it surpasses Pelennor Fields, which is forced to rely more heavily on computer imagery, while Helm's Deep is able to do more with practical effects.

Finally, the ride of the Rohirrim remains a stunning display of visual effects; quite possibly the most awe inspiring image of the trilogy - and, arguably, in film history.

While there are aspects of the movie that we'd have preferred handled differently - the Wargs hold the distinction of being the worst designed aspect of these films, and Gimli's occasional moment of comic relief relating to dwarf tossing or bearded women have always grated on our nerves - on this viewing, we were surprised to see Two Towers emerge as our favorite of the trilogy.

Come back next time, when we consider the final film, Return of the King.

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