The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)

Directed By: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Andy Serkis, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Sala Baker, and Sean Bean

When the journey began with The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson began introducing the world to his extravagant vision of Middle Earth, and it was great.  While The Fellowship of the Ring stands on its own as a towering cinematic work, it's just one volume of Tolkien's novel.  The trilogy is meant to feel like one book, like one story, and like one journey.  That's why Jackson did something unprecedented in the making of the LOTR films.  He filmed all three installments at once before ever earning a cent at the box office.  While that certainly helps in maintaining the continuity among the films, it's a bold production move.  As time has told though, it has certainly paid plenty of dividends.  With this in mind, the epic journey Jackson began in The Fellowship of the Ring just moves to the next level in The Two Towers.

After the Battle at Parth Galen, the members of the fellowship have gone their separate ways onto various adventures.  Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) continue their journey to Mordor to destroy the ring of power.  They have some unexpected, unwelcome company in the form of the treacherous Gollum (Andy Serkis).  Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have been captured by the Uruk-Hai orcs and are on their way to Isengard where Saruman (Christopher Lee) awaits them.  During a battle with the Rohirrim of the kingdom of Rohan, these two little hobbits escape into the dangers of Fangorn Forest where tree herders known as Ents are about to wake up.

Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) pursue the legion of orcs that captured Merry and Pippin in an attempt to rescue the two young hobbits.  When they find a pile of Uruk-Hai carcasses slain by the Rohirrim, they believe they've lost their dear friends until they find tracks that also lead them into Fangorn Forest.  There they find someone they were not expecting, a new white wizard by the name of Gandalf (Ian McKellen).  He has a new mission for them — to travel with him to the kingdom of Rohan where King Théoden (Bernard Hill) has gone mad.  Saruman has taken hold of the king's mind and is tightening the noose on Rohan.

While The Fellowship of the Ring set a new standard for the fantasy film genre, director Peter Jackson takes things to another level in The Two Towers.  Jackson delivers grander, more epic battles that continuously amaze us.  He keeps the journey moving forward at just the right pace with another piece of masterful storytelling.  Jackson continues to fill in the blanks on the map of Middle Earth and creates even more dazzling worlds using the beautiful landscapes of New Zealand.  Throughout it all, he continues to push the technological limits of the era and push his cast to greatness.  All in all, The Two Towers is another masterful cinematic work from the director in his effort to bring Tolkien's literature to life.

Battles are a centerpiece of the LOTR trilogy, and The Two Towers has no shortage of them.  From the furious aerial clash between Gandalf and the Balrog demon to the tense night battle at Helm's Deep between the fleeing people of Rohan and ten thousand orcs from Isengard, Peter Jackson continuously raises the stakes on the battlefield.  Swords clash and shields shake as Jackson depicts grand struggles in battle.  In each battle, there's a tug-of-war between opposing sides that he dramatizes perfectly.  As the film progresses, they just get bigger and better.  Jackson is one of those directors who truly knows how to make war on the big screen.

The storytelling in The Two Towers is nothing but captivating.  While Jackson continues to move the stories of our main characters along in a grand way, the real triumph is his introduction of a host of new characters.  He introduces the royal family of Rohan, Boromir's family in Gondor, Ents, and, of course, Gollum.  With more than half a dozen new characters in addition to eight surviving members of the fellowship and the many side characters introduced in the first film, there's quite a bit of story to tell.  Jackson somehow manages to incorporate all their back-stories into the movie and fully develop these characters in a way that doesn't overwhelm the audience.  That's pretty impressive.  While this thorough storytelling certainly adds some hours to the runtime (which is just shy of four hours), it's absolutely worth it.

With this new installment come many new realms and regions of Middle Earth.  Jackson must bring Gondor, Mordor, Rohan, and Fangorn Forest to life in The Two Towers.  While bringing each world to life on the big screen comes with its own technical challenges, Jackson has two things working for him — an extremely talented crew and the natural beauty of New Zealand.  Whether capturing the splendor of the Ents, personifying evil in Mordor, or creating the stage for war at Helm's Deep, The Two Towers will continuously amaze you as Jackson really shows the true breadth and depth of Tolkien's world.  Jackson and his crew have seemingly overcome whatever technological obstacles they encountered in doing so.

The cast members deliver stellar performances.  Once again giving emotional performances, Elijah Wood and Sean Astin continue to stand out as Frodo and Sam respectively as they take their characters through the next stage of their journey.  Portraying our other two hobbits Merry and Pippin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd continue to deliver quite a bit of comic relief.  Their antics with Treebeard make for some good laughs.

Among the non-hobbit characters, we have some strong performances as well.  Sir Ian McKellen changes costumes and finds himself with a cleaner look in this second installment in Jackson's trilogy.  Now Gandalf the White, McKellen continues to give the film a wise, grandfatherly presence.  The Shakespearean actor brings all the wit, authority, and intensity he delivered in The Fellowship of the Ring.  As Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen delves further into his character's internal struggle with his royal destiny.  All the while, he appears to be more kingly on screen.  He also gets to delve a bit more into his romantic side with Liv Tyler's Arwen.  Jonathan Rhys-Davies and Orlando Bloom also continue to deliver plenty of action and humor as Gimli and Legolas respectively.

While all the members of the fellowship continue to shine in The Two Towers, the real standout is Andy Serkis as Gollum.  At the time of the film's production, motion capture effects were a new technology, and Serkis took this opportunity to establish himself as the preeminent authority on the craft.  Every word Gollum makes and every movement he takes were executed by Serkis in some motion capture studio in New Zealand.  While that's technologically magnificent, the more impressive feat is that his acting steals the show with his intriguing portrayal of the dual personalities of both Gollum and Smeagol.  Serkis brings this treacherous, insane creature to life in such a provocative way that you're left focusing on him every time he's on screen.  Given the fact that he was alone in some motion capture studio, this is simply incredible.

With The Two Towers, Peter Jackson demonstrates that The Fellowship of the Ring was no fluke.  This film is just as entertaining, thrilling, and spectacular as its predecessor if not more.  The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers gets a sober rating.  If you haven't seen this, you're really missing something special because Jackson is making an artistic statement about how awesome blockbusters really can be.