Film Discussion 19: The Two Towers (2002)

Nick and I continued our discussion of Peter Jackson's adaptations of the Lord of Rings, covering the second film of the trilogy, The Two Towers. We talked about how Theoden acted as a mentor to Aragorn, that Jackson seems to keep Tolkien's view that virtuous characters are the quickest to laugh and hope, why Jackson doesn't give us a character who can resist the ring, and in the end we acknowledge that what he did right outweighs the changes we have issues with.

These discussions have been some of my favorites so far, so I'm curious what you have to say as well. Comment below with your questions, comments, and concerns. And feel free to join us for the last installment in a few weeks!

Show Notes

1. "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" by Roger Ebert

"The Two Towers" is one of the most spectacular swashbucklers ever made, and, given current audience tastes in violence, may well be more popular than the first installment, "The Fellowship of the Ring." It is not faithful to the spirit of Tolkien and misplaces much of the charm and whimsy of the books, but it stands on its own as a visionary thriller. I complained in my review of the first film that the hobbits had been short-changed, but with this second film I must accept that as a given, and go on from there.
"The Two Towers" will possibly be more popular than the first film, more of an audience-pleaser, but hasn't Jackson lost the original purpose of the story somewhere along the way? He has taken an enchanting and unique work of literature and retold it in the terms of the modern action picture. If Tolkien had wanted to write about a race of supermen, he would have written a Middle-Earth version of "Conan the Barbarian." But no. He told a tale in which modest little hobbits were the heroes. And now Jackson has steered the story into the action mainstream. To do what he has done in this film must have been awesomely difficult, and he deserves applause, but to remain true to Tolkien would have been more difficult, and braver.

2. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" by Jeffrey Overstreet

Tolkien made every character's heart a battlefield between desire and selflessness, and Jackson underlines and boldfaces this theme. Call it Soul Wars, Episode Two. Villains give in to greed; heroes persevere through Christlike suffering. Gandalf returns from death's edge, a risen savior. His healing of the poisoned King Theoden, which Jackson gleefully exaggerates, stands as one of the great movie exorcisms. Arwen surrenders her immortality in the name of love. Aragorn wrestles personal demons, preparing to be a messianic king. Samwise, patient and forgiving, helps Frodo carry his cross.

The fiercest struggle takes place in the tortured soul of Gollum. Smeagol — Gollum's original, hobbit-like self — struggles feebly to overcome his ravenous, lustful alter ego like a timid child trying to slay a dragon. It is the filmmakers' most commendable triumph that he gains our sympathies. We come to hope that, by Frodo's stripes, this poor creature can be healed.