#29: The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
As some of you might be aware, I recently wrote my masters thesis on cities in LOTR, so I'm going to have to control myself a bit here. The eponymous two towers of the book/film are Orthanc of Isengard (where Saruman hangs out) and Minas Morgul (of the Nasgul). I could go into the critical conversation surrounding Orthanc's connections with Foucault's ideas of the all-seeing eye, or the history of Numenor and Gondor to explain how Minas Ithil became Minas Morgul, but I have a feeling I'd lose you all quite quickly.
So instead, I'll talk about the success of the adaptation. I'm going to assume you've watched the film but not read the book; everyone seems to have seen Peter Jackson's trilogy, but not as many can claim honestly to have read Tolkien's novel cover to cover. You can be excused for this, because the films stand alone as exemplars of well-done fantasy film, having won pretty much every Academy Award going, save acting. I'm a big fan of the films, and don't feel an ounce of shame admitting that they are what propelled me towards eventually reading the books.
Which is better? Usually you'd hear me start preaching on the purity of the literary form, but here I'm actually not so sure. Obviously, there is significantly more going on in the book, considering Tolkien wrote it more as an exercise within the alternative, fantasy world history\mythology that he had created rather than simply writing a bit of escapist fiction. But still, the films are incredible cinematic works: those swooping shots of the three runners pursuing the Uruk Hai, the impeccable wardrobe work, and the detailed capturing of Middle-earth's cultural history.
Jackson does well to bring the figures of Tolkien's imagination to the screen, but he also puts his own stamp on the story. I'd argue that the plotting of the film is in some cases far more effective than the book. For instance, Tolkien's book starts with the death of Boromir and capture of Merry and Pippin, whereas Jackson puts this at the end of Fellowship which creates an efficient momentum into the second instalment. Tolkien's plotting of the Rohan chapters is fairly messy, which does give a greater overview of the country's culture and layout, but can feel excessive and here the film does better in cutting right to the chase. It's a shame we miss out on the huorn attacks, which skips over some of Tolkien's central thematic material, but a great bloody massacre at Helm's Deep works just as well.
Instead of the huorns (ent-like killer tree things) Jackson supplements the Rohirrim forces with an Elven host. This is fairly representative of the co-writer/director's thematic focus in the films overall, centralising more on relations between the Free Peoples of M-e rather than on mystical nature as Tolkien does. More than anything this is to suit Jackson's more modern, secular audience, and suggests he is slightly less dedicated to fantasy than Tolkien. But then, Tolkien was something of a nut. A genius. But a nut.
You've probably seen this film already and it's certainly not for everyone - if you're not already a fan of fantasy then LOTR might well be too much. If you are a fan however, I'd love to hear what aspects of this film particularly pique your interest. And don't worry, I'll focus more on the films themselves when #s 1 and 3 come around: I much prefer them.