The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
5 stars

Less than a minute into The Two Towers, I was grinning so hard my teeth hurt and my hands smacked together in an involuntary clap at what I saw. Even though I'd heard about it, read about it, I couldn't believe I was seeing it, feeling that fierce joy. There was --is-- no question: Peter Jackson has roared back into theatres with the mind-blowing Part Two of the greatest fantasy epic in movie history.

That was after sixty seconds. After 10,200 seconds, I staggered out of the theatre, just trying to absorb everything I'd seen between those first few electrifying moments and the final fade to black. I'm still absorbing.

The Two Towers is a huge film, big in every way; next to it, Fellowship feels like a light-hearted little Dungeons and Dragons caper. The landscapes are huge, yawning, swallowing up Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in leagues and leagues of hard grassy plain, or stretching in blasted vastness away in front of Sam and Frodo. The armies are packed, seething, rumbling in their thousands. The scale and the complexity and the sheer energy and impact of the Helm's Deep siege is jaw-off-tearing. But it's not just the images and the scale that's bigger-- the stakes have gone up too. Where Fellowship was quest, Two Towers is war. 

We know from watching Fellowship that Jackson is committted to taking the tiniest excuse from the book and blowing it up into the biggest, coolest action scene he can devise. Faced with one of the centerpiece battles of the Lord of the Rings, Jackson has given us a war like no other, with all the brutal reality of a fully realized medieval siege battle.

In pure Jackson style, the details blast out at every second -- the clang of the iron siege-ladder, the whistling of flocks of arrows, the crunch and crushing solidity of a falling boulder. Never has a seige battle been laid out with such attention to geometry, the specific layout of the battlefield. There was a time when this is how wars were fought, and this is what they looked like, orcs or not. 

But Jackson's picture of war isn't merely glorious mayhem, rousing entertainment. This is war, huddled children in the keep, their mothers' eyes wide with fear and  their imagined fate should the defences fail. This is young boys taking up swords and going to fight. This is being the weak, knowing you are about to be set upon by the strong. It's powerful, big stuff.

At the same time, Two Towers is colder, bluer, grayer. The first film ends with the breaking of the Fellowship, and in The Two Towers we feel its loss.  The Two Towers doesn't have the warm camaraderie of Fellowship, the intimacy of character. We don't feel quite the same connection to our heroes as we did in the first film. Now hobbits and men and elf and dwarf are scattered across Middle Earth, not to mention the host of new characters to worry about. Fellowship had nine major players, plus a half-dozen others, and Two Towers adds some big ones --Theoden, Grima, Eowyn, Eomer, Faramir, Treebeard.

And, of course, Gollum. Gollum is quite simply one of the great characters of English literature, the soul and source of the depth of Lord of the Rings that keeps readers coming back generation after generation. He is wretched, weak, ugly, inspiring contempt and disgust in not only all the supposedly good-hearted characters but also the reader. He is a liar and a murderer and a thief, a filthy stretched-out remnant of a person. Yet we are asked to see ourselves in him.

The Gollum we see in The Two Towers is so full, there's so much to him, you know you're only getting a hint of it the first time you see the film. I want the DVD right now so I can stare at him for hours. The moments of hope on his face are some of the purest and sweetest in the movie. Seeing it once is only scratching the surface. 

But then, there's just so much. Jackson's Lord of the Rings is a feast, a giant roast boar lifted aloft and consumed by burying your face in it and ripping off wet steaming chunks. Watching the movie is a torrent of reactions, emotions, moments of humor, startlements at changes from the book, occasional frowns of disapproval at particular choices, stunned stunningment at the unbelievable shit you *do* get to see. It's so full, such a monument to collaborative excellence, that you can point to almost any element and rave about it. You know it's the movie to see, so see it.