Although not among those counting the minutes until the theatrical release of "The Two Towers" (IMDb listing), I was inadvertently sent a screening invite and found myself lining up early in the morning in the ever-present London drizzle with 799 Tolkien fanatics -- some wearing elf ears. This did little to raise my anticipation, and neither did the running time, 2:59 hours, noted duly on the press pack.
But mere seconds into the film my reservations began to crumble. Minutes later I was hooked.
A ground-breaking technological masterpiece as well as a fast-paced, action-packed adventure epic, "The Two Towers" is quite different from, and significantly better, than its predecessor. Picking up right where "Fellowship of the Ring" left off, the movie continues the journeys of the surviving members of the broken fellowship, incorporating along the way all important elements of the second book -- and thankfully leaving out most of Tolkien's tiresome asides.
Plunging head-first into Gandalf's (Ian McKellen) battle with the Balrog and his subsequent return as the immortal Gandalf the White, the pace never lets up and as the different story arcs unfold, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are still "hunting some Orc," trying to save the abducted Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) who have meanwhile escaped into Fangorn forest and met up with Treebeard. And of course there are Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), now accompanied by the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), steadfastly making their way toward Mordor, intent on destroying the One Ring. As the ever-increasing power of the Dark Lord Sauron and his loyal servant Saruman (Christopher Lee) threatens to encompass Middle Earth, Gandalf and Aragorn, with the help of Gondor and the People of Rohan, stage a last effort at resistance in the battle at Helm's Deep.
Visually stunning, superbly acted and flawlessly directed by Peter Jackson, "The Two Towers" sets new standards, particularly in the realm of digital technology. Not content to have two digitally created characters, Gollum and Treebeard, in full-fledged roles, Jackson considerably upped the ante with the awesome and monumental battle at Helm's Deep. Shot at night over a period of nearly three months, a Uruk-hai army of 10,000 had to be created by the WETA Workshop, Jackson's special effects company. To do Tolkien's vision justice, WETA's wizards developed Massive, a computer program capable of creating any number of characters, each able to react independently through 250 different moves. The final result is incredible.
As movies go, "The Two Towers" is a cinematic treat, and the good news is, it's less than a year until the December 17 release of "The Return Of The King."
Filmfodder Grade: A+