The countdown to “The Hobbit” movie continues here at Book Buzz as we dive once more into the book and movie versions of the fantasy epic “Lord of the Rings.” Last month, we looked at Part 1 of the trilogy, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Now, it’s time to fling ourselves into the midst of war as we dissect Part 2, “The Two Towers,” published by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1954, adapted and released by Peter Jackson in 2002.
The story itself is split into two tales, one following Aragorn, Gandalf and company as they work to stop the wizard Saruman from taking over the kingdom of Rohan, and one following Frodo and Sam on their quest into Mordor to destroy the Ring of Power. The novel tells their stories separately, while the film intertwines the narratives, keeping both plots chronologically together.
“The Two Towers” movie contains by far the greatest amount of creative license and the least amount of source material in the series. The two works begin in different places (the book opens as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli find Boromir dying, then hunt the orcs who captured the other hobbits, an event that occurs at the end of the first movie), and they end at far different spots (the book ends with Gandalf and Pippin riding to Minas Tirith and an unconscious Frodo in the grasp of orcs in Mordor, events that take place well into the third movie). This leaves a lot of original scenes and storylines for the movies.
Most of these original scenes are either action or romance, as the movie keeps the audience in touch with Arwen, who did not appear in “The Two Towers” book. There is also Aragorn’s near fall to death in battle, Frodo and Sam being taken to Osgiliath and encountering an airborne Ringwraith and the drawn-out climactic Battle of Helm’s Deep. The movie also pits Saruman as more of an ally with Sauron, whereas the book clearly indicates the two have become more like rivals. Usually, such dramatic divergences from the source material mean trouble, especially when intellectual character building is replaced by mind-numbing action scenes.
But the movie avoids this issue by doing the only thing it could do: make those action scenes as spectacular as possible. The CGI integration throughout the entire series remains outstanding even to this day. Even the biggest enemies of action sequences in the audience can’t help but be sucked in by Jackson’s direction and the actors’ performances. The fights felt larger than life, but because actual actors, props and locations were used in making them happen, the scenes felt much more realistic than many other modern fantasy films.
Tolkien’s focus never rested on the battles themselves. Though he gets across that his Battle of Helm’s Deep was definitely one for the songs, his medium would not be able to translate the intricacies of the battle well. He uses his words wisely, letting the readers know through other means that Helm’s Deep was an epic battle, but also paying the most attention to what he knew words could get across: character development.
The characters are well-rounded in the films, and they do develop nicely and in a logical fashion, but it’s nothing compared with what comes from the books. Frodo shows much more strength against the Ring than he does in the movie. Theoden, king of Rohan, is much more forceful, not constantly being overshadowed by Aragorn’s and Gandalf’s better judgment. Aragorn is more than just a Ranger putting off his destiny; he embraces who he is and shows multiple flashes of his kingly nature. The level of Legolas and Gimli’s friendship is seen in the way they talk to each other about Fangorn Forest and the caverns of Helm’s Deep, not just in that they keep score of their body count.
The thing is, both versions do what they aim to do masterfully. This is most apparent in the signature character of “The Two Towers,” the one that truly sets it apart from the other installments or any other work in its genre, Gollum. The pitiful, tortured creature becomes Frodo and Sam’s guide into Mordor, and both the book and film audiences get a good look into his twisted, schizophrenic psyche. The book gives only small hints, as Gollum’s debates with his split personalities are only overheard occasionally by Sam. Readers are left much more unsure about Gollum’s true motivations, whether he ever truly intended to help Frodo or if he meant to betray him all along. The movie does this, too, but not with as much mystery; it’s clear Gollum really did want to see Frodo through his tribulation but felt betrayed at the end and decided to turn on him. However, the way the film presents his inner conflict is unmatched by just about anything in cinema:
Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Gollum was nothing short of brilliant, and the movie does an excellent job of providing what the book could not. That said, “The Two Towers” is probably the weakest of the three films, whereas the book remains my favorite of the three. Most of that, though, is because it contains all of the Gollum story save the encounter at Mount Doom in Part 3. I’ll take the movie in the end, but it’s really, really close.
Come back next month for the thrilling conclusion!