SINCE the release last year of the Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings, much speculation has risen as to whether Two Towers will be anywhere as good as the first. These speculations can now be put to rest because Two Towers is undoubtedly as great as the first, and in some cases, even better.

Without any introduction regarding previous events, Two Towers launches immediately into the story and shows how each character turns out after the Fellowship’s split at the end of the first film. It begins with an account of how Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) fare as they continue the quest to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. Along the way, a creature named Gollum tries to snatch the Ring from Frodo. But Frodo manages to subdue Gollum and make him their guide.

Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) decide to rescue Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) from the Orcs who have them. During the pursuit, the trio encounter the exiled Riders of Rohan and their captain Éomer (Karl Urban). From them, they learn that the Orcs they are after are already dead and piled up¾no hobbits were found.

While rummaging through the pile of Orc corpses, Aragorn notices the tracks left by Merry and Pippin which lead into Fangorn Forest. They are taken by surprise when they find the resurrected Gandalf (Ian McKellen) inside the forest.

The four then set out to Edoras, the main city of the Kingdom of Rohan. Upon arrival, they discover that King Theoden (Bernard Hill) is under Saruman’s (Christopher Lee) spell and that his adviser Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) is a spy of the evil wizard and has assumed authority over the kingdom. Gandalf releases Theoden from the spell and the traitor Wormtongue is driven out of the city. The threat of Saruman’s attack from Isengard prompts Theoden to evacuate the city and take refuge at the fortress of Helm’s Deep. At this point, Gandalf leaves Edoras to seek out Éomer to aid in the oncoming battle.

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During all this time, Merry and Pippin are having their own adventure at Fangorn Forest. After escaping from the Orcs, the two hobbits meet Treebeard the Ent — a walking, talking giant tree-like creature. In the hope of helping out their friends, the two try to persuade Treebeard and the other Ents to march into battle. But the Ents decide not to join in the war so the disappointed hobbits ask Treebeard to bring them to Isengard where they can sneak in and spy on the enemy instead. The sight of the ravaged and burned trees near Isengard rouses Treebeard’s wrath and spurs the other Ents to action.

Unlike the novel’s structure wherein the adventures of Frodo and Sam and the rest of the company are divided into two major parts, the film simultaneously shows the experiences of all the characters. The scenes intercut from one location to another as each subplot develops, which helped greatly in maintaining excitement and audience’s interest.

As with the first film, there are some liberties taken with the narrative of the Two Towers, such as the arrival of the Elves to aid in the battle of Helm’s Deep, Éomer’s exile, and Faramir’s attempt to bring Frodo and the ring to Gondor. These alterations do not however mar the original book in the least. It’s obvious director Peter Jackson and his screenwriters manage to come up with an effective, engaging screenplay that enhances while retaining the literary value of Tolkien’s novels.

Most of the original cast from the previous are back for this one. All of them perform well and do justice to the complexity of their characters. Wood show the development of his character from a carefree hobbit in part one to a very disturbed slave of the ring in the second.

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Also featured in the second film are colorful new characters and creatures. Among them are Hill as King Theoden of Rohan, Urban as the Captain Eomer, Miranda Otto as the beautiful princess Eowyn, the walking, talking tree-like creatures called Ents, the revived Ringwraiths now called Nazguls, and of course, Gollum, the previous owner of the ring.

Among all the characters, Gollum undeniably delivers the best and most unforgettable performance. Brought to life through a combination of CGI (Computer Graphic Imagery) and live acting by Andy Serkis, Gollum is a very unique character for several reasons. Aside from the very humanlike bone structure, muscle movement, and facial expressions, Gollum is rendered with incredible depth and individuality.

In a story where good and evil are as distinguishable as black and white, Gollum is a complicated character that belongs in the grey area. One could never really guess whether he is going to turn good or bad. His emotions range from harsh and menacing, to docile and pitiful in a heartbeat. A particular incident that shows this quality is during his split personality episode where the evil Gollum and the good Sméagol debate with each other.

Speaking of cinematography, Two Towers offers the same awe-inspiring visuals as the first film. Characterized by breathtaking landscape shots, innovative camera work and creative lighting, this film further establishes the credibility of Jackson as a director. There are a lot of memorable scenes in this film. To mention some of them are the attack of the Ents of Isengard — when the river floods the place, and the Helm’s deep battle scene wherein Gandalf leads the army of Rohan down the sloping hill to meet the Orcs head-on in combat.

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Generally, Two Towers has all the elements of a great film—a good story, wonderful cast, seamless editing, inspiring music, and beautiful cinematography. It is therefore now safe to claim that it’s a worthy sequel to the highly successful Fellowship.

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