5 Stars

Amazingly, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers manages to surpass the bar that was set by Fellowship of the Ring last year. Kudos to Peter Jackson and his crew for recreating the world of Middle Earth to near perfection.

Cinematography & Special Effects
Like in the first film, Middle Earth (New Zealand) takes center stage. Expansive shots of the mountainous terrain near Rohan as well as the battle scenes at Helm’s Deep are breathtaking and surreal.

Gollum steals the show. The computer-generated creature has very lifelike facial expressions and his monologues of duality are very well done. One can really feel the internal conflict of Gollum’s character. At times it is very easy to forget that he is not real–amazing.

The “Massive” software used to digitally create the large battle scenes seems to be working even better than in the first film. It is impossible to discern CGI from live action battle footage–it all blends seamlessly.

Additions to Storyline
There are several dramatic devices added to the plot of the film that are not in the book. Among these is the “exorcism” that Gandalf performs on Theoden, King of Rohan. This is done masterfully. It even includes a morph sequence in which the Theoden changes in physical appearance as Saruman’s influence is removed from his body.

Also, there is the addition of a battle scene as the people of Rohan made their way to Helm’s Deep. During this battle, Aragorn falls off a cliff into a river and is thought to be dead. His horse finds him and brings him to Helm’s Deep in time for the large battle against Saruman’s army.

Superfluous dialogue is added throughout the film. The most memorable of which is Gollum referring to Samwise as the “fat hobbit.” It’s so comic, I wish it truly were in the Tolkien books. I am sure there are other additions, but they are minor or unbeknownst to me.

Omissions From Storyline
There are several notable omissions from the books. Among these is the lack of Elven cloaks on all members of the Fellowship. For some reason, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli do not have their cloaks when approached by the Riders of the Mark in Rohan. Also, Aragorn’s legacy as the heir to Gondor is not disclosed to Eomer as it is in the book during their encounter.

At Theoden’s castle, very little time if at all is given to the legacy of the weapons wielded by Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. In the book, brief histories of each weapon are spoken to the guards.

This brings me to the main omission in the film. Very little time is given to explain the history and legacy of Middle Earth. Tolkien took great care in letting the reader know that these lands and their people had been there for millennia. Histories of weapons, Helm’s Deep, and the Ents are omitted for the sake of time.

Anglo-Saxon Epic Influence
One cannot help but see the similarities to Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon folk epic poem, in this installment of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Theoden’s castle in Rohan even looks like it is set in a medieval Scandinavian village. The only difference of course is that Rohan is nowhere near the sea.

Anglo-Saxon stories, including Beowulf, are all about man overcoming fear and impending doom. This film has doom and gloom to spare. Scenes of scared women and children in Helm’s Deep are very true to the style of Anglo-Saxon stories. It is very clear that Tokien was influenced by Beowulf in writing The Lord of the Rings.

In 1936, as he was writing The Hobbit and years before writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote a critical essay and lecture titled “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” This essay helped spark interest in the scholarly study of Beowulf and helped increase the literary importance of the epic poem.

Tolkien scholar, Michael Martinez, wrote a great essay about Beowulf’s influence on Middle Earth. Check it out.

Whether you are a fan of Tolkien or not–this movie surpasses all expectations. It must be seen to be believed.

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