12/1/07

R058 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

(2002, Fantasy-Sword & Sorcery, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

I don’t know but I’ve been told / Orcs strong but they not smart

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

The second film to chronicle the struggle of men and hobbits against an ancient evil.

Summary:

Three groups of characters that won't meet again until the next film.People who’ve already seen/read/had a friend give them a vague synopsis of the first movie can skip to the third paragraph now. In the all-but-inconceivable event that none of the above applies to you, I’ve summarized it here. The second movie starts without preamble right where the first one left off, so you’d better familiarize yourself it before we continue. Go on. The rest of us will wait until you come back.

Done yet? Took your own sweet time, didn’t you. Now that you’re up to speed, let’s press on.

With the Fellowship fragmented by their misadventures in Moria and on the river, Two Towers spends all its time in multiple plot mode. These plots are:

a) “Frodo and Sam and Gollum and Alice.” Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) get lost in the hills almost instantly after leaving the Fellowship. They catch Gollum (Andy Serkis) trying to throttle them in their sleep shortly thereafter. They tie him up, but Frodo takes a shine to the creepy, rail-thin little creature. Over Sam’s objections, he sets Gollum free in exchange for guidance to the gates of Mordor.

The grateful Gollum abandons his murderous designs and leads them through a ghost-filled swamp to The Black Gates, which are massive and heavily guarded. When Frodo and Sam attempt to follow a column of Horadrim inside (masked pseudo-Arabs in the service of... look, just smile and nod, okay?) Gollum prevents them, telling them of another way in.

They journey south, in search of the “other way in” until they stumble across a battle between the Horadrim and the rangers of Gondor. The rangers catch them and drag them back to their leader Faramir (David Wenham) who turns out to be Boromir’s brother. He wants to take the One Ring back to his father in (keep those smiling and nodding muscles handy) Minas Tirith, but only gets as far as Osgiliath before the forces of Mordor attack. When he sees how the ring makes Frodo all spineless and weepy, especially in the presence of ringwraiths, Faramir decides to let them go. Meanwhile, because Frodo saved Gollum’s life by tricking him into getting captured by Faramir, the offended little creature once again begins to plot their demise.

b) “Merry and Pippin and Ted and Treebeard.” Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have been captured by Uruk Hai and carried across the plains of Rohan to the eaves of Fanghorn Forest. (Work those smile-and-nod muscles. Feel the burn.) Exiled warriors from Rohan slaughter the camp in the night, allowing Merry and Pippin to escape into the sentient tree-filled forest. A large wooden creature called an Ent appears to squish their last surviving pursuer. His name is Treebeard, and upon hearing their story of capture by the servants of the traitorous wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), he’s friendly enough to call a meeting of his brother Ents. They talk for a long time in Old Entish, but don’t end up deciding anything. Some trickery on the part of Pippin induces Treebeard to walk near Saruman’s fortress at Isengard. Upon seeing how Saruman has ruined his precious trees, he calls the other Ents and attacks Isengard, undamming the river to flood Saruman’s war camp.

Deus Ex Machina the White.c) “Bob and Carol and Aragorn and, um, Everyone Else.” Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) track the Uruk Hai across the plains in an attempt to free their friends Merry and Pippin. They meet the exiled Riders of Rohan, who tell them of the slaughter. Disheartened, the trio continues on, tracking the hobbit pair into Fanghorn. In the forest they meet a newly resurrected Gandalf (Ian McKellan), who died fighting the balrog in the last installment and was “sent back” to continue the fight against Sauron and his minions. He tells Aragorn et al. that Merry and Pippin are in good hands. He leads them back to the plains.

They ride to Edoras, capital city of Rohan, where a creepy minister named Wormtongue has helped Saruman bewitch King Theoden, exiling all his most loyal warriors and making passes at his shapely niece Eowyn. (Great workout, guys. I can actually see the extra definition in your cheeks and neck ). Gandalf doesn’t waste time with Wormtongue; he lets Aragorn and friends beat him up while he releases Theoden from the spell. The enraged Theoden throws Wormtongue out of his court. He gathers his people to hide from Saruman’s armies at a fortress called Helm’s Deep, while Gandalf heads out to look for the exiled warriors.

On the way, orcs on wargs (horse-sized wolves) attack the refugees. Aragorn is wounded, falls over a cliff, and spends a lot of time floating down a river while hallucinating about his elvish girlfriend Arwen (Liv Tyler). He eventually rouses himself enough to wander after the refugees, noting the massive army of Uruk Hai right behind him. The meager forces at Helm’s Deep gird themselves for battle.

A contingent of elves joins them just before the battle, but is still not enough to turn the tide when the Uruk Hai arrive. The mayhem goes on for about an hour of screen time, during which arrows and ladders fly every which way. Kamikaze orcs destroy the outer wall with sorcerous explosives, decimating the elves. Uruk Hai shock troops batter down the inner wall’s gate at the cost of countless orcish lives. The survivors barricade themselves in the keep and prepare to die in a final charge. Midway through the charge, Gandalf arrives with the exiled warriors. They charge from the other side slaughter the invaders to the last orc.

Thoughts:

In her most desperate hour, Helm's Deep gathers her filthiest defenders.Here we have one of the finest epic fantasy films ever made, based on one of the finest epic fantasy books ever written. Of the above plots, the one dealing with Aragorn and Gandalf contains both the worst and best elements. The tacked-on romance hallucinations that dominate the central portion of this section are deathly dull; the only reason we tolerate them at all is because we still haven’t come down off the thrill of the warg rider battle. On the other hand, the Battle of Helm’s Deep took up a third of the movie and engrossed me from beginning to end. Of all the fantasy battle sequences I have seen, the only one that tops it is the one that appears in the very next film in this series. As far as the other storylines go, movie hobbits are still idiots, at least at the beginning. Thankfully three out of four hobbits gradually increase in competence, restricting most of their ineptitude to the film’s first half. As the sole exception, Frodo becomes progressively more useless and maudlin.

Mike, Bill and Kevin riff for three hours straight to get us through this one. When Gandalf pretends infirmity by leaning on Legolas for support, Mike says, “Check out his arm candy.” When Theoden and Gimli engage in fantasy name-laced one-upmanship, Kevin says, “They love their fancy nomenclature.” While Frodo lies whimpering on the ground after the battle in Osgiliath, Bill says, “Get up, you emo twerp.” Another very funny sequence comes when Mike struggles to come up with a verse of poetry that doesn’t compare the invading Uruk Hai to ink. Though they never hesitate to point out bits of silliness and inconsistency, the Mike et al. mostly riff with affection. They’re a pleasure to listen to during a movie that’s already a pleasure to watch.