Gandalf falling through the caverns of Khazud Dum while fighting the Balrog has to be one of the best opening scenes to a film ever. I just love it. The visuals, the dramatic music and Ian McKellen wielding a sword against an ancient evil of the first age of Middle Earth. What’s not to love?
Beyond the opening scene though, the film, like the Fellowship of the Ring, is a classic, but unlike the first film which I reviewed earlier this week, I love the second film for an entirely different reason. Yes the morals of working together to make a better world are still a strong under current, but the real reason I love the film is actually because of the writing.
The first film was very respectful of the original source, but The Two Towers wouldn’t work if it followed the source material, because the structure of the book just wouldn’t make for a very good film. Here in comes the writing genius of Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Peter Jackson truly shines in this film, and the reason I appreciate it so much is because the blending of the three separate story lines in the film is seamless and respectful of Tolkien’s book, whilst also being a brilliant example of a Hollywood blockbuster.
It is the perfect example of writing for budding and even experienced writers to gain insight from.The script weaves seamlessly through the three story lines, and in the extended version especially the use of flashback to inform the audience of the character’s thoughts is a fabulous example of how a filmmaker can adapt a book. They use it several times, to depict the fate of Merry and Pippin escaping into Fangorn; the parting of Arwen and Aragorn; and for Faramir and his inner grief and torment.
In the extended version, Faramir’s flashback the victory celebrations with his brother Boromir and his departure for Rivendell, demonstrates beautifully his relationship with his brother and also his strained relationship with his father. While the films only hint at Faramir’s relationship with Gandalf, which in the book is a teacher-student relationship, the films portray Denethor’s disdain for his younger son. The flashback then moves to Faramir’s vision of Boromir in his funeral boat, and you fully understand now his actions towards Frodo and Sam. He has his beloved brother’s legacy to live up to and a distance father to try and impress. All of which is portrayed in less than five minutes, of admittedly the extended version of the film.
Another great example of how the filmmakers made the book come to life, is the inter-cutting scene between Aragorn analysing the battlefield, for what they think is Merry and Pippin’s last movements, inter-cut with the actual actions of Merry and Pippin, as Aragorn realises they managed to flee into Fangorn Forest. The tension until that moment when you learn they are actually alive is wonderful, until of course Gimli opens his mouth and mentions that only madness would have driven them in there. And the story is driven forward again, into the next perilous adventure for the two young Hobbits.
I mentioned in my review of the Fellowship of the Ring, that Merry and Pippin in the film are growing up via their experiences, and my favourite story line in the film is theirs, because they both grow to believe that even though they are small, they can have a massive impact.
‘The coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains.’ Gandalf
That line is my favourite in the entire film, because without Merry and Pippin one of the Two Towers in the film would not have been defeated. Fine they failed to convince the Ents to join in the battle at first, but Pippin’s growth in the film is just wonderful. He goes from still being a bit naïve and young, dreaming of the joy of the Shire. But from the minute Merry mentions that Isengard would potentially destroy the Shire, at the first opportunity he gets, Pippin somehow convinces Treebeard to turn around and essentially drop them off at Isengard. I honestly couldn’t speculate what Pippin thought the two of them could do to stop Saruman from destroying the Shire on their own, but we don’t ever need to know, as the Ents march to war on seeing the destruction wrought by Saruman and the orcs on their forest; cue one of Howard Shore’s greatest achievements and you get to sit back and enjoy one of the strangest but most spectacular battles in film history.
I enjoy Helm’s Deep, and the Elves coming to fight in that battle; and I love Sam’s logic for why they are fighting in the end and Faramir’s realisation of the bigger picture. The film wouldn’t be as half as good without the special effects, the genius of Andy Serkis and the magical ability of Elves to leap onto galloping horses, but for me the Two Towers is first and foremost an achievement in screen writing and adaptation.
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