New Line Pictures bet the farm on Peter Jackson's epic three-film version of The Lord of the Rings and it paid off in spades. The second movie arrived just one year after the first, and let director Peter Jackson continue to send J.R.R. Tolkien fans into fits of glee with his smart, action-packed version of the tale.
Things got a little trickier with The Two Towers, the second of the three movies. It's stuck between the complex beginning and the rip-roaring finale… leaving it basically one big chunk of middle. Jackson had to make certain adjustments to Tolkien's text in order to shift it to the silver screen. How well he did remains the subject of vicious online slap-fights throughout the interwebs.
It's Tolkien's story and Jackson's stickin' to it. As with the first film, P.J. snuggles right up to J.R.R.'s original text, avoiding major changes that might ruffle the feathers of devout Tolkienites. The Fellowship splits in three, as Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) head for Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and his gang try to rally the people of Rohan, and Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) make a new bestie in the form of a tree-like creature called an Ent.
That last bit is key. Tolkien was a major nature lover and hater of modern industry and what it has done to all the green places of the world. And Jackson, being a faithful Tolkienite himself, wanted to be sure to drive that point home in The Two Towers. So here, Jackson depicts the nasty wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) as a kind of Evil Industrialist 1.0, burning up trees in his factories and making weapons in stinky, smoke-filled fires. The Ents make for Tolkien's gleeful revenge: an entire forest that comes to life and tears down Saruman's grotesque factories. Jackson made sure to include their attack on Saruman's fortress, complete with a purging river to wash all that orc stank away. It's a triumphant scene that hammers Tolkien's favorite theme home in a big way.
And of course the Big Theme—the corrupting power of the Ring—is here in full force, as it is in all three of Jackson's flicks. But here, it gets special screen time through the newly fleshed out character of Gollum. Power can drive you mad, and the desire for power and turn you into a monster. Thanks to a little CGI, we get a monster all right. Gollum (Andy Serkis), who owned the Ring for 500 years, comes off as crazier than a bedbug, and just about as ugly as one, too. Jackson pulls out all the stops to show us just how screwed up Gollum is… and by extension, how the Ring (and what it represents) has completely destroyed him.
Storyline-wise, the biggest change arrives in the lack of a climactic battle with Shelob at the end of the book, which Jackson doesn't cut so much as save for the third movie. That's a smart choice, when you think about it. Instead of freaking out over the world's most horrifying arachnid (seriously, have you seen that thing?), we can focus on the battle of Helm's Deep for the movie's big climax. That battle is epic, and Jackson doesn't want Shelob stealing any of its thunder.
Then there's the fact that Jackson has to make a big change in terms of structure. Tolkien divides the novel into two books, one focusing on Aragon and one focusing on Frodo. That keeps the drama centered for the reader, but would have spelled doom for the movie. So Jackson opts to rapidly cut back and forth between the parallel timelines, keeping them separate, but letting us look in on them both as they unfold.
That makes it easy for us to keep track of the plot, plus it reminds us that this battle for Middle-earth is a world war on a huge scale. But it loses Tolkien's sense of absorption, since we're following a whole slew of characters at once instead of just one or two at a time. For example, the cross-cutting means that Jackson has to manufacture a climax for Frodo and Sam, matching the one Aragorn is going through at the battle of Helm's Deep. Suddenly, a drama-free parting between the hobbits and Faramir (David Wenham) becomes a near miss with a Ringwraith breathing down their necks. That isn't really in the book, but Jackson needs it so that his rapid cuts back and forth make thematic sense.
If live action isn't your thing, try a cartoon, courtesy of Ralph Bakshi who covered Fellowship and Two Towers before his money well ran dry in this 1978 flick, The Lord of the Rings.
So, Shmoopers, what's your take? Did Jackson's middle-movie properly capture Tolkien's middle-book about Middle-earth? Shmoop amongst yourselves.