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      The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Review

      The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers poster

      The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

      Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

      "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" takes us back to J.R.R. Tolkien's land of myth and fury, and the return quest is even more staggering and marvelous than last year's maiden voyage. Concentrating on the middle book of the Middle Earth saga, Peter Jackson and company once again dazzle and delight us, fulfilling practically every expectation either a longtime Tolkien fan or a movie-going neophyte could want.

      Here is a movie, like "The Fellowship of the Ring," that's packed to the brim with wonders, chock-full of rip-roaring action, breathtaking landscapes, intoxicating spectacle and full-blooded characters as heady a draught of fantasy and high adventure as the movies have ever given us. Here are visions to haunt your dreams and action to set your heart pounding: vast, bloody battle scenes; whimsical comedy; macabre horrors; and shimmering beauties.

      Just as he did in part one, Jackson has been enormously faithful to Tolkien's original story but also inventive and cinematically ingenious in his translation and compression. He has made more changes here than with part one, but each seems justified. Jackson's narrative strategies help keep the three-hour sequel racing along with maximum drive and tension. An added love story between Viggo Mortensen's stalwart strider Aragorn and Liv Tyler's noble heroine Arwen, though slightly obligatory (it was inspired, after all, by a Tolkien footnote) adds luster and romance to the tale.

      Jackson and his fellow script collaborators (including wife and fellow producer Fran Walsh) triumph massively once again, in the translation job of the three that may have initially seemed the most daunting. Tolkien's original "Two Towers," the midsection of his vast mythical tapestry, is divided into two parts (or books), and the movie collapses them together.

      Tolkien's first part followed two quests: the adventures of hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) among Treebeard and the Ents (ancient beings that resemble walking trees) and, simultaneously, the bloody travails of Aragorn and fiery warrior dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) at the court of Helm's Deep and silver-haired Theoden (Bernard Hill), climaxing with the grand, furious battle between the Fellowship's partisans and the vicious orc legions of White Wizard villain Sarunam (Christopher Lee). The second tracked hobbit hero Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and sidekick Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) on their ominous trek to Mordor (the dark mountainous fortress where they can destroy the Ring), led by their spindly limbed, devious and hate-wracked guide, the Gollum (a masterful computer-generated creation voiced by Andy Serkis).

      Jackson has woven the three threads tightly together instead of keeping them separate. Intercutting swiftly, he builds to incredible sustained fury, first with the vivid and violent Helm's Deep war (a cinematic battle you can easily rank with the Babylonian sequence of "Intolerance" and any of Akira Kurosawa's great film conflagrations), and then, afterward, with Frodo, Sam and the Gollum's suspenseful penetration of Mordor.

      "The Two Towers" is most of all a stupendous visual achievement, a great movie fantasy. Dramatic pyrotechnics play second fiddle to the technical ones, but they're not lacking though, in fact, so many characters pack the environs of Jackson's vision of Middle Earth that it's hard to pay adequate tribute to them all. The three who stand out are Ian McKellen's Gandalf, who's back from death's brink, actor Serkis' computerized Gollum, and John Rhys-Davies, who not only plays dwarf Gimli as a compacted version of the great movie brutes like Victor McLaglen, but gives a weary-wise voice to the old arboreal sage Treebeard.

      C.S. Lewis, in his original remarks on Tolkien's "Two Towers," called it "good beyond hope," and the phrase fits here too. Increasingly, the complete movie "Lord of the Rings" seems a popular film entertainment that can be ranked with the very best ever made. We're used to movies drowning us in prodigal computer-generated effects and nonstop violence, but not in the service of such a grand and engrossing story, such intense concepts or such beguiling characters. At the core of "The Lord of the Rings" is a battle between good and evil inspired, perhaps, by the World War against Hitler's legions that raged around England as Tolkien wrote it, but carried here to such an awesome scale that it has bewitched readers for more than half a century. Moviegoers should be almost as entranced by the teeming, glorious landscapes and dark, bloody battlegrounds of "Two Towers," the astonishing midpoint of an epic movie fantasy journey for the ages.

      "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

      Directed by Peter Jackson; written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Jackson, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien; photographed by Andrew Lesnie; edited by Michael Horton, Jabez Olssen; production designed by Grant Major; music by Howard Shore; second unit produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Walsh, Jackson. A New Line Cinema release; opened Wednesday, Dec. 18. Running time: 2:59. MPAA rating: PG-13 (violence).

      Frodo Baggins Elijah Wood

      Gandalf Ian McKellen

      Arwen Liv Tyler

      Aragorn (Strider) Viggo Mortensen

      Sam Sean Astin

      Galadriel Cate Blanchett

      Gimli/Treebeard John Rhys-Davies

      Theoden Bernard Hill

      Saruman Christopher Lee

      Gollum Andy Serkis

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