Ignacio Peña (employee of Weta Digital) considers the legacy of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations, including his own work on The Hobbit, in this brand-new re-view of The Two Towers.
Ten years ago, The Two Towers stormed its way into our lives, and with it came one of the most iconic and complex characters ever to grace film in the form of our beloved digital Gollum. It’s also the weakest film in the trilogy. It’s still a great movie, but every time I sit through my yearly Ringsmarathon, I always find myself going through Towers and, mostly, just kind of hoping to get to Return of the King. It’s a strange thing because there are some genuinely incredible moments in this movie (and more so in the extended edition, of which I’ve exclusively watched for years now), but to me a lot of the events just feel too contrived to cater to the pacing of the film. For me, Towers feels like “a movie,” whereas Fellowship and Return feel like grand adventures that just happened to be caught on film.
I’ll get to all that in a second, but perhaps I should get the big elephant in the room out of the way. If you tuned in to last year’s review of Fellowship, then perhaps you’ll know that I’ve been working onThe Hobbit for what’s now been over two years. I’m going to try and not make this a tangential review of the first movie of the new Tolkien trilogy, but given that we are a decade apart from Gollum’s first and final performance on film, and what it’s meant for me to now be in small part responsible for a series I fell in love with eleven years ago, I may continually find myself reflecting on the present.
So let me set the stage on my feelings of The Two Towers. As far as I’m concerned, Fellowship is perfect. It’s focused and engaging and felt like it existed in a world I could believe existed, and it excited me because of the promise of what was to come. I couldn’t fathom how the remainder of the story would be realized. And to jump ahead, Return of the King fulfills everything I imagined and more. I believed in the scale of the conflict and grandeur of Minas Tirith and the desperation of the journey’s end. In the midst of all that, The Two Towers felt small when I first saw it, and even more so now.
Rohan appeared to me too small a kingdom in the movie to be any sort of threat to Saruman, and thus Helm’s Deep seemed too out of proportion. Aragorn’s internal love triangle for Eowyn and Arwen seemed too contrived and out of place. The Entmoot first took too long to say hello and then suddenly had come to a conclusion rapidly enough to have a concurrent battle with Isengard and Helm’s Deep. It felt all just too convenient.
Frodo’s part in all of this though was brilliant. When I heard they had moved the encounter with Shelob to the third movie, I was a bit disappointed, but in retrospect it was genius. The real arc of this movie is specifically in Frodo and Sam’s story and handled marvelously; Aragorn’s tale is the one that feels like it was wrought in a fashion to appeal to a wider audience.
Here is where personal taste comes in. Everyone I know loves Gollum, and if you were to read critic and user reviews alike, Gollum’s scene in The Hobbit is being hailed as the highlight of the movie. I disagree. I think this reaction is in part to the fact that Gollum is so familiar to people now, that Riddles in the Dark was akin to running into your best friend after years of absence. Gollum’s debate with himself in Towers was groundbreaking, and I was surprised to find out last year that it was a scene that had been written near the end of pickups for the movie and directed by Fran Walsh – to think that such a pivotal scene almost didn’t exist is unfathomable. However, Gollum’s crazed musings are the exaggerated form of what the Ring does to all creatures alike, and while it’s fun to watch Serkis and the animators at Weta Digital do their thing, it’s in the struggle of Boromir and his family that I’ve always found most compelling about the series. One of my favorite scenes in the trilogy never made it to the theatrical cut and exists only on the extended edition, when Faramir recalls the day Boromir is called to Elrond’s council. Boromir was my favorite character in Fellowship, and in Faramir you see how desperately he tries to do all for his father’s approval. It’s a crucial scene that humanizes Boromir and Faramir and illustrates temptation’s influence on different people, and that not everyone can fall so easily. It’s because of this scene that I refuse to watch the theatrical version of Towers ever again.
And I can’t write about this movie without mentioning those other favorite moments. I know no one ever says the phrase “my heart aches” anymore, but truly, my heart aches when I hear Treebeard’s verse of love over rolling shots of Fangorn, or when he tells Pippen that he truly does not remember what an Entwife looks like; or when Eowyn sings her funeral hymn for her brother Theodred, and King Theoden breaks for the loss of his son in the company of Gandalf; or when Frodo draws his sword to kill Sam and Sam then brings him back in a monologue that would bring anyone back from the edge of despair; or when Gandalf breaks over the hill in a wave of Rohirrim with golden rays of sun behind. In short, I do love this film, even if it’s just too damn convenient at times.
And now, ten years later, almost to the week, The Hobbit is out, and I wonder and secretly hope if what we’ve done will honor this legacy. I truly hope so, but having seen The Hobbit the first time, I found myself all too aware that I was watching “scene 121 out of 137” in the back of my mind, and I know now that I can never truly enjoy these next three movies the same way that I love The Lord of the Rings. But I’ve read The Hobbit. I know the emotional journey that Bilbo and Thorin must take before the end, and I’m just as excited as everyone else to see how it all ends, even if I’ve got Gollum whispering scene numbers in my ear.