by Marty Demarest

The Two Towers is a more complicated film than The Fellowship of the Ring, in Peter Jackson's ongoing filming of J.R.R. Tolkien's famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the first film, the band of elves, dwarves, humans and hobbits set out to destroy the evil ring of power. Now they're fragmented into three groups, each unaware of the fate of the others. This means that Jackson must juggle each of the storylines, while still keeping things coherent. He's not always successful, but most of the time it's remarkable how distinct each story arc remains, while the jumps between storylines creates an overall sense of excitement and adventure.

The climax of this film is a siege battle at a stronghold carved into the side of a mountain. Here, Jackson uses his electronic wizardry to achieve sweeping shots of massed hordes that would be impossible in reality. The best part of this film is that it's hard to say exactly what is fake and what is real.

Every shot suggests a reality that goes far beyond what is shown onscreen. Each elven object, whether it's a tapestry or just the back of a chair, seems to have some mystical importance that could be discovered if you only had the time to study it. And the monsters -- be they the pasty orcs, the aged giant trees or the hulking, bulbous cave trolls -- look like exquisitely crafted toys. Seeing them in motion is like watching your childhood imagination come to life.

The excellent Ian McKellen is back as the wizard Gandalf, but he's eclipsed this time by the digitally animated Gollum, a sniveling, sinewy creature who manages to be both repulsive and endearing. Much of the creature's effectiveness is due to his animators, to be sure, but Andy Serkis' voice is the character's anchor. A Gollum that didn't sound the same wouldn't be as effective.

Having the film on DVD is really the best way to capture the film's special effects. Watching The Two Towers on videocassette makes the digital animation look undistinguishable from the cheaper, cranked-out product that is starting to take over Saturday morning television. But when you can press pause and see Jackson's work frozen in digital perfection, it's hard not be impressed with the "realism" with which everything has been passionately crafted.

Publication date: 09/25/03

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