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Ralph C. Wood

Hungry Eye

The Two Towers and the seductiveness of spectacle

As a longtime reader and teacher of Tolkien, I had expected to like this movie even less than the first of Peter Jackson's grand-scale adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I had assigned a grade-inflated B to Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring, since I thought it succeeded as a film while failing severely in attempting to render the moral and religious character of Tolkien's epic novel. I had also been warned that, in this second installment, Jackson takes radical liberties with Tolkien's text, and this proved to be true. To my surprise, however, I liked the film version of The Two Towers, even though Jackson seems to have dropped nearly all desire to remain faithful to the spirit of Tolkien's book. The result is an action film that works, yet its very accomplishment raises serious questions about the relation of the visual image to the aural word.

Jackson's many deviations from Tolkien's narrative serve to move the film along at a rapid clip. And once again the natural scenery is so magnificent that the New Zealand tourist industry must surely be ecstatic. The film also succeeds, in one of its rare moments of religious insight, in showing the odd resemblance between the two enemy wizards. Saruman the White is the once-chief wizard who has become utterly corrupted by seeking to use the demonic Ring of coercive power for the accomplishment of alleged good. Gandalf the Grey, by contrast, is the suffering and dying wizard who has been resuscitated and utterly transfigured by his faithfulness. Yet in his hard-won splendor and authentic spiritual power, Gandalf has taken on the features that were meant for Saruman. So close yet so infinitely far apart, Jackson shows in accord with Tolkien, are the states of glory and misery.

The film's computer-generated images are also extremely well done—above all in the character of Sméagol, the morally and physically withered hobbit who once possessed the Ring of power and who remains obsessed with getting it back. ...

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