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Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers:

Colin:

Oh…Two Towers. I have to admit, I’m not feeling as rosy about this one as I was about Fellowship of the Ring, nor as I am about Return of the King. Don’t get me wrong — this is a spectacular movie, but it doesn’t check all the boxes that the others do, somehow.

I think a major part of it is that we’ve got multiple stories happening now at the same time. By the third film they’ve got that mostly solved (or we’ve gotten past it, whichever), but I wasn’t thrilled about being pulled between scenes every once in awhile. It was particularly jarring when the scenes would last a really long time and then cut at the point where you couldn’t be any more riveted. There were a few times during the battle when people were getting massacred and orcs were pouring into the fortress, and Jackson suddenly cuts back to Merry and Pippin standing on the edge of the glade where the Entmoot is taking place.

It’s extremely unsettling when there isn’t a set pace; at another point, they cut to Merry and Pippin on Treebeard’s shoulders after Gandalf told us of their whereabouts, just so that we could visually confirm this. The scene lasted all of 45 seconds before going back to more important things. That’s Star Wars prequel pacing, and I notice. I understand that this is seriously nitpicky, even for me, but I’m trying to get my head around what it is that I didn’t love about this movie.

At the other end of the spectrum is when they cut back to Frodo and Sam after like 20 minutes of other stuff. There were a good two or three times in this movie that they cut back to the two hobbits with Gollum, and I went, “Oh…yeah. They’re in this movie.” It’s not like the Star Wars prequels, where you get rotating development of all the subplots in two-minute intervals, but I think some of these gaps were TOO long. There’s a reason for that.

The fact of the matter is that because they moved Shelob to the middle of Return of the King, Frodo and Sam take a hit, plot-wise. I think they could have made a little more of their journey through Mordor during the final movie, since there HAS to be enough in the book to last, if they’d really done it. Plus, think about it. They get into Mordor disguised as orcs, and then all of a sudden, they’re at the mountain! I’d rather they had kept Shelob in this movie, ended with the proper cliffhanger and then done something creative with Return of the King, instead of simply shuffling things around to even it all out somehow.

I think I should mention that a lot of the reason I wasn’t as fond of this movie is because I’m no longer a fan of the individual elements of the film. Merry and Pippin are comic relief gone boring, Frodo and Sam had their plotline neutered, and…I don’t enjoy Rohan. It’s pathetically peasant-like and depressing. Even when Theoden comes back from his vegetative state, he’s a shitty ruler, and Eowyn isn’t particularly interesting. I’m only marginally interested in Karl Urban, but he spends 95 percent of the film riding around somewhere else and not being a part of the story until he comes back as a deus ex horsemaster.

Because we don’t ever get to know the PEOPLE of either Rohan or Gondor (or anywhere else, really), so our opinions and appraisals of these places boils down to the few people that we know and the general feel of the area. Edoras looked neat, but it was depressing as hell, and the people were all filthy, gross or old. Or all of the above. And then even once the battle is won, and the kingdom is sort of reunited at full strength, we only ever see soldiers who whine a lot. I’m way more into Gondor, if only cause they have Aragorn, Faramir, and Kevin Bacon Sean Bean. There’s other stuff about Gondor I like, but at any rate…Rohan ain’t my thing.

The amazing thing about this movie is the battle. I was in middle school when this came out, and that battle was THE shit. People were talking about it at school and going back to see the movie multiple times just for the battle. It’s so built up and then it just happens for a long time. Total crowd pleaser. And all those miniature sets, instead of CGI. You suck, George Lucas.

I think that’s why this is — to me — the movie that really elevated the franchise to phenomenon status. I know it didn’t make much more money than the first one, but this is possibly the first movie that my friends and I had viewing parties for after the DVD came out. Considering the other franchises that were happening at the time, that’s saying something. We had Spider Man and Star Wars (hah.) and even Harry Potter, but none of those really warranted multiple viewings, let alone a planned viewing party with like ten other people and food. This movie got you amped. And we were all so insanely excited for Return of the King, because we’d all read the book and were aware that the finale was going to be even more epic.

All the same, this is my least favorite. Fellowship has that boost from being the first film, where they’re all together. And Return of the King…c’mon, buddy. So this is just the least awesome of an amazing trilogy, to me.

My Final Thoughts:

I used to say for the longest time that Two Towers was my favorite of the three films. Which is an unfair statement to make about any of the three. This is the one franchise where I truly do not have a preference about which film I like the most. Honestly, I would rather just watch the whole thing in order. Otherwise, it depends on what type of mood I’m in that day for me to pick one of the three.

I will repeat this in every final thoughts article for the franchise, because I do want everyone to understand how perfect a set of films I think these are. This might be the most perfect trilogy ever made (the Look Who’s Talking and Big Momma’s House trilogies notwithstanding.) (Also, in the third movie, they took away her house. It was really sad.)

Anyway, in terms of just this movie – it’s easily the weakest on story. The first movie is the strongest on story, since it’s about all of them, and then we get the early Frodo bits as well. Then the factions break off, and the story ends up splintered. This one is strong on the Frodo side, dealing with Gollum and all that. That story has the most leg work here. Then, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli – they’re chasing orcs, looking for Merry and Pippin, find out they’re okay, then go with Gandalf to Rohan. And then they’re hanging in Rohan for the rest of the movie, and then go fight at Helm’s Deep. Their stuff is not as interesting until we get to Helm’s Deep.

Keep in mind, what I’m saying is completely relative to the other two movies and all the other storylines. I do like the Rohan stuff, but, mostly that trio in this movie is there as a conduit for the Rohan story to happen.

So, this is definitely the weakest of the three, story-wise, since by the third one, you get the culmination of so many things, and three and a half hours worth of stuff, so you can’t call that one lesser on the story than this one.

But that’s not saying anything negative, either. It’s still a great movie. The shots in this film are much better than the previous film (they open it up to more New Zealand landscapes, and they had $300 million to put into this one and the last one, so they had all these amazing sets/miniatures built that they could just shoot, rather than digitally creating everything), and the Helm’s Deep battle is still probably my favorite sequence in the trilogy. I like the Gondor stuff, but there’s so much going on there that it’s hard to think of it as a confined sequence.

I’m not crazy about the warg battle (though it is nice and brutal, which I did not remember, so that was a nice rediscovery) or the Ents bit, but they’re necessary parts of the story. I do, however, think all the Elrond and Arwen stuff was way too long. I just did not give a fuck at all about Arwen and her whispery voice (and whispering eye necklace) at all, and it felt like those scenes went on way too long.

I agree with Colin that there are times during the battle where they cut away and go back to Frodo and Sam or Merry and Pippin, and I just could not care what’s going on with them at that moment. (I also remember that weird 45-second scene as well and also had a moment of, “Wait, that’s it?” when it happened.)

What’s funny though, I feel like this is the movie where Frodo and Sam get the most story development and screen time, and yet there’s still that feeling when they cut back to them of, “Wait… they’re in this movie? Right.”

I think Jackson was kind of stuck for this movie, since if he included the Shelob scene in here, it would have either added screen time or taken away from Helm’s Deep. I’m sure there was some stuff that could have been trimmed a bit (like the Ents or Arwen) to make it fit, and I think it would have been a better cliffhanger, and would have allowed them to spend a bit more time on Frodo and Sam in Mordor.

But, I guess, Jackson had always intended to do extended editions and pictured it as a continuous narrative anyway, so if you watch the movies back to back to back, it doesn’t really matter much anyway.

So, while this is the film with the least interesting individual parts, I still can’t call it my least favorite because (aside from the fact that I can’t call any one of these my favorite) I still think of it as a continuous story. There are still a lot of days where I want to watch this movie over the other two, if I had to pick one.

So, whatever. It’s still amazing.

And now that I think about it, I think Helm’s Deep was the reason I would always say this was my favorite — that, coupled with the fact that so many people would say this was the worst one (I always hate when people do that, since (especially with this franchise) you never get that sense of “comparatively” in there) and the whole, “Well Empire is the best” thing made me support it. But that was back in college. Now, I just don’t give a shit. I think this film acts as a great conduit for the first film and the last film, and I think the first film does an amazing job of setting everything up and being amazing in that way, and the third film is amazing in paying everything off, and giving you one great moment after another after another that’s been set up for two movies, and this film does the solid, head down, grinding away job to bridge the gap between those two for so long that it gets unfairly tossed aside as the “worst” one.

It does get to flex its muscles a bit for Helm’s Deep, but all that stuff with Frodo and Gollum — the Gollum storyline means nothing without all the stuff in this movie. It’s the workmanlike movie of the three. It’s consistent throughout, does a lot of the heavy lifting, and gets none of the credit. It’s like those athletes who play their careers on eight different teams, are completely consistent throughout, and always have work because they always do what they’re supposed to do. But they rarely get any recognition for their work unless they go on a crazy postseason tear or something. So I have a real big respect for this movie, aided by the fact that people talk so much shit about it.

Plus, don’t forget — Crinkle Crinkle and Doo Doo Cloud happened here. That’s gotta count for something, right?

– – – – – – – – – –

(See the rest of the Fun with Franchises articles here.)

Tomorrow we start Return of the King.

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