As a Language Arts teacher, I often use Lord of the Rings (specifically Two Towers and Return of the King) as an example when I teach about the three main points of view. While Fellowship of the Ring tends to mostly follow Frodo, making it third person limited, the latter two books (and movies) in the series follow a few different groups of characters, making them third person omniscient. Two Towers follows Frodo, Sam, and Gollum; Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and later Gandalf; and Merry, Pippin, and Treebeard. Furthermore, there are smaller scenes involving Elrond and Arwen, a telepathic sequence between Elrond and Galadriel, scenes between Saruman and Grima, plus a flashback between Faramir and Boromir. In short, if you didn’t see Fellowship of the Ring (the first in the series) before seeing Two Towers (the second), you’re going to be in a world of confusion.
The Opening Scenes
It’s obvious that you should watch Fellowship first. But if you hadn’t, the confusion would start from the very first scene. In Fellowship, we have a nice and tidy exposition sequence, which is great for explaining the background, but perhaps not so great when it comes to pulling you into the story. Sure, there’s a battle scene at Mount Doom between orcs and elves (Elrond among them), but after that, continue with the narration. Two Towers doesn’t have an expository narration to begin. Instead, it starts in the midst of Gandalf fighting a Balrog, an epic scene from Fellowship, but when Gandalf falls, the cameras follow him instead of the rest of the company.
In my opinion, it is one of the greatest opening scenes of any movie I’ve ever seen. Every time, when the camera moves from the close angle of Gandalf and the Balrog fighting as they fall, to the wide angle as the choir begins to sing, I get goosebumps. But it doesn’t explain a whole lot to anyone who hasn’t seen or doesn’t remember the previous movie. But I guess that’s okay.
From this scene, the story cuts to Frodo and Sam, then to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, where Legolas delivers his line that I can’t listen to without thinking of the following video anymore. If you want to ruin that scene forever, please watch. Otherwise, don’t. You’ve been warned.
The Film as an Adaptation
As far as book-to-film adaptations go, Two Towers probably strays furthest from the book. Not only were the first scenes involving Boromir’s death given to the conclusion of the previous movie, but the last scenes involving Frodo in Shelob’s cave, as well as the fellowship traveling to Isegard after their victory at Helm’s Deep to finally meet up again with Merry and Pippin, were also given to the next movie.
Instead of concluding the film at the point where Sam realizes that Frodo is alive, not dead as he supposed after Shelob stung him (which is the very cliffhanger ending that the book is given), the film ends with the epic epicness that are the battle scenes at Helm’s Deep and Isengard. Admittedly, this makes for a better ending anyway. The film actually reaches a more natural climax and resolution than the book does.
This is particularly because, as I mentioned in the previous article about Fellowship, Tolkien originally wrote the series not in three books, but in a series of six volumes. Volume Three, the first of Two Towers, relates the story of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Theoden, Eowyn and Eomer (who did not actually leave with the Rohirrim in the book). Volume Four, the second of Two Towers, relates the story of Frodo, Sam, Gollum, and later Faramir and his company. The book doesn’t come to a natural climax and resolution because the book is really two books in one. In order to make the movie work, the two stories had to be intertwined, meaning that the scenes are told back and forth and not in two very separate parts.
The Warg attack in Two Towers is a fabrication. Aragorn falling from the cliff is a fabrication too. Peter Jackson added this scene to create suspense where there previously was none. Also to create tension, Treebeard doesn’t decide to go to war right away in the movie, which happens in the book. Making this change also meant that Merry and Pippin had a greater role to play in making it happen.
Both scenes had to happen not only for the sake of suspense, but also to add more time to the movie. Lending content from the beginning of the book to Fellowship and from the end of the book to Return of the King meant less content for Two Towers. A further story arc was added to increase time: Faramir having a reaction similar to Boromir when faced with the ring, rather than a reaction similar to Aragorn as he does in the book.
Aragorn understands the corruptive power of the ring and lets Frodo go, whereas Boromir attempts to take the ring. Faramir in the movie wants to prove his worth to his father Denethor (as is shown in greater detail during a flashback involving a celebration in Osgiliath and a conversation between the two brothers and their father). Faramir wants to show his worth, but Boromir is sent away instead, eventually to his death. Eventually, Faramir makes his way back to Osgiliath, with Frodo and Sam, who don’t go there in the book. Faramir is ready to hand them both over to his father when he sees the true corruptive power of the ring for himself and understands that it needs to be destroyed, so he lets them go.
One of the most bizarre changes in the film is a scene from the Extended Edition: Merry and Pippin are drinking ent-draught when they are trapped by and sucked into a nearby tree’s roots. Treebeard returns to rescue them by speaking to the tree, using the same lines that Tom Bombadil uses to release Merry and Pippin from Old Man Willow in Fellowship of the Ring: “You shuld not be waking. Eat earth! Dig deep! Drink water!” Despite that Tom was cut from the films, his words remain! It is a bit jarring, though, to hear Treebeard speak them instead!
The Film as a Standalone
Once again, the actors, the scenery, and the music never cease to amaze me, every time that I watch it. This film is primarily set in Rohan, probably my second-favorite place in Middle Earth, after Rivendell and before the Shire. The scenery is distinctly different from what we’ve seen so far, as is the music. My favorite music from Two Towers features the Norwegian fiddle, the hardinger, which is the signature sound of Rohan. Also my favorite song from the entire series is “Evenstar”, written by Howard Shore (who wrote the score for the entire series) and sung by Isabel Bayrakdarian. It is played during a flashback in the beautiful Rivendell. It is a perfect scene. Watch the extended scene below.
As I’ve said before, all the actors and actresses in Lord of the Rings are amazing, but new characters to this movie in particular include Eomer (for a short time), Faramir, Eowyn and Thoeden. Eowyn is absolutely perfect in my eyes, but Theoden takes the cake, particularly in this next scene, where he has had to bury is son.
There are so many scenes that I love from this film that it is very difficult to admit that it is my least favorite of the series. A very close third, perhaps. There’s just so much more to love in Return of the King, and even better, Fellowship features a pre-ring Frodo, who is actually quite a likable character. As the story progresses in Two Towers and Return of the King, Frodo becomes more and more corrupted by the ring, which unfortunately, makes him more and more annoying. Sometimes, I even skip the Frodo, Sam, and Gollum scenes when I watch the last two movies, because their story arc is my least favorite, at least until Sam redeems it in Return of the… But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. You’ll find further commentary on this subject and more in the next (and final) installment of my series of reviews about Lord of the Rings next Thursday.