It hasn’t been long since I last spoke about Peter Jackson’s excellent adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The quality remains just as high in this middle entry. In fact, this used to be my favorite of the three. We’re past the heavy exposition of the first film, and we don’t have to deal with lengthy epilogues like the final film.
As far as the plot is concerned, not all that much happens. Frodo and Sam begin the film walking to Mordor, and they end the film still walking to Mordor. The other characters get involved in a major battle with orcs, but it’s really just a dress rehearsal for the bigger fights to come in the next film. It’s okay that the plot stalls out though, as it gives the characters some breathing room and allows for some nice world-building. The more we see of the bonds between these characters and the impacts of the coming war on the people of Middle Earth, the higher the stakes feel in the end.
The one new element here, which garnered much of the attention at the time, is the cg Gollum. An effects team captures a brilliant, highly physical performance by actor Andy Serkis, and translates it to the bony, impossibly old, riddle-loving freak. Gollum could be really annoying (he is in most adaptations), but he works pretty well here.
There’s also some nice walking trees. And, it climaxes with an epic siege/battle at Helm’s Deep, which is probably the best action sequence of the series. The focus on warfare in the second-half of the entry raises the stakes, and Jackson even manages to push an environmentalist theme (he argues that there is a favoring of pastoral hobbits and trees over Saurumon’s industrial orc-army in the books – I gather this comes out of Tolkien criticism, but I never really saw it in the books other than as a byproduct of Tolkien's anti-modernism. Either way, I like it here). The filmmakers even try to include some women in one of literature’s greatest sausage fests by expanding the role of Eowyn (played by Miranda Otto).
I didn’t mention the acting last time. Serkis, as already mentioned, is great. Ian McKellan is one of the best living actors, and his performance is truly amazing. He has an incredibly expressive face. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers steals a lot of scenes as the dwarf Boromir, and his comic banter with Orlando Bloom’s is a big ingredient in what makes Helm’s Deep so fun. Bloom, Viggo Mortensen, and the hobbits all do fine jobs playing pretty dull, button-down characters.
As I said, it was my favorite in the theaters, but I don’t know if it stands up to repeat viewings as well as the others (especially Fellowship). Maybe this is because I usually watch the extended versions these days, and the additional material is mostly unnecessary Merry and Pippen comedic bits. Anyway, it’s still great. I’ll probably be able to come up with a few things to complain about with the next movie.