Beginning with a Balrog By Hilary Williamson, December 2002
Lined up for three hours yesterday to see The Two Towers, a treat we have been anticipating since December 2001. Yes, it was worth the lineup (which I have never done before for so long), but no, I cannot rave about this sequel to quite the extent that I did last year about Fellowship in Year of the Rings. It began with a bang, or rather with the Balrog, the action leaping off the screen as Gandalf battled the monster under- and over-mountain (the Balrog happened to be my teenage sons' favorite, 'so cool', character of the first episode).
The action and violence remained unrelenting through the movie. Though friends of mine have taken their smaller children to Fellowship, I would advise against little ones seeing Two Towers, which is crammed full of fodder for nightmares - from ugly orcs and gruesome battle scenes to Gollum's disturbed ravings. Speaking of which, Smeagol / Gollum's schizophrenic arguments with himself displaced the Balrog as the movie's high point for my kids, and were extremely well done.
Since fast and furious has become the movie standard these days, I'm sure that this one will be a great success but is it Tolkien? It's all in the pacing; Tolkien kept his spotlight on Frodo and alternated horrific and terrifying adventures with calmer times, in which he portrayed for us the cultures of the races of Middle Earth and their centers, like Rivendell and Gondor. Movies can't work quite the same way as books, of course. And I don't even mind the liberties that this one took with the story - exaggerating the romance, speeding up the Ents, and was that Legolas I saw shield-boarding down a castle stairwell to the attack?
These things don't change the overall flavor of the epic, but what did change it for me was that this seemed much more Aragorn's story (he's the one with the happy ending after all) than the original, and sidelined Frodo. Though the movie did make credible attempts at depicting Frodo's struggle with the demonic possession of the Ring, it has more impact in prose, and the Ringbearer seemed to have a subsidiary role in this episode of the film trilogy. I really hope that this does not continue in Return of the King, as surely Frodo's story - the need for the good to be willing to sacrifice to fight evil - is the main point of the whole thing.
Will I be lining up next year? Definitely. We've seen the end of the Balrog, but have plenty more of Gollum's manic mutterings about his Precious to enjoy. There will be further battle scenes that, like the siege of Helm's Deep, rival The Alamo in giving the underdogs awesome odds to struggle against. There's an arachnid monster for Frodo to face and bigger roles for Merry and Pippin. And I can even tolerate the romances that Tolkien didn't write, as long as they don't (please don't!) trivialize the great-hearted Frodo and Samwise.
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