(2002) dir. Peter Jackson
viewed: 12/21/02 at Selma Theater, Selma, CA
This, the second installment of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie series, seems stronger than its predecessor. The narrative is handled more capably throughout, with even the battle sequences seeming to have more narrative cohesion. Largely, the film is visually stunning. The digital art design transforms the amazing New Zealand filming locations into striking, vast backdrops to the epic story.
The film, like the first, relies of digital design and animation to render the major fantastical aspects of the story. The Ents, the tree creatures, were a personal favorite. They were simply very cool.
The other major animation feat was the character of Gollum. Performed during production by actor Andy Serkis, Gollum was later re-created as a fully digital being, though some of his movements were adapted via motion capture from the actor. As far as a technical feat, Gollum looks good but is still clearly an animated figure. In the narrative, however, Gollum is a key figure, perhaps the true center of the film’s “heart.” The audience is meant to emotionally connect with him and his role in the story which adds more significantly to his “realism” than his purely visual rendering. I thought that this was working pretty well, though the theater audience seemed to find some of his scenes funnier than I thought they were meant to read. Who knows, though?
Despite the varying races of creatures (elves, hobbits, dwarves, etc.), Middle Earth is a very Anglo-Saxon world, lacking in anyone who even looks remotely Mediterranean, eastern European, or much less any other part of the world. The original text is, of course, English, and much of the world is a very northern European vision of an imaginary historical period. I am not sure what to say about this, it just struck me.
Some things seem a little more silly this time around. The elves are so lovingly shot, their “beauty” is almost hysterical. The hobbits pairs seem even more homoerotic. The curmudgeonly rantings of the dwarf, Gimli, as comic relief, are more ham-fisted. And though most of the digital stuff was incredible, occasional shots looked a lot more of what they were.
That said, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is pretty much top-of-the-line digitally-enhanced cinematic fantasy, circa 2002. The experience of it is exciting and impressive, especially in the theater where images loom so much larger than life. It still strikes me as a story lacking in contemporary context, though the references to the rising armies of Sauron somehow resonated with the rising armies of George W. Bush. Even saying this sounds silly, but I noted it more than once.