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Volume 14, Issue 6: Ex Imagibus

The Two Towers

Nathan Wilson

The Two Towers
Directed by Peter Jackson
New Line Cinema (2002)

Peter Jackson should be pitied. He is two films into the Lord of the Rings trilogy and believes that things have gone

The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers have grossed all sorts of money both in the States and world wide. There are limited edition DVDs to be purchased, and new editions of the books are everywhere, and all of them are sporting the shiny faces and wet hair of the films' stars. Millions of people previously unfamiliar with the books are reading them. J.R.R.'s signature is going for a lot more on ebay than it ever has. All in all, Tolkien is apparently experiencing a good old-fashioned revival. So why the pity?
The Fellowship of the Ring merely commits sins of omission. There are things left out of the film that were in the books. But it had to be that way. We might be disappointed with Jackson's choices, but it is a film, and the whole story has to fit into one sitting and stuff must be chucked. We knew that the books weren't sexy enough, and so Arwen's role must be accentuated. We were prepared for The Fellowship of the Ring. The Two Towers was more of a surprising kick in the teeth.
I went to The Two Towers expecting the same visually extravaganzic cliff-noted version of the story that we got in the first film. But this was not the case. I left the theatre spitting in the gutter and holding back curses. Tolkien had been violated. If given a portrait of Tolkien, Jackson would have drawn on a moustache and added spinach to the teeth. Or so I thought.
But my viewing has settled down a little. I no longer hiccough in anger. I have transitioned to weeping. I weep for Peter Jackson. He is a modern man like any other. He reads Tolkien and loves him for his beauty and truth, and then, trapped by modern story-telling, takes his crayon in his fist and does tribute to him.
The Two Towers began well enough, and I was prepared to be patient with it. Though visually treky, Gandalf more explicitly goes through death and resurrection in the film than in the book. The tall grass and plains of Rohan are a boulder yard, but I am patient. Perhaps Tolkien spoke differently to Jackson's imagination. Theoden, Lord of Mark, is not committing any sin of abdication, he is possessed and only needs excorcism. Wormtongue has plucked eyebrows and it suits him. Aragorn and Gandalf are buffoons in their military tactical advice, but I overlook it. I suspend disbelief. The wargs are giant, puffy faced, happy-meal hyenas and my breathing remains even. Aragorn even rides one off a cliff and backfloats down a river unconscious until he dreams of kissing Arwen, but it's only his horse. I am still patient, though I begin to feel like Job. At Helm's Deep, many, many elves show up for no good reason and I, I merely admire their capes.
But eventually my patience runs out. No explosion came when Aragorn flirted with Eowyn, or when he doubted the love of Arwen. The explosion came when Faramir, captain of Gondor, behaved like a jackass and tried to take the ring to Gondor, while the Ents quivered in their foolhardy roots and had to be tricked by the hobbits into attacking Isengard. That tore a breech in my wall that all the rest of the filthy, stinking orks flowed through and left me calling for Jackson's scalp. But that has passed. I rode a white horse down a bank and chased them all into a field that should have been full of trees, and they cheerfully disappeared. Now I am calm.
Nobility is bravery, wisdom, discernment, sacrifice, humilty, all in all, Christlikeness. Nobility is the cornerstone of the Tolkien trilogy. But all that is noble and wise in the books has become common and low in the films. Elrond is rash, hasty, and in need of chastisement, rather than the eldest and wisest of those remaining of the three races. Fanghorn and his ents are slow to anger, never hasty, wise in their councils, but once unleashed their wrath is complete. In The Two Towers, their lack of haste becomes cowardice and the two hobbits (foolish but faithful in the books) must trick the Ents into action. Faramir is not a kind, discerning, self-sacrificial lord, but rash, impulsive and foolhardy. A lumpy nosed punk.
Initially, I believed that Jackson must be imposing his egalitarian gospel on Tolkien. But I have thought better of it. Boromir seems more noble in the film than the book.
And so I am left with this. Jackson does not trust the storytelling of Tolkien; he trusts the rules of the medium in which he works. He cannot build tension in the story as Tolkien does, over hundreds of pages, but must manage it in five minutes per narrative thread. He must take the quickest route, he must create character flaws where there were none. And so we have tension between Fanghorn, Merry and Pippin, Faramir, Frodo and Sam, Aragorn, Arwen, and Elrond and so on. The medium demands it. At least Peter Jackson thinks so.
So let us curse the medium. And when we meet Peter Jackson, let us refrain from pinching his nose. He is the victim in need of hugs. The victim adhering in blind faith to the rules of his order.
At least Sam is still noble.

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