The Lord of the Rings Reread

LotR re-read: Two Towers movie re-watch

Hey, you know what?

The extended edition of The Two Towers is really, really long.

So, apologies for the delay, but I ended up spreading this over three non-consecutive nights thanks to other obligations. I did quasi-liveblog my watching, and those notes are included, after some general comments as an introduction.

Spoilers for the book and movies after the jump.

Oh yes, before we start: obligatory XKCD reference (click on image for big version).

General Comments

It’s really hard to say what I think of the extended edition as a movie, because I kept getting distracted by “oh, that’s new, right?” and “check that bit off” and so forth. It’s, obviously, longer, and it feels slower, but I can’t tell if that’s bad or not: I can’t see it as its own thing and not in relation to what’s come before.

(Which, by the by, is the reason I didn’t re-read the book before the movies came out and waited so long after, to try and keep the movies from affecting the book. Which they didn’t.)

But the movie in general, I dislike quite intensely. Just about every change [*] seems to have been designed to drive me up the wall, across the ceiling, and down the other side, where I sit gibbering in a corner.

Look, I understand that movies are not books, that the pace requirements are different, and that what’s suspenseful on the page may not be suspenseful on the screen. But was it really necessary to create suspense through making so many characters self-centered, short-sighted, and ill-informed? By, in other words, diminishing them? Because I’d much rather a slightly flatter sequence of ups and downs instead of stomping all over beloved characters.

[*] I like the Elves coming to Helm’s Deep. And that’s all I can think of.

My other main complaint about the movie is that it wastes time. The disposition of Saruman should have concluded this movie, and if only it had cut out, say, the Warg attack subplot, we could have had that. Also, on all prior watchings Helm’s Deep seemed to take forever; I remain unconvinced that it had to be that long.

Right. I think the quasi-liveblogging addresses the rest of what I wanted to say, so let’s go to those notes (edited and expanded for comprehensibility).


Jackson loves his sweeping mountain shots. But why are we opening with the mountains on the border of Gondor?

Oh, those are the Mountains of Moira. That’s right, this is the Gandalf flashback. Bet this was startling for new people.

CGI not up to actor + creature in lots of motion (Gandalf & Balrog falling, whoever on cave troll last time, Legolas & oliphaunt next time).

Frodo & Sam: Frodo dreaming of Gandalf, then down the cliff.

Wow that’s skinny rope.

Bit about Sam carrying salt just screams “added back in.”

Eye attack! (Looking at Mordor.) Very horror-movie sensibility.

Jackson loves his vertigious overhead shots. (Gollum working way down to “sleeping” hobbits.)

Gollum on rope flings self about very much like thwarted toddler, I know now. =>

Frodo-Gollum dialogue about Gollum swearing is pretty close to the book. Sam getting violent is not and is too much, too fast.

Immediate Gollum-Smeagol internal conflict also added back in, which is more like the book.

Switch to Uruks and the other hobbits. Interesting that starts with them.

Pippin spits out the brooch instead of running away and dropping, nice shortening of episode even if dubious about logistics.

And now we’re back with the traditionally-heroic types. And more helicopter shots.

Oh, poor Gimli. You are so not meant for comic relief.

Isengard. Movie comes down on the side of Isengard & Barad-dûr being Two Towers.

Saruman in palantír setting self up as Sauron’s equal partner. But payoff will never come.

“The Old World will burn in the fires of industry”—subtle!

Repurposed first-movie footage in “fires of industry” montage. Added: mention of Fangorn, swearing in blood of Dunlanders. Feels awkward at this point, don’t if know would have been useful at time.

Sending kids as your messengers to Edoras, is this really sensible?

The dead at the Fords, Éomer finding Théodred: new introduction of character.

Ridiculous Théoden makeup!

Éomer gets Gandalf’s dialogue to Wormtongue about bought/price. And gets banished for his trouble.

Back to chase.

I suppose if everyone else has British accents, the Orcs might as well too.

Orc cannibalism.

No long Riders chase of Orcs, which is kind of too bad.

No, I don’t believe that Pippin’s going to buy it under a horse, sorry.

“A red sun rises. Blood has been spilled this night.” — Seriously, Legolas?

Mad horse riding skillz! Horse people, is this circling-around as impressive as it looks or was it mostly editing?

Horse-shaped nosepiece on Éomer’s helmet.

Legolas doesn’t get a “son of” in introduction.

Éomer very quick to give horses, but I think the feeling bad over slaughtering friends is supposed to stand in.

Orcs not very thoroughly burnt, but then I don’t know what a pile of properly-burnt corpses is supposed to look like. (Which is fine with me.)

Reconstruction by Aragorn/flashback, and do I believe that after all the bodies were dragged around to be burnt, the tracks were still there? No I do not. But mystery-solving & discovery is fun.

I love that reveal of Treebeard’s eyes.

If Treebeard really thinks they’re little Orcs, why did he pick them up in the first place? No need to bring to Gandalf for judgment until they talk him into it.

(Did the White Wizard fake-out work for any new people?)

Back to Frodo, Sam, Gollum. Dead Marshes.

Gollum talking to Frodo about knowing the Ring’s hold: attempt to build relationship,  split the hobbits? And/or genuine?

“Little candles of their own” would be more effective if dead had previously been shown with candles.

Wraith-o-vision upon falling in. Did I mention horror-movie sensibility?

Frodo stroking Ring: OMG get a room.

Transition into “you were/are Smeagol” conversation doesn’t work very well.

Weathertop flashbacks when hear Nazgûl.

Love the Nazgûl gauntlets, the pull-back to the flying beast.

Gimli finds Orc blood, what happened to the squished Orc? Huorn eat it?

What happened to “we cannot shoot an unarmed man unaware”? *headdesk*

Voice trick re: Gandalf is trying too hard.

Gandalf! You found hair conditioner and dye in the afterlife!

Cosmic trip and waking in whiteness, can I blame 2001 for this? Would it have been better to just go with narration and Gandalf’s face as he told it?

I do so love Ian McKellen, his glints of humor and his gorgeous voice and his ability to pull off (almost) any line.

Shadowfax appears, and everyone who ever sighed over Lackey’s Companions gets a little sentimental.

Back to Merry & Pippin. Treebeard gets Bregalad’s verse about rowan trees, and then unexplained snippet of Entwife song (which he says is his, not Elves’).

Does he really leave them unguarded in the forest over night? Some safekeeping.

Hello, Gandalf, thank you for the exposition!

Hello, Black Gate! How big and impassable you are!

Can someone comment on any historical inspiration of the armor of the people marching into the Black Gate? I note that they have light brown skin and possibly something like kohl around their eyes.

Don’t know how it will hold up, but the emotions on Gollum’s face look really good now.

Back to Merry & Pippin. Oh, apparently this is supposed to be Treebeard’s home, with the running water and all, though it didn’t look it at all at night.

Comic interlude about pipeweed and growing through drinking the water, and then suddenly it’s Old Man Willow. That was jarring.

Lost Entwives.

Approach to Edoras.

Does Théoden get a manicure when he wakes up? (Later: yes.)

Wormtongue gets Gandalf’s speech about bitter watches of night, directly to Éowyn, and Aragorn’s about fair/cold. “Your words are poison.” Meant to turn from insight to insult? Not exactly sure of intent here, weight of original too distracting.

Hello, thematically-appropriate flag flying away in the wind and landing on the ground!

Gotta love the sets. Sure, why not build a whole town and hall on top of a big rock in the middle of nowhere? (Those carvings! Those tapestries!)

Aragorn doesn’t have Anduril yet, so no fuss about disarming.

Fighting as Gandalf walks up: stupid. Explicit possession: so much less interesting. Wizard-fu exorcism: so much less interesting and ridiculous.

“I know your face.” Okay, that is good. I do like them together.

Aragorn has to stop Théoden from killing a helpless Wormtongue?

I’m sure the commentaries or extras say, but what is Éowyn singing at the funeral (and is it her)?

2000 men riding north? My, they didn’t look that numerous.

“I will not bring further death to my people”? *headdesk*

Gandalf: “Three hundred lives of Men I’ve walked this Earth.”

Random horse plot, which is headdesk-y in that it’s a waste of time.

Miranda Otto is so awesome and Liv Tyler is so not.

Gollum fishing doesn’t work well on the small screen, either.

Frodo & Sam confrontation over Sam’s treatment of Gollum; Ring influence, setting up later plot twist [note: not sure what I meant by this now, except maybe the sending Sam away in the next movie?]. And yet . . . doesn’t grab me.

On watching the original double-talk scene with Smeagol and Gollum, such a good reveal that early snippet looks bad in retrospect by taking away from it (love the way it was done, the switch from camera panning across face to cutting between them).

Conclusion of “Smeagol is free” from Gollum—sharpening up later betrayal and fall.

More armies of Mordor, with bonus oliphaunt closeup. And dead fallen solider: brown skin, curly black hair.

Faramir gets Sam’s lines about wondering about the soldier, which don’t fit at all.

Disc breaks here, with him ordering hobbits’ hands bound.

Back with trip to Helm’s Deep.

Aragorn wasn’t in disguise/admitted his prior service to Théoden? Uncharacteristic, but I imagine only way to get his age out.

Soppy Arwen memory. Does anyone find the two of them convincing?

And another change to make people meaner, smaller, pettier: Elrond asking Aragorn to let Arwen go for her own good. And he does it!

Adding to list of things that don’t work so well on small screen: Warg riders.

It’s too bad they’re wasting the “big music, cuts out at moment of army clash” on this little skirmish. Because it does work so well.

I suppose the attack isn’t implausible and increases the jeopardy and all, but I can’t like it because it sets up the ridiculous Aragorn-thought-dead thing. This is a movie that does not make good use of the time it has!

Nice crane shot giving us the layout of Helm’s Deep.

Brief Saruman bit, then Merry & Pippin see the army marching, then Aragorn doing the Dead Man’s Float and getting kissed by Arwen and his horse.

Arwen & Elrond: 1) it is really weird to put the bit about Aragorn’s death here [*]; 2) Hugo Weaving is so very mis-cast; 3) oh, the pretty sad tears rolling down her face, whatever; 4) Elrond: “Do I not also have your love?” *stab stab stab* That is BAD PARENTING.

[*] I realized just now that they’ve removed the “Arwen becoming human” thing, which probably makes sense from an exposition standpoint.

(Elrond isn’t planning to die here in Middle-earth, why can’t she wait for the ship he’s going on?)

Hello, Galadriel! Nice to see you getting your obligatory portentous voiceover! My, what big blue eyes you have.

Back with Frodo, Sam, Faramir.

Heh, I recognize that map.

Frodo starts his acquaintance with Faramir by lying about Gollum, good show.

Faramir is just all wrong from the start, arrgh, arrgh, I hate this bit.

Boromir reclaimed Osgiliath? What, it was just lost by Faramir? That’s a change. I missed that until now—that does not look like a recently-abandoned city.

Denethor charges Boromir with bringing the Ring to Gondor; Boromir doesn’t want to leave. I am dubious about this. Denethor looks too unstrung already & it changes the dynamic of Boromir’s fall quite a bit retroactively. But it’s nice to see Sean Bean again.

Really working the dog parallel in Frodo’s betrayal of Gollum at the pool. About which my feelings are on record. Ouch.

And now they have these noble men of Gondor beat Gollum to make him talk. Gah. But wow Serkis’ voice acting is good: listening to him do Smeagol & Gollum while curled face-first against the wall made my blood run cold.

“The Ring will go to Gondor”: NO NO NO WRONG LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.

Aaaand, back to Aragorn arriving at Helm’s Deep ahead of the army. *gets timer ready for battle*

Okay, I confess, I am almost willing to bear the existence of the entire movie just for the shot of Aragorn pushing open the double doors.

I’d forgotten that Théoden’s bitter reaction to Aragorn’s “Gondor will answer” sets up the “And Rohan will answer” in the third movie. Which is awesome. (This is me, looking on the bright side before the never-ending battle and yet more stuff I hate about this  movie.)

Tiny Entmoot snippet, then more grayness at Helm’s Deep.

Moving Éowyn’s “They fight beside you because” speech here doesn’t work, either.

I, uh, liked the “Where is the horse in the rider” better in the preview footage.

The writers must also know about Aragorn’s youth nickname, the way they throw “hope” around with big flashing letters.

Hadn’t caught the contrast between Théoden (slow, attended, mournful sunset) & Aragorn (fast, alone, businesslike) arming up before. I like it.

Why word from just Elrond, not also Galadriel—this is Haldir from Lorien, isn’t it? (Later: yes.)

Starting the timer with the army on the battlements and the Orcs approaching. Just to see if the battle is really as long as it feels.

I do like the look on Théoden’s face when the rain starts, which is very subtle but very speaking nonetheless.

The “scared women and children” shots really get on my nerves. It’s just so . . . blatant.

The Orcs banging their polearms is still cool.

This is the third tiny snippet of Entmoot interlude, the second where the Ents are so very non-hasty, and it’s kinda not working as comic relief for me.

Boy, they were working that culvert explosion for all it’s worth, huh?

Was that Peter Jackson throwing a spear down? I know it was his and Fran Walsh’s adorable moppets being scared in the caves.

Yay, Gimli gets to be heroic! And . . . then trampled.

No, no, the shield surfing is just silly, I’m sorry.

And we’re back to Entmoot and “This is not our war”: LA LA LA. And Pippin saying they should go home?

Haldir gets a slow-mo death. Because he’s pretty.

Music stops quietly with Orcs at gate and Théoden & Hama in fighting. Rewound to see when exactly and lost my timer, estimating to re-start.

Why, exactly, did Aragorn and Gimli go through all that trouble if they were just going to give up the gate like that?

Pippin gets a bright idea, snippet of Frodo begging to be let go, and then back to the major Ent head-desk moment, because Treebeard wouldn’t have known what Saruman did to the forest and they didn’t tell him before now? And it takes their blatant self-interest to get the Ents involved? (And then all the Ents were so close that they could all come out of the trees right away?)

Okay, fine, “Last march of the Ents” still gets me.

Osgiliath—apparently we are in for a long break from Helm’s Deep (15:30 roughly by now).

I know it’s a minor thing, but hearing them all talk about the Ring out in the open is so jarring.

Oh, they gave up the gate because Théoden has succumbed to despair and retreated to the caves to die. I suppose the change to “fey” is somewhat of an improvement.

Hi, Gandalf! You look so white and snowy. Hi, Éomer! You look so timely, I could almost mistake you for Erkenbrand.

Even trying to account for camera angles, that is a really steep slope. Horse people, plausible?

I choose to believe that the dawn light was magically enhanced by Gandalf even though, or perhaps because, it is quite unlike any other magic he does in the movie.

The destruction of Isengard doesn’t live up to my image of it, or even get close, but I don’t mind because nothing could live up to how cool it is in the book.

(I make the battle roughly 20 minutes, which surprised me—it felt longer in prior watches. Not as much here, but I was splitting the movie up, and there’s been so much else added back in that in contrast it couldn’t feel as long.)

You know, I don’t think that the third movie properly takes into account that Frodo is so lost here that he (1) tries to put the Ring on in front of a Nazgûl and (2) almost kills Sam. (I’m out of exclamation points and capital letters. I’m just too tired. This is a long frickin’ movie, even spread out over three nights.)

And oh, no, it’s the grand tearful speech from Sam over the happy-ending montage, which I really would like to work for me. But it makes me cringe. This may say more about me than the movie.

I’d forgotten that the movie makes explicit that the trees kill the Orcs, which is just like the movie and not nearly as creepy.

Faramir’s warning about Cirith Ungol is more explicit: “a dark terror.” And still using force on Gollum, how lovely.

Sam makes a gesture that Frodo doesn’t, tells Gollum that Frodo didn’t mean for him to be hurt & was trying to save him.

Conversation about Sam & Frodo being in fireside tales; Frodo seems to have recovered very well.

And the final amazing Smeagol-Gollum conversation—especially the way it doesn’t cut from one angle to another, like the first one, to give the illusion of two different people. (Though the logistics are weird, could he have really thought to sneak past Shelob before he decided to betray them?) Not as vicious a cliffhanger as Frodo taken by the orcs, but, amazing.

* * *

I suspect I am a minority in disliking this movie so much, so, those who do like it, let’s hear why—and those who don’t, come forth and be counted!

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Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.


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