Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Favorite Movies of the Past Nine Years - #9

Welcome to the next installment of my ten favorite movies of the 'decade' thus far, since I can't see 2000 as the start of a decade any more than I was able to see it as the start of a millenium.

9. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

You might not have noticed unless you're a cineaste, read a lot of movie reviews, or caught Salon's film writers a few weeks ago, but a critical backlash has developed against Peter Jackson's 'good parts' adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's epic 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, who wrote the main story linked above, points out that, from his perspective, the folks who are dissing on the LotR series pretty much can't agree on exactly why they seem to dislike it so, and some of the comments make absolutely no sense. For instance, the following:

I don't really think it has to do with their length, but more with the fact that the films do not speak to a wider truth. For example, "The Godfather" is not really about the Mafia; it's an examination of the nature of capitalism and revenge. There is something very universal about the Corleone saga, and every time I've seen that movie and the sequel, I notice something different and have a different reaction. The LOTR movies are just about hobbits, wizards, elves and the rest. That's it. They do not offer us any insight into human nature or our culture.


'The Godfather' isn't just a bunch of Mafiosi shooting each other up while declaring undying loyalty to their 'families', but 'LotR' is just about elves and hobbits?

Let's move on to the section where I debunk this.

Why I liked it

There were a number of overarching themes in the LotR films, most of which began to come into sharper focus in this movie than they did in the first one:

- The durability and power of true friendship: Despite the breaking of the Fellowship at Boromir's betrayal and redemption, the three groups of friends go on to achieve truly mighty things -- Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas press themselves almost beyond mortal limits in attempting to save Merry and Pippin, only to be redirected by a resurrected Gandalf toward Rohan, where they serve as part of the balance that tips the scales in the favor of the human kingdom's survival at Helm's Deep. Merry and Pippin achieve by trickery what they can't achieve by force of persuasion with Treebeard of the Ents.

- The seductive lure of evil: Despite some critics assertions otherwise, Jackson actually changed very little of Tolkien's overall plot, though one of the biggest occurs here. In the books, Faramir, originally tempted by the power of the Ring, relents and allows the hobbits and their guide to go along their way after capturing them in the wilds south of Mordor. In the film, Faramir remains in the Ring's thrall until he and the tiny trio return to Osgiliath, in the hopes of using the Ring to break the orcish siege of the city, only to realize that the Ring will not deliver them, but destroy them. We also begin to see Frodo's recognition that, despite his fighting against the influence of the Ring, the Ring is slowly corrupting him, and thus he reacts by reaching out in the hopes of finding Smeagol redeemable, knowing full well that he, too, will need to be redeemed once this trial is ended. And of course, it appears that Smeagol can be redeemed, as he exorcises his own demon, Gollum, early in the film, only to have Gollum and his lust for the Ring return with a vengeance at the hands of Faramir's troops, in a sequence that, for Frodo was all about saving Smeagol's life, but to Smeagol was a betrayal.

This film also introduces us to my favorite character in the entire trilogy, and I need to point out that this was not, in fact, my favorite character in the books. Critics may try to say that Jackson's (more accurately Phillipa Boyen's and Fran Walsh's) screenplay reduced 'epic' characters to more identifiable stereotypes, but for my money, Bernard Hill's portrayal of King Theoden of Rohan is anything but stereotypical.

We first meet Theoden as he sits on his throne, ensorcelled by Wormtongue and Saruman. Gandalf releases Theoden from their control, yet thanks must remain brief, as Theoden must bury his last son and then mobilize his people for war with Saruman's uruk-hai. There are moments on the road where you imagine Theoden is barely holding himself upright for the sake of his people, having lost nearly everything he personally has to live for, yet being unwilling to abandon his responsibility to those who serve him. In the end, he accompanies Aragorn on a seemingly suicidal ride into the uruk-hai horde, only to have defeat turned into victory by the rising of the sun and the arrival of Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan.

And if you thought he was cool in this movie, wait till you see what I say about him in the third one.

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