Taking liberties in 'Two Towers'
Despite changes, Tolkien fan can't resist watching
By Deborah P. Jacobs, Globe Staff, 1/26/2003
Recently a friend forwarded to me an online ad for ''Frodo's Ring'' - the One
Ring, the Ring of Power, available in sterling silver or gold, complete with
Elvish inscription. It was a shameless, cynical bit of marketing, but the
sick thing was, I wanted one.
For the same reason, we passionate fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's ''Lord of the
Rings'' can't stay away from the movie adaptations, even at the risk of
disappointment: It's another way to try to inhabit Middle-Earth, the place to
see the images in our minds made real.
But ''The Two Towers,'' the second installment, has me, and my geeky
brethren, nervous. The changes made by director Peter Jackson seem so
wrong-headed that one fears that in the final chapter other favorite elements
of the story will be discarded, uprooted like so many trees standing in the
way of a rampaging Orc. Will we hear Saruman 's honeyed voice at Orthanc, or
will he simply whip Gandalf around again like a peanut in a blender? Will
Frodo put on the Ring at Mount Doom, or will a tut-tutting Sam grab it away
and slap his hand? Will Aragorn take the Paths of the Dead, or go bowling
with the palantir?
That said, Jackson and his crew got many things right in ''The Two Towers.''
The rendering of Gollum is astonishing, capturing both his slippery
loathsomeness and pathos. Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn, though far more
photogenic than Tolkien's weathered hero, has grown into a commanding
presence. And the re-creation of the Mark is as well imagined as the scenes
in Rivendell, Moria, and Lothlorien in ''The Fellowship of the Ring.''
But much else that thrilled readers of the second book - much that is
complicated, stirring, compelling - didn't make it into the movie. It was,
inexplicably, sacrificed for the excruciatingly boring battle at Helm's Deep,
an event to which Tolkien devotes one compact chapter. Between the
undisguised sentimentality (repeated close-ups of a mother nervously
clutching her toddler, Aragorn's exhortations to the troops), the elaborate,
sterile computer effects (endless infestations of Orcs creeping over the
fortress walls), and the swelling strains of the James Horner-like score, it
was like watching ''Titanic'' all over again, praying for the damn ship to
sink and get it over with. And were there really boxes in Middle-Earth?
Using Gimli and other characters for comic relief isn't necessarily a bad
thing, but Jackson tries to have it both ways. Merry and Pippin, whom he's
encouraged us to accept as dunderheads chiefly concerned with a timely
''second breakfast,'' end up instructing the Ents - including Treebeard, one
of the wisest, most ancient beings in Middle-Earth - in their environmental
duty. In a similar co-opting, Theoden, king of the Mark, can't have the
heroic impulse to ride out of Helm's Deep himself; it has to be Aragorn's
Equally galling is the total recasting of Faramir, brother to Boromir. In the
book he is a finer, more fitting heir to the stewardship of Gondor than his
sibling ever could have been, and his dramatic encounter with the Ring-bearer
reveals his nobility and keen judgment. The movie has made him into a
small-minded highwayman intent on throwing his weight around.
The more admirable aspects of Frodo's character have also been erased in
''The Two Towers.'' Bowed down though he is by the Ring, it is always his
will that keeps him from putting it on and revealing himself to the Eye of
Sauron, not a nudge in the ribs from the ever-vigilant Sam. The trumped-up
conflict over the Ring between the two hobbits toward the movie's finish, a
conflict that ends with Frodo acknowledging Sam's superior wisdom, reduces
the enormity of Frodo's burden and the courage he musters to deal with it.
Yet, despite all this, despite the fact that Saruman in his flowing white
locks and robes puts me uneasily in mind of Cher, that the Nazguls ' flying
steeds are so-10-blockbusters-ago dinosaurian, that the venerable Elrond has
morphed into the sour star of ''Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Elf
Daughter,'' I'll be at the premiere of ''The Return of the King'' in December
- possibly wearing my own Ring.
Deborah Jacobs can be reached at d-jacobs@...
This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 1/26/2003.
I think this is one of the better reviews I have come across so far.
Only thing I can't understand is this interest in acquiring a copy of the
In one of the letters from Tolkien, as many of us know, the Professor
expresses his dismay that someone sent him a pewter goblet with the ring
verse inscribed on it-thinking- people just don't have a clue ( sorry, that
is not expressed in his idiom, I know ) but resolved the problem by using it
as an ashtray.