With the opening of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” just a week away, many are starting to wonder how the film will differ from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic. Last year’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” was met with mostly positive criticism regarding its adaptation, a surprising reaction considering the almost biblical status of the books in the realm of fantasy literature.
Despite some omissions for length, “Fellowship” the film was faithful to the book. “Towers” does an equally fine job of bringing the magic of the book to the screen, despite the added challenge of having to overcome some decidedly un-cinematic aspects of the novel.
“The Two Towers” picks up exactly where “The Fellowship of the Ring” left off. Frodo, the ring bearer, and his trusty companion Sam continue their quest into Mordor to destroy the ring of power; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are in hot pursuit of a band of Orcs and Uruk-hai who captured Merry and Pippin during the final battle in “Fellowship.” The traitorous wizard Saruman continues his plot to destroy the world of men and join forces with the dark lord Sauron. All over Middle Earth, the battle between good and evil rages on.
Like the book, the film begins with direct continuation of the action from the first part of the story, doing its best to make viewers forget the long, anticipation-filled year between “Fellowship” and “Towers.”
The biggest difference between Tolkien’s novel and Jackson’s film is the narrative structure. This sounds like a minor detail, but it profoundly affects the action and the pace of the story.
When Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings,” he wrote it as one would write a historical account of real events, with chapters listed by topic instead of strict chronology. The adventures of Frodo and Sam are dealt with separately from the Battle of Helm’s Deep, just as they would be in a history textbook. This structure actually makes sense, since Tolkien was a scholar at Oxford before he wrote the three-part fantasy story.
“The Two Towers” is divided into two parts: Since the Fellowship has been broken and its company scattered across Middle Earth, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of the various characters, who do not encounter each other often.
Book III follows, among other things, Aragorn, Merry, Pippin, Treebeard the Ent, the fate of the Kingdom of Rohan and most importantly, the return of Gandalf. (If you have never read the book or have been in a cave and therefore haven’t seen a preview for “The Two Towers,” sorry. He comes back.) This section makes no mention of the ring bearer’s quest.
Book IV, however, takes us back to the same point at which Book III started and takes us through Frodo and Sam’s journey past the Black Gate of Mordor, the taming of Gollum and the lair of Shelob.
The two storylines are completely separated in the book, and since there is no overlap between the two groups in their adventures, they are basically two different stories. However, this format would not work in a movie. After all, no one wants to see the harrowing climax of the battle of Helm’s Deep followed by the quiet and slow-paced beginning of Frodo’s and Sam’s interactions with Gollum.
Peter Jackson and his team of screenwriters had to adapt the rigidly structured book to a cohesive and flowing film. Their solution was to splice the storylines together, moving back and forth from Rohan to Mordor with ease and smooth transitions.
As in the first film, characters are expanded, and some are diminished completely. In a further attempt to create more romantic tension (and add some female characters to a movie full of guys), Arwen is given more screen time in scenes that did not appear in the book.
The most important change that Jackson et al made, however, is the ending. Without giving anything away, they chose to end “The Two Towers” much in the same way they ended “Fellowship,” with subdued but cautious hopefulness instead of cliff-hanging suspense and uncertainty, leaving the true ending of “Towers” for “The Return of the King,” due in Dec. 2003.