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Tuesday October 26th

Massive 'Towers' Weaves Beauty, Brilliance

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

From its breathtaking first scene to its cliffhanger ending, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" doesn't practice cinematic restraint.

Nor does it ever have a reason to.

An epic in the grandest sense of the word, "The Two Towers" pushes outward the scope of its predecessor -- "The Fellowship of the Ring" -- expanding the breadth of the series to gigantic proportions. Close-ups zoom back to helicopter shots; extras are supplemented by digitally created armies; sound stages are replaced by on-location filming.

And it all works, mainly because the film's audience is already familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's three-part literary masterwork courtesy of the hugely popular "Fellowship of the Ring." In that film, diminutive but courageous hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) takes the near-impossible task of destroying an evil ring, aided by a nine-member fellowship sworn to protect him from increasing peril.

But in "The Two Towers," that fellowship has broken and scattered. Frodo continues his quest to destroy the ring but is now accompanied only by his loyal friend Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin). Meanwhile, hobbits Merry and Pippen have been kidnapped and are the target of a rescue mission by surviving fellowship members Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli (Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies). The three storylines never directly connect. Instead, each brings new characters, kingdoms and races into the tale, which the film masterfully weaves into a tapestry big and rich enough to cover the full grandiosity of Tolkien's fictional world.

Threading the pieces together is a consistent supply of computer effects that are not only seamlessly woven into the live action but also provide the film's most compelling individual character.

Gollum, Frodo's deformed guide consumed by the power of the dark ring, is the visual product of computer animation alone. But the schizophrenic character is injected with humanity by the voice and acting of Andy Serkis, whose physical movements were the foundation upon which Gollum's digital image was projected. As otherworldly as his likeness is, Gollum's tortured soul and signs of its possible redemption are chillingly real.

While not every character is so fully developed, the film succeeds by conveying the unique culture and history behind each character's race. It's enough to immerse the audience into a fictional, yet altogether believable, world. And with that immersion, "The Two Towers" can freely operate on its own wondrous terms.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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