Action Defines "The Two Towers"

A few years ago, Peter Jackson went to New Line Cinemas with a proposal to turn J.R.R. Tolkein's novel "The Hobbit" into a live-action movie.

After talking with them for some time, Jackson was asked if he'd be willing to undertake the task of instead converting Tolkein's masterpiece trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" into the greatest epic the film world has ever seen.

After the first film, "The Fellowship of the Ring" came out last winter, only one question remained: Could Jackson possibly keep up the momentum, or would the subsequent films collapse under the resounding pressure of mounting expectations?

After seeing "The Two Towers," the difficult middle film, which seemed to be the most likely to drag on screen, the question has been answered and Jackson once again has a resounding success on his hands.

"Towers" surpasses "Fellowship" in almost every category: it's longer (by one minute), louder, darker, and -- most importantly -- more action packed. But in reality, the movie, and what makes it better than the first one, can be summed up in two words: Helm's Deep.

But first, the particulars. "The Two Towers" picks up where "The Fellowship of the Ring" left off. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are left to make their way to Mordor and destroy the Ring of Power. Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have been captured by orcs who are bringing them to Saruman (Christopher Lee) at Isengard. They are tracked by Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who hope to save their friends, then defend the world of men.

Frodo and Sam's quest is the meat of the story, but it is not the most intriguing part of "The Two Towers." However, it is their story that brings us Gollum -- the first truly dramatic CGI character. Everything that George Lucas was hoping Jar Jar Binks would be, Gollum is. Most noticibly, he is believable. His skin looks real. His eyes show pain and hope. And his inner conflict is a microcosm of the struggle for Middle Earth.

However, despite his scene stealing and unforgettable qualities, Gollum is not the star of the film. Nor are the Ents, who do make quite an impact in the movie's final moments in addition to saving Merry and Pippin. The true star is Aragorn, who begins to embrace his destiny as a leader of men. He goes through a change in this film, from the leader of a fellowship to a leader of the free world, and Mortensen should probably earn an Oscar nomination for his outstanding work.

Aragorn's transformation comes to a head at Helm's Deep, the fortress of Rohan, where the people of Rohan flee to when Isengard's army of orcs is unleashed. When Théoden, King of Rohan, arms his men, you can feel the tension in the theater build. When Haldir (Craig Parker) shows up with his Elf army, you can hear the music swell and sense the dam of war ready to burst.

Then, when the action begins with a single arrow shot, you get to witness the greatest battle in movie history. The final battle in "Braveheart" was an epic. Pickett's Charge in "Gettysburg" was historic. The Jedi-Droid battle in "Star Wars, Episode II" was an amazing film event fans had been awaiting for years. Yet none of them even come close to Helm's Deep. From Legolas sliding down the staircase on a shield he turns into a projectile weapon, to Gimli and Aragorn guarding the gate and holding the defenses, to the motivational words from Aragorn to Théoden that lead to the final stand, everything in the battle is larger than life.

The battle comes to conclusion with the arrival of Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen) and the Rohirrim (Riders of Rohan) arrive as reinforcements, blinding the orcs in the process and ending any chance the orcs have of completing their mission to destroy Rohan.

Surely there are other special moments in the movie: the first meeting with Treebeard, the return of Gandalf and later, his freeing of Théoden from Saruman, the destruction of Isengard and especially the battle of Gondor, where Frodo almost gives up the ring. But none of them compete with the grandeur of Helm's Deep.

Now, of course, with the original question answered, the new one is this: Will "The Return of the King" be everything we expect it to be? The good money is on yes.