802 Movie Review: The Two Towers

Volume CIII, No. 2February, 2003

What can be said about Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers from a music – or union – perspective?

First, the music. That’s easy. Howard Shore’s score is awesome. It’s an old-school, lush, orchestral score with a recognizable main theme that sticks with you after you go home. Shore owes a lot to John Williams, but so does everyone. And singer Emiliana Torrini delivers a haunting, Bjork-like performance over the closing credits. It’s only too bad that the music was not recorded in the U.S. – although the London Philharmonic, who performed the score, is covered by the British Musicians’ Union. In any case, enjoy the music because it’s probably the best part of the movie (the New Zealand backdrop is a close second). Everything else is one big bloodbath, and that’s especially a problem from a union perspective.

More on that in a minute. For those who haven’t seen the first movie – or read the trilogy – a synopsis might be helpful. (However, keep in mind that J.R.R. Tolkien invented entire histories, mythologies and languages so it takes a lot of willpower to remember the plot.) Basically, there’s a ring. If the ring gets returned to its creator – the “Dark Lord” Sauron – the ring will give him the power to enslave the world. At the end of the first movie, the original gang has been forced to split up into three groups. The Two Towers follows these three groups in their different quests, cutting between them. One is a group of Hobbits who are trying to get the ring to Mordor to destroy it. A separate party of Hobbits has been taken captive by Orcs – the film’s helpful, de-humanized enemy (computer-generated, for the most part). The third party is trying to rescue the second party. Basically.

Along the way, they meet walking trees named Ents who start out as non-interventionists but who end up as war allies for the good guys. There are giant elephants called Oliphants (who don’t talk and only appear for less than a minute but are one of the film’s best creatures). And there are quick battles, long battles and gory battles.

Did I mention the battles? Tolkien fans are drooling over this movie, which does a good job of distilling the books. But for viewers who don’t come to the movie with any preconceptions, what they come away with is blood. Blood everywhere. Orc blood, human blood, Hobbit blood, Elf blood. Lots of swords, crossbows, catapults and fire. (The Elves tend to shoot arrows, which hit their targets with little or no collateral damage – Middle Earth’s “smart weapons.”) The good guys ride on horses and the bad guys ride on some kind of wolf-bear hybrid (the bad guys also ride flying dragons). Some bad guys have no face at all, and those that do are portrayed as utterly evil with no feelings other than hunger. In fact, Orcs are so below humanity that they aren’t born at all: they’re hatched, out of mud. (It’s really cool to see.)

The emotions are muted in this film. There is loyalty and treachery and courage and a little comic relief, but for the most part there are few smiles or genuine laughter – this is a world at war, after all.

Villains are portrayed as viciously evil with no reason behind their evil. They are mindless killing machines. They are bred. They are OK to kill; they are non-beings and expendable. The source of evil – Sauron – has no body at all, only a giant eye.

You can see what I’m getting at. The reason this film is not good, from a union perspective, is that it glorifies war. Why is that bad? We’re on the brink of war right now (if it hasn’t already happened by the time you read this). The more desensitized we become to violence, the more we stop having feelings about war and killing. The more numb we become. Union members may support war individually, but war and violence in general will always destabilize workers’ lives. Workers will see their children be the first on the front lines. And musicians will be affected: more money for the war industry means less funding for the arts. (Plus a pro-war government generally tends to be more conservative and anti-union.)

You might say, “Not fair! Tons of movies have violence in them! Tolkien wrote these books years ago! The violence is all fantasy! And there is more to this movie than violence! I want to see this movie to relax!”

Relax if you like, but if you can relax in the midst of all of the killing in The Two Towers, then you might be a war buff – and the Bush administration is hoping that you are.

–Reviewed by Mikael Elsila