Preface to the revision: Last year, I enjoyed the chance to go back and revisit my FotR review just before The Two Towers was released. That gave me a chance to look back at those first impressions in the context of multiple re-viewings, especially including the extended version of the film. With The Return of the King coming out in just a week, I figure it's high time to repeat the process. If nothing else, it will give me some sense of "closure" with respect to The Two Towers. As before, my new comments will be the only text other than spoiler tags enclosed in [square brackets].
Unlike last year, I have not taken the time to go through the whole movie and outline my own "ideal cut" of Peter Jackson's creation. The main reason for that is that it simply doesn't seem as interesting this time. I can't think of a single case where the extended edition's version of a scene was less satisfying to me than the original (though a handful of additions didn't seem entirely necessary), and the changes that I would most dearly like to see in The Two Towers are far larger in scope than the tweaks and adjustments I suggested for Fellowship: I couldn't really claim that I was still just suggesting a different cut of Jackson's film. Thus, I'll limit myself to the comments I've added to this review. All in all, I think the extended cut of The Two Towers is an excellent version of Peter Jackson's vision.
[No serious spoilers yet.]
When I left the theater after seeing Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time last year, the clearest thought in my mind was "Wow." Despite disappointments large and small, I knew right away that I loved the movie.
My mood as I left The Two Towers this year was considerably more subdued, but I'm not sure why. Maybe I had already grown accustomed to Jackson's glorious realization of Middle-earth. Maybe the parts that bothered me were closer to the end of the movie (in Fellowship, I hardly had a single complaint in the final half hour). Or maybe the movie was just a lot less good. I doubt that last possibility, though. Even more than during Fellowship, I lost track of time and even of the surrounding movie theater during The Two Towers (I was really startled when someone sitting in front of me stood up at one point): I really felt drawn into the action.
[At this point, a year later, I'm reasonably convinced that for me personally, The Two Towers was not as enjoyable of a movie as The Fellowship of the Ring. I really do think that's due in large part to my disappointment with the major changes in the storyline as compared to the books. I've continued to feel that disappointment in every viewing, probably because those changes are visible in so much of the movie. On the other hand, I've seen quite a few critics claim that The Two Towers was better than Fellowship, so it seems very likely that it is just as good when taken as an independent movie. And don't get me wrong: I do still enjoy it, I just like Fellowship better.]
Good or bad, my strongest general impression after seeing The Two Towers was that it was not Tolkien's story: the majority of characters have been substantially changed from the book, and there were many new and altered plot points as well. I absolutely understand that changes are necessary when moving from a written tale to a visual one, but I also know that Tolkien put enormous effort into making the book great, so straying too far from his choices is all too likely to detract from the story. I'll try to strike this balance in the detailed comments that follow. Happily, while changes from the book were everywhere, none of them were "Galadriel moments" for me: nothing stood out as so glaringly wrong as her temptation scene in the first movie. [But, as mentioned above, major changes were much more common, so it has turned out that I'm not as able to "compartmentalize" those frustrations as I was with Galadriel.]
In the end, my biggest complaint is that there wasn't enough time to get to know the characters in this movie. Theoden, Eowyn, and Gollum are to some extent exceptions to this, but Treebeard, Faramir, and even Gimli (for example) are left without much serious development, and that is missed. [The extended edition helps with this quite a bit in many cases, but not in all of them.] One unfortunate result was that my emotional involvement with the characters wasn't as great as it could have been (although the film's overall intensity still proved to be gripping). I do honestly wonder if reducing the number of cuts from storyline to storyline would help with this: perhaps Tolkien's Book III/Book IV division worked well for just this reason. It's hard to know just how badly such a format would work on screen. [I'm still curious to see how the movie would turn out with just two or three breaks in each story. But I'm very willing to trust Peter Jackson's filmmaking expertise on this one.]
In the detailed comments that follow, I follow each plot thread separately rather than trying to remember the exact interweaving of the movie's chronology. I've started each section with brief comments on its main characters, and followed with a discussion of its plot. As in my FotR review, much of my focus in what follows is on negative things; I still don't think that's representative of my feelings about the movie as a whole.
First, a "prologue". I thought that the pan across the Misty Mountains that then zoomed in to Gandalf's Balrog battle seems to have worked well as a beginning for the movie, as did the dream-cut to Frodo and Sam. Jumping ahead momentarily, it would have been nice to see the chase up the Endless Stair (though Jackson's Balrog probably wouldn't fit!), but the battle on the peak worked reasonably well and I was happy with the presentation of Gandalf's death and return. [It's neat to know from the DVD extras that they originally wanted to include the "thing of slime" Balrog and the Endless Stair, and it's a shame that it was budget pressure that led to it being cut. But I don't really mind.] Now, on to the various plot threads of the movie.
Frodo's journey to Ithilien
- Generally portrayed well, including his anger at Sam's concern, but it bothers me when he completely loses control of himself.
- Quite good. His mistrust of Gollum is more justified in the book.
- Excellent: I honestly can't think of anything I'd change.
- Not as admirable as in the book, which reduces our sympathy for him. He should feel more like Aragorn than Boromir.
- (RANGERS: )
- Fine; not much personality in the book or the movie.
I suspect that the extended DVD will include the use of Sam's rope to get down the cliff. [Yup. But in fact, I was a bit disappointed by the rope scene. It felt like a slow start to the action, and I thought it made Sam look bad: he makes Frodo fall (to his possible death) just for some salt, and in the film it's not clear that Sam didn't just tie a bad knot.] (Why else make that his gift in the extended FotR? [Peter Jackson goes on at some length about the rope being 100% extended cut material in his commentary.]) Sam's hatred of Gollum seemed a bit overdone (pulling him around with the rope around his neck seemed horrible), but I think it's probably okay. Moving on, I'm not sure why the "candles of corpses" in the Dead Marshes were changed into normal looking fires; a friend of mine said it looked like the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride. : )
The Black Gate was pretty cool: having the whole battlement swing open rather than a single iron gate looked good. I don't really see the value of Sam's fall and the resulting tension [but I'm okay with it], and I was frustrated by the sudden appearance of the "magical" properties of the Elvish cloaks from Lorien (which seem even more effective than in the books). I did like the general idea of Frodo and Sam getting ready to make a hopeless dash for the Gate, though, and Gollum dragging them back from disaster.
I liked the whole time with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum in Ithilien. The ambush scene was done well, but I missed Sam's sympathy with the dead Southron. That scene would do a lot to combat complaints that the enemy in Tolkien is always demonized; I wouldn't be too surprised if were added in the extended DVD. [Which it was, happily, but given to Faramir. I think that was a reasonable choice, actually: it's one of the few chances we have to see him as a decent guy. But somehow, his delivery of those lines seemed a bit forced: it felt like he was reciting lines, not overcome with sympathy.] After their capture, Henneth Annun was a very welcome surprise! Some of what happened there was a little odd, though. The scene with the map was probably [certainly!] helpful for viewers confused about geography, but it's odd that Faramir's intelligence on Rohan was so current while he was in Ithilien. Oddly, Faramir never explained how he knew Boromir was dead. [I don't recall if he explained out loud in the extended cut, but the funeral boat scene was well done.] (For that matter, neither did Sam, who later claimed that he even knew why Boromir had died. My wife pointed out that in the (first) movie, Frodo and Sam would have seen Boromir's funeral boat, but they still wouldn't know "why".) [This hasn't bothered me much in later viewings: Sam's just looking for a way to make a strong impression, and he succeeds.]
[I really liked the flashback to Faramir, Boromir, and Denethor at Osgiliath. I think it fleshed out Faramir's character a lot, and made his character in the rest of the film much more sympathetic. It's a real shame that it was left out of the theatrical version.]
The scenes with Gollum at Henneth Annun were generally good. [But not the horrible beating by Faramir's troops while Faramir looked on! That undoes all the likability that he gained from his sympathy with the dead Southron, and then some.] I don't know why Frodo denied Gollum's existence at first; lying isn't really like him. It's interesting that Gollum was the one to reveal the Ring; that's probably a good choice, as there just isn't time for Sam to distract himself by babbling about Elves. [Though I have some different ideas about how the whole Faramir subplot could have been handled, which would among other things leave out the Osgiliath detour. I more or less summarized them below in my original review, and I think an idea like mine could work. But again, I'm not a professional filmmaker.] I didn't see much point to the Osgiliath sequence at all, though whatever happened I wouldn't want to lose Sam and Frodo's conversation about tales and heroes (I missed the "Does Gollum think he's the hero or the villain?" bit, though). I was especially troubled by the scene with the Nazgul: Frodo should have had more willpower than that, and it feels like a serious plot hole. Sauron's got to wonder why the Ring was brought so close to Mordor rather than by a safer road directly to Gondor. [The writers' commentary explains that the scene was inspired directly by Frodo being drawn to Minas Morgul and the Witch King in the book, but that doesn't address the fact that Frodo managed to stay hidden in that case. A closer parallel would have been for Frodo to try to go to the wraith (clearly with the intent to offer it the Ring) and for Sam to tackle him before he was seen. Moving on a bit, I appreciated the material in the "Farewell to Faramir" scene in the extended cut, but I thought it hurt the movie's pacing quite a bit.] I guess I can see how it could inspire him to strike at Minas Tirith quickly, though. On a brighter note, Gollum's relapse into evil and the first hints of his plan with Shelob were very good, and a good way to close this plot thread.
[A side note before plunging into my long discusion of Faramir: after I first updated my review of this section, I had a longish discussion about Faramir with a friend of mine. She didn't read the books until after seeing The Two Towers, and she made it clear that when she saw the movie, she did see Faramir as an admirable character. He never took the Ring for himself or even came particularly close to doing so: he was just going to send it (carried by Frodo) to his father. And he was really too "busy" to understand just how evil the Ring was all at once. Now, that doesn't mean that a scene closer to the book version couldn't have worked, but my friend has at least convinced me that Faramir in the movies isn't as far from who he is in the books as I thought.]
I must say that I preferred the book's treatment of Faramir and the Ring, which was very tense and could have really emphasized the danger that Faramir posed to the quest [without making him seem quite so unpleasant]. There were three key elements of the book's resolution of the situation. First was Faramir's guess that Gandalf sought information about an ancient heirloom and weapon of the Enemy (ties in well with the glimpse of Minas Tirith in the first movie), and his oath not to touch it (which is a great line):
"I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs."
Second was Sam's accidental mention of the Ring (which as I mentioned could reasonably be replaced by Gollum). And third were Faramir's threatening words that led Frodo and Sam to draw their swords (which could easily be played up), followed by his reminder of his oath and his refusal to even see the Ring for fear that it would prove too great a temptation. I don't think that the two extra scenes needed here would be any longer than the Osgiliath footage. : )
[I honestly do think that a treatment along those lines could be made just as tense and just as threatening as the sequence that was actually in the film. There would be suspense as Faramir slowly came to guess what Frodo was carrying, while Frodo and Sam tried to keep it secret. He could come close to using force, and then be interrupted by news of Gollum. After Gollum revealed the secret, shift to Frodo and Sam drawing swords as described above; Sam's comments about Boromir's fall could be a perfect complement to reminding Faramir of his oath. Sure, it needs polishing, but I think it could work.] [But, as that same friend of mine pointed out, it would be really hard to make a story along these lines work well on screen: it would depend absolutely on the actors nailing every single line and tone and expression. That's a risky way to make a movie.]
Merry and Pippin's journey to Isengard
- As in the book, he knows more about the world than Pippin.
- Finally finds a use for his comic pranks. But I hoped that both characters would be given more time to develop in this film.
- Never fleshed out as a character; I don't think it would take much more screen time to make a big improvement here. [Somehow, the extended cut only sort of helped.]
- (ORCS: )
- No longer shown as characters (sadly but understandably).
- (ENTS: )
- We don't see the sadness of a childless people in slow decline, so it's hard to care that it could be their last march. [Again, the extended cut helped a bit.]
It's a shame that we don't get to know the Orcs more, and that leads to what's almost a continuity error: the Uruk-hai seem to suddenly split into several breeds when they reach Fangorn. [The other breeds are introduced in the extended edition, but that scene still isn't completely clear. Also, I thought that the lead Uruk-hai sniffing both to detect the other Orcs and to detect Aragorn and friends was rather repetitive.] Speaking of Fangorn, I thought that Merry's comments about active, moving trees were a bit too direct: that level of foreshadowing is best when the things it describes won't be on screen within the next half hour. : ) The Riders' surprise attack is reasonable as a time saver, I think, and I very much liked the way the hobbits' escape was shown as Aragorn tracked them. On the other hand, Merry and Pippin weren't exactly subtle about running away (this was a chance to show the Elvish cloaks in action), and an Orc managed to get away after them, too, so why was Eomer later so sure he'd killed everyone?
I would have liked to see some variation on Treebeard's introduction in the book: his "Almost thought you liked the forest?" conversation quickly helps establish his character, I think. [I'd forgotten that I suggested this, but I agree with it even more now than I did then. On the other hand, introducing him by having him save Merry from the Orc was fairly effective... though come to think of it, it makes him look downright "hasty".] (Treebeard's voice did occasionally sound like Gimli, incidentally. [It did? I found some of his speech a bit hard to understand, actually.]) I was bothered by Treebeard taking the hobbits to see Gandalf, too; I guess it was to explain why Treebeard took care of them, but that further deemphasizes the friendship that forms between them (again hurting Treebeard as a character). I also felt that the Ents actions weren't very well motivated: why have a moot if they didn't even know that their forest was in danger? (And why spend all that time on the felling of trees in Isengard if the Ents aren't going to get upset about it? [The woodcutting in Fangorn was set up better in the extended edition. But the Ents still should have known about it.]) I guess this all helps give Merry and Pippin a more active role in motivating the Ents to act, but I think the Ents would have come across better if Jackson could have found another way. [The DVD commentary mentions that the writers tried to make Merry and Pippin seem less like the "luggage" that they identified with in the book, but I'm not entirely convinced that doing so was necessary, particularly if it interferes with the development of other characters. I think it might have been effective to show them increasingly frustrated with their impotence, leading up to their very active roles in the final film.]
The Ents' attack on Isengard wasn't bad, but it didn't impress me as much as I'd hoped it would. [It's cool, don't get me wrong, but I hoped I'd be blown away. One thing that disappointed me, in retrospect, was the lack of the Entmoot's great "Ra-hoom-rah!" Before the movie came out, I found myself chanting that to myself in anticipation! And then it wasn't there... or even anything particularly like it.] (The burning Ent dousing himself in the flood was pretty funny.) I think a few more shots from the perspective (and especially the height) of the guards and other normal sized people there would have helped to make it truly impressive. The tree roots cracking stone would have been neat to see, too. And I can't help but think that showing a mass of Huorns surrounding Isengard as a misty, creeping forest would have been cool.
[Some of the extra Treebeard material was good, particularly his reminiscences of the Entwives. I can see that the long, boring poem was a reasonably appropriate addition, but I actually had a little trouble understanding it, and I think it would have been helpful to lead into it with dialog more: make it slow and sleep-inducing, sure, but help the audience to realize that it's telling us important things about the Ents' history and attitude, too.]
[I'm glad the Ent draughts were back in the movie in the extended version, but I didn't like the "Old Man Willow" bit very much. I didn't really think there was a need for tension at that point, and I would have greatly preferred more _personal_ interaction rather than Treebeard just coming and saving the day like Bombadil. I think Treebeard talking about the rotten-hearted trees in the deep vales where the darkness was never lifted would have been just as effective in making things frightening... heck, they could have given it more impact by having him explain that fact while they were passing through just that kind of area, with lots of nasty foreboding tree noises. Later, the forest/Huorns going off to Helm's Deep in the extended edition was a nice touch, but it felt a little unmotivated to me... but then, that goes for most of the results of Treebeard's anguished yell.]
[Finally, the wrap up with Merry and Pippin finding the storeroom in Isengard was nice, but I don't think it really fit in the film. If it were one long film, maybe, but the pacing was just all wrong as it stands.]
General introduction to Rohan
- "Possession" by Saruman made his recovery less interesting. He's also less "heroic" than in the book: this isn't the man who wanted to "make such an end as will be worth a song".
- Generally very good, though it would have been good if when she was made the peoples' leader she had more clearly acted like one.
- We don't see a lot of him. Why did he abandon his country?
- Okay, but Theoden's "possession" makes his role unclear.
- (ROHIRRIM: )
- Mostly grubby peasants, without much horse connection.
I don't quite recall the order of the Rohan background. [In the extended cut, I really appreciated the scene of finding Theodred wounded at the Fords of Isen.] The introduction to Edoras seemed very well done to me, and I approve of the choice to show Theodred's death on screen. I can understand Jackson's reasons for wanting Eomer to be banished so he could be the "reinforcements" that Gandalf would eventually bring, so I'm willing to accept that change. [Note to film writers and their commentary: as you can see, I did comment on this, if only to say I was okay with it. I can certainly understand the need to simplify the list of characters, and Earkenbrand isn't high on my list of priorities.] What I'm not as convinced of is that he'd have essentially the entire cavalry of Rohan with him (for which that nation was most famous): why would he leave his sister and his people defenseless when he knew Saruman was planning to attack? Wouldn't a man in that position at least lurk nearby to save those he loved when the final attack came? For that matter, as Eomer seemed to control the vast majority of Rohan's military, why wouldn't he declare himself acting king so he could save his people? [Loyalty is great, but not at the price of the lives of all you hold most dear. Maybe he and his followers should have taken Eowyn and other "civilians" with them.]
I'm not convinced that the subplot with the children being sent to Edoras was really necessary [well, it's probably fine], and (morbidly) I felt a bit cheated that their mother survived: I read her actions as a parent's sacrifice [I still feel that way, and interestingly, at least one of my friends independently said he felt the same way]. Finally, for a nation known far and wide as "horse lords", these people have remarkably few horses! I would think that would be the defining visual image of the Rohirrim: show horses everywhere, practically as many as there are people. As it is, Theoden only seems to have about a dozen horses in all of Edoras! [Even peasants should have good horses here.]
Events in Rivendell, current, past, and imaginary
- She seems pretty good here, showing her emotional side more.
- Still a terrible pessimist who hates humans. We glimpse some of his fear of losing Arwen forever, but not enough. How can we sympathize with his loss if we don't like him?
- Makeshift narrator in case the audience was confused.
While it's not really consistent with the book at all, I've got to say that I approve of the decision to show Aragorn breaking up with Arwen ("for her own good"). It allows the audience to root for Eowyn and Aragorn to get together, which will increase their sympathy for her when that hope is dashed in the next movie. Elrond comes across as even more of a jerk in this movie than in the last one, but that means it will be really hard to feel sorry for him when he parts from Arwen forever in the end, which I think is a shame. A few extra moments (or even just a few extra tears) showing that his hostility stems from his own terrible fear of losing Arwen would do wonders for his character; maybe we'll see that in the next movie.
The chronology of the Elves' decision to help at Helm's Deep is unclear. There's no way that a company from Lorien or Rivendell could beat the army from Isengard to Helm's Deep if they left at the same time, or even a couple of days earlier. [And in fact, when Galadriel talks to Elrond about sending help, she even says that Saruman's army is already moving, so that scene wasn't just a flashback.] Also, Galadriel's comprehensive knowledge of world events is over the top: if she can follow Frodo from a distance, Sauron should be able to do the same thing. I don't know that her overview was worth the time it took (particularly without a map to go along with it: I think more frequent map glimpses could have made the story clearer to non-readers). [At this point, I've come to understand that a lot of people probably did need her summary. A map still would have helped a lot, I think: my friend who hadn't read the books at the time said she was still pretty confused about geography.]
Aragorn et al's journey to Helm's Deep
- Good, but I expected him to be less Elf-attached by now.
- Good (very much like the last movie); sticks up for Gimli.
- Comic relief (too bad, as he's the only Dwarf). Even a little extra time spent showing him in serious conversations would help.
- Well done, but not enough of him.
- Only glimpses, really. Now hates Men more than Elrond.
- Not much real character; represents Elves' sacrifice for Men.
- (ELVES: )
- Pretty cool, but less impressive fighters than expected.
I liked the three companions' pursuit of the Orcs, even though Gimli lags and complains (that works fine in the movie, but Tolkien's Dwarves seem to be very good at long forced marches: consider Dain in The Hobbit). Their encounter with Eomer was handled well, too, and I thought that treating the gift of horses as a sort of wergild for Merry and Pippin was a nice touch. [A very nice one.] (In the context of the movie, Aragorn really can't claim his lineage yet, for many reasons.)
When they arrive at the edge of Fangorn, I liked the despair of the companions when they think Merry and Pippin were killed. (I'm guessing that in the extended DVD, the hobbits' knives from Lorien will take the place of the belt that they find. [Inexplicably, they didn't. In fact, the knives seem to have vanished completely. I can't imagine that the Orcs would let Merry and Pippin remain armed, but they seem to have vanished without a trace. And here I thought Merry would use his on the Witch King....]) Aragorn strikes me as a little too good at recognizing hobbit-dents in a well-trampled battlefield. : ) I liked the cuts between his tracking and the flashbacks to the battle, though. I also enjoyed Gandalf's return in Fangorn.
I've got to admit that I was rather underwhelmed by Shadowfax. It doesn't help that making him white completely contradicts my mental image of him: he's supposed to be silver by day and "a shade" by night. Movie-Shadowfax looks more like my image of Theoden's horse Snowmane. Still, I can see the value cinematically of giving Gandalf the White a bright white horse... though in that case renaming him "Snowmane" might have been appropriate. : )
Edoras looked pretty cool [the DVD extras make it very clear why!], and I liked the scene entering Meduseld (including Gandalf's wink, which got a good laugh in my theater). However, there's no way that three unarmed and untrusted visitors should have been able to beat up all of the King's guards! [Someone pointed out that those were probably just Wormtongue's own faction, which was confirmed on the DVD. But ideally, Theoden wouldn't have been so decrepit that Wormtongue needed his own defenders: the people would still respect him, even if they hated Wormtongue.] Gandalf's exorcism of Theoden was over the top, too. Even if spells controlling or weakening Theoden are a necessary part of the movie, couldn't something more subtle have worked here? As it is, Theoden hasn't chosen to embrace hope, he's just been brought back to his senses. I guess that's consistent with the rest of his character in the movie, though, which has little relation to the heroic king going forth to the last defense of his people in the book. What ever happened to him being the type of man who would use a phrase like "thus shall I sleep the better"? I hope he's come around by the battle of the Pelennor fields!
I'm really not sure why everyone thinks that Theoden should ride directly against the forces of Isengard rather than retreating to Helm's Deep: if he doesn't even have enough force to hold a great fortress, he certainly doesn't have the strength to attack them straight out! Speaking of limited force, Theoden seems to have a really, really meager garrison with him at Edoras. One would think that he'd have as strong a force there as anywhere in Rohan, but he hardly seems to have any at all [I tried to take a rough count during the warg attack, and it seemed like he only had twenty or thirty horsemen, at most]. Gandalf riding out to find reinforcements makes sense, but it seems out of character for him to say exactly when and where he'll show up with them. Was that needed? [In retrospect, yes, it's helpful.]
In general, the scenes between Aragorn and Eowyn work well (particularly once the audience believes at least halfway that Arwen is out of the way). [Aragorn calming the horse Brego is a decent scene which gives Eowyn a little more of a chance to see him. The scene between the two of them in the Golden Hall ("You are a daughter of kings...", etc.) is very good, and the heart of her character in the movie. The scene where she brings Aragorn some stew is a bit more questionable for her character, but I generally enjoyed it anyway: she's clearly not sure quite how to approach him, and giving more of Aragorn's background is always a good thing. I was very surprised to hear comments about the North Kingdom in the movie!] Once Eowyn is sent to lead the people to Helm's Deep, though, I wish she would act more like their leader: I think it would be a good way to show her strength of character. As it is, she wanders in the gate with a pack on her back and doesn't seem to be in charge at all.
My impression at the time was that the entire Warg rider attack (and its aftermath) was unnecessary, but I can see that it does accomplish a few things. It gives Theoden a reason to put Eowyn in charge of the refugees [establishing her leadership ability... at least in theory], it gives Aragorn a chance to scout out the enemy, and it sets up the chance to show Eowyn hold back from greeting Aragorn when she sees Legolas return Arwen's pendant [and her reaction to his death in general, as she realizes how deep her feelings are for him]. Still, it feels like only the last of those would have been difficult to accomplish another way in less time, and even that would probably be possible. [The director/writers commentary on the DVD spent a lot of time justifying why Aragorn had to seem to die at the end of the Warg attack: how the scene just wouldn't flow well or feel right without that element. But I don't think that they ever really justified why the Warg attack was important in the first place: it sounds like they liked the idea of showing Wargs in action, so they'd always had a scene like that in the film. They may have repeated some of the arguments I listed above, but again, I think they could have saved time by leaving it out, and accomplished all those goals another way.]
I thought Helm's Deep looked great, and the statue of Helm holding a hammer was a nice touch for those who know the books [it sounds weird, but seeing it actually came close to bringing tears to my eyes the first time, as have many "they got Middle-earth right" moments in the films]. I still don't understand why Theoden was presented as so resentful that Gondor did not help Rohan when the Westfold fell: he was probably not his own master when he should have sent for aid, and in any case he should understand that they were too hard pressed on their eastern border to send help anyway. As it stands, I'm not sure what will happen in the next movie to convince him that they're worth his time to help.
I almost feel guilty saying this, but I really liked the arrival of the Elves at Helm's Deep. In the context of the movie, it was set up quite well, and I think their presence added a nice extra element to what followed. I didn't mind Gimli as comic relief, either (though as mentioned earlier, I think that adding even just a couple of minutes in which he got to be serious would make a huge improvement in his character). When it came to the battle itself, it seemed well done; I'm not entirely sure, as I was too caught up in the action to be terribly critical at the time. : ) My one complaint was that the legion of Elves didn't seem as impressive as I hoped: I was looking forward to a whole troop of near-Legolases. I can see that Haldir's death was used as a chance to show what the immortal Elves were risking for their long-estranged human allies, but I still think it could have been a little shorter and less dramatic.
For some reason, I was seriously bothered when Theoden got Eomer's line, 'let this be the hour when we draw swords together', particularly without the setup that Eomer had [I'm not as bothered by it any more]. I also thought it was unnecessary to remind the viewers that Gandalf was due to return: Aragorn and Theoden should ride because they have "faith" that things will work out (and viewers who have forgotten that Gandalf went somewhere deserve to be surprised : ) ). [Since watching the DVD commentary, I've finally understood that it's Aragorn's faith in Gandalf that's crucial here. Without that, his decision to ride out in a last desperate charge would just be suicide (in the context of the movie, where there were apparently only about half a dozen Rohirrim left in the fortress), so making it clear that he's counting on Gandalf is probably a good idea.] I was further frustrated by the tiny size of Theoden's final charge. In the book, my impression was of many more riders than were shown in the movie (we read that "the king and his companions" had "their backs... to the swords and spears of the Riders"), and the riders were followed by "all the men who were left upon the Rock". The handful of people in the movie's charge really were being suicidal. And as a final complaint, I think that a waiting wood of Huorns would have been a beautiful touch. [And in the extended DVD, it was... though neither the Rohirrim nor the Orcs seemed to react as strongly as I think they should have.]
That's about it, I think. As I said from the start, a lot of this review has sounded like I'm complaining, and my impression as I left the theater wasn't as great as when I left FotR last year. However, as can be seen above, I had a string of minor frustrations right at the end of this movie, while I was pretty much happy with the last half hour or so of the previous one. I think that now that I know what to expect I'm likely to enjoy further viewings of this movie just as much as I did the last one. [Well, I didn't: I still enjoy Fellowship more. But The Two Towers is still enjoyable overall.] And I'm very much looking forward to Jackson's Return of the King!