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The struggle to make The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Just like the other two films in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, scripting was the biggest task for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. With this film specifically, Peter Jackson and other writers had additional challenges.

lord of the rings two towers
Here is how The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was made.

The ‘Struggle to make’ series reveals how a film or TV show was brought to the screen — what were the difficulties in the production, how the casting was done, and tidbits.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was the second film in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The film introduced Gollum, one of the most popular CGI characters in cinema.

Just like the other two films, scripting was the biggest task for The Two Towers. With this film specifically, the writers had additional challenges. Since Jackson had pitched the whole LotR project to Miramax as two films, The Two Towers did not originally have its own script at all.

This fact made it the most difficult film in the trilogy to write. Most films, and indeed any kind of narrative fiction, follow the three-act structure. As The Two Towers was part of a single book (The Lord of the Rings was envisioned as one tome before Tolkien’s publisher divided it into three volumes), it itself was the middle-act of a story. So the problem arose of setting the dramatic highs and lows of the movie.

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Jackson and his team — Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair — ultimately decided to make the Battle of Helm’s Deep the climax of the film, with the destruction of Isengard by the Ents (shepherds of trees that themselves have a very tree-like appearance) serving as another culmination of the film as that event ended the threat of Saruman, one of the major antagonists of the entire trilogy.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has a darker tone than the more adventurous Fellowship of the Ring. There is far more politics, pseudo-medieval English kind. It picks up after the events of The Fellowship of the Ring. The said fellowship was divided into three groups due to harrying by Orcs and Uruk-hai. Frodo and Sam continue the journey to Mordor. Then there are Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn, who are chasing the Orcs to rescue Merry and Pippin. Merry and Pippin make up the last group who escape the Orcs and end up with the Ents. These groups stay separated until the end of the film and have their own arcs.

While Aragorn’s group fights with King Théoden at the Helm’s Deep, Frodo and Sam have to face first Gollum (who is then tamed and even becomes friendly for a while) and then Boromir’s younger brother, who is suspicious of them and wants them and the One Ring to be delivered to his father to please him. The final group escapes the Orcs and disappears into the Fangorn forest, and it is there they meet Treebeard and convince him to assault Isengard.

Much of the cast returned, with a few additions that include: Miranda Otto as Éowyn, a noble lady who desires to ride horses like the men and wants to be a warrior; Bernard Hill as Rohan’s King Théoden and Éowyn’s uncle; Karl Urban as Éomer, the horselord warrior and nephew of Théoden; and David Wenham as Faramir.

The Two Towers in the film title alluded to the tower of Orthanc, the one at Isengard and the other at Barad-dûr. In the books, the Two Towers were Orthanc and Minas Morgul. Minas Morgul does not appear in the film and was saved for The Return of the King.

The Lord of the Rings has been noted for its visual effects. And indeed, the Battle of Helm’s Deep is renowned as one of the best battle sequences ever committed to film. One other highlight of the Two Towers was the aforementioned Gollum, a character that would catapult English actor Andy Serkis to global fame (and would also typecast him into motion-capture roles.) Serkis wore a tight suit for the films and gave the character his expressions and movements. Due to the tiny dots on the suits, the software recognised the movements in computers and those movements were then transposed over the rendered character. The result was an uncanny yet kind of adorable, miserable little being.

This was a revolutionary technology pioneered by Jackson’s own Weta Digital, which later was the lead visual effects company on James Cameron’s Avatar — a movie widely considered by many to be the apotheosis of visual effects.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was less action heavy than the other two LotR films apart from the visual and aural treat that is the Battle of Helm’s Deep. It is in this film, the story takes a bit of respite before hurtling to the end in the final film. There was a lot more character development in the Two Towers. And somehow, there was not one moment that bored me. Despite having a lot more exposition and dialogue, the movie remained compelling and Peter Jackson masterfully juggled loads of characters, giving all of them memorable moments.

Also Read | The struggle to make The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Two Towers grossed 926 million dollars worldwide and was nominated for six Oscars, winning two — for Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects.

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The next edition of this series will be about the conclusion of the trilogy: The Return of the King.