'Two Towers' kinetic, yet unemotional

In this second portion of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Two Towers" is more of an orphan than a middle child. The sword and sorcery epic has no beginning or end, and this condition functions as both its strength and weakness.

"The Two Towers" wastes no time with exposition, instead propelling the viewer almost immediately into the splintered action. This is one rapid-moving flick that never feels like a three-hour rump marathon.

However, the film has much more of a video game veneer to it. Sure, a tangible sense of evil still resonates as the fellowship attempts to destroy the ring of power in the flames of Mordor. But the picture never manifests much depth of emotion beyond that. Even the usually heartfelt relationship between Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) seems perfunctory. As with the novel, "Towers" is a bridge more than a stand-alone work, and as such it places an emphasis on momentum over depth.

Visually, however, the picture is even more impressive than its predecessor. If one believed Dobby from "Harry Potter" best represented how to effectively blend a digital character with live action, then Gollum makes that look like Claymation.

Acting like a morally conflicted Iago to his inner Othello, this ring-corrupted wretch is utterly fascinating to watch. So convincing is the performance (voiced with craggy brilliance by Andy Serkis) that it ranks with "King Kong," the skeleton battle in "Jason and the Argonauts" and the T-1000 from "Terminator 2" as the definitive special effect of its era.

Hopefully, next year's "The Return of the King" will be as emotionally animated as "Two Towers" visuals.


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