Viggo Mortensen, The Lord of the Rings, ...
Credit: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Pierre Vinet

Last time we saw our fellowship, it was scattered to the winds, future uncertain, with head hobbit Frodo (Wood) and his loyal friend Sam (Astin) venturing on to Mordor to destroy the One Ring of evil powers.

A lot?s happened since then. ”The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first film based on the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, earned 13 Oscar nominations and $860 million worldwide, becoming the fifth biggest moneymaker of all time. So here?s the cliff-hanger: Can ”The Two Towers” match (or even best) its predecessor? Or will it suffer middle-child syndrome? ”The second film is always going to be the most difficult, because it?s the classic middle section?it doesn?t have a beginning, doesn?t have an end,” Jackson admits.

It does, however, boast some tempting attractions: an estimated 600 F/X shots, a blowout battle, new lands, and new creatures, like the all-CGI characters Treebeard (Middle-earth?s oldest resident) and the covetous Gollum, who once owned the Ring (we had a brief introduction to the saucer-eyed guy in ”Fellowship”). That degenerate ghoulie forms a desperate triumvirate with Frodo and Sam, plotting as he leads them to Mordor -? and Frodo begins to feel the nasty weight of his task. ”The longer you have the Ring, the more it harms you,” Astin says. ”Now sweet little innnocent Frodo has had the ring, and it?s starting to take its toll.” Andy Serkis, who voices Gollum, acted his scenes with Wood and Astin in a motion-capture suit, allowing Jackson to model the CGI creation on the actor. ”Gollum is the first CG character who gives a dramatic performance,” Ordesky says.

But on to the gore! Jackson captured about 20 hours of footage for the battle of Helm?s Deep, in which men and elves fend off 10,000 Uruk-hai (a.k.a. Über-Orcs). The scene should provide an impressive showcase for MASSIVE, Jackson?s cutting-edge F/X program that allows CGI warriors to think (and fight) for themselves. It ain?t all fake, though. Bloom, as Legolas, had to learn to swing a sword with elfin suavity, modeling his moves on Japanese samurai. ”When you see those guys fighting, everything is so precise,” he says. ”There?s nothing loose or chaotic -? they never even get angry.”

And for those who still aren?t able to tell a hobbit from a dwarf, may we suggest a trip to the video store? Because there won?t be a reprise montage at the beginning of The Two Towers. ”It?s a very TV device to slap a little recap on,” says Jackson. ”We thought: Bang! We?ll just jump straight into it.”

THE LOWDOWN Epic action and Oscar nods! With a base like that to build on, ”Towers” should stand tall.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  • Movie
  • 179 minutes