Still from The Two Towers
Noni Ford reveals why the second film in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is
the precious her favorite of the series, thanks in large part to the spectacular Battle of Helm’s Deep.
I don’t have any memory of actually seeing any of The Lord of the Rings in theaters, though I know there was eager anticipation for each new film. I don’t remember the way the franchise swept nearly all of the technical categories at the awards shows during each release. And I definitely do not remember Return of the King winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2004. What I do remember was watching this series of films in the basement of my childhood home with my family and all of us being enthralled every viewing. Raised on Harry Potter and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, I had my share of immersive fantasy books, and there were of course elements I recognized in those worlds and Middle-earth (giant spiders being an unfortunate holdover in both). Yet nothing felt as expansive as this; the fight for humanity and harmony also felt like higher stakes, perhaps because the death of beloved characters starts from book one onwards. There was a feeling as a kid watching it that something exceptional was going on and that if I turned away for even a moment, I would miss something vital.
One of the things Lord of the Rings does so well is weave in each character’s epic journey into the larger story so seamlessly. As a child I believed wholeheartedly that all our characters would go on this quest together, only to be truly shocked at the fracturing of the parties at the conclusion of Fellowship of the Ring. Yet still as we follow each section of the fellowship’s progress through Middle-earth to ultimately vanquish evil, and as some of them reunite and complete side quests, we’re still interested in them. That’s a testament to not only J.R.R. Tolkein’s character development and the screenplay adaptation by Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens, and Stephen Sinclair, but also the actors’ performances. The sets are luscious and mesmerizing, but they are just background and wouldn’t hold our attention if it wasn’t for the actors making us care, believe in, and root for these elves, wizards, dwarves, and hobbits.
Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli in The Two Towers
In rewatches of The Fellowship of the Ring, it’s always fun to see parts of the franchise that stood out to me the first time, some less scary than I remember and some scarier. The return of a certain wizard will always stand out amongst all of my filmic experiences, but also the speeches seem to be more epic and ring truer to me with each viewing with their reflections on humans and moral lessons. My favorite character always changes too, but one thing that has remained the same is my absolute tier-ranking that puts The Two Towers at number one. I’ve gotten in heated arguments about this many times but have held steadfast in my opinion.
As a child it was easy to see why The Two Towers won me over: the cave troll in the Mines of Moira in Fellowship of the Ring and the aforementioned giant spider in Return of the King absolutely scared me and I actively closed my eyes during both scenes. I also think since Éowyn is such an easy character to absolutely fall in love with, this movie held my interest and—even though her big scenes are in Return of the King—her character is captured well in the few scenes we see of her in the previous film. Now, as an adult, a lot of my discourse and defense of The Two Towers rests on how incredible the Battle of Helm’s Deep truly is to this day. Game of Thrones tried to top it and missed the mark; 2005’s Narnia battle sequence was well shot but didn’t come close; and still to this day as an avid fantasy and science-fiction fan nothing has come close to what was produced in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. This battle has been the standard to which I hold all fantasy battles now and I seriously question anyone who prefers the Battle of Pelennor Fields.
While I could, and sometimes have contemplated, writing a full essay about the Battle of Helm’s Deep, I don’t want to spoil the experience for any first-time viewers who will be seeing it at the Cinema for our movie marathon of the trilogy. All I’ll say is that when you watch that battle, directed to perfection by Peter Jackson, know that you are seeing something special. And maybe, just maybe, reconsider your ranking of the films in the franchise.
You can catch The Two Towers and the other films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy this Sunday, December 10, in extended editions as part of IU Cinema’s One Marathon to Rule Them All.