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Review: 'Two Towers' a seamless triumph

By Paul Clinton

Frodo, played by Elijah Wood, is led to Mordor by the computer generated character Gollum in "Two Towers."

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Director Peter Jackson took a huge risk in taking on the task of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy to the big screen. CNN's Kate Courtenay reports (December 18)
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(CNN) -- The epic legend of "The Lord of the Rings" continues -- and the second installment, "The Two Towers," is an utter triumph.

As most people know, all three of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" books were adapted to film at the same time, so this cinematic transition to episode two appears seamless.

Taking up where "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" left off, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" reunites us with hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), who have been separated from The Fellowship and are lost in the hills of Emyn Muil. They are still mourning the loss of kindly wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who was killed at the end of Part One. But fear not: Gandalf may be down, but he's not out.

The hobbits are followed by the mysterious Gollum, an amazing creature which is totally computer generated and voiced by Andy Serkis. Gollum used to be the keeper of the ring until Frodo's uncle, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), stole it from him and brought it back to the Shire in the first film.

The overprotective Sam harbors an immediate dislike towards Gollum, but the ever-trusting Frodo, perhaps feeling a kinship for someone who has also had to bear the pressures and consequences of holding the ring, takes pity on the strange, hairless little being. Gollum joins Sam and Frodo, leading them to Mordor, the realm of the evil lord Sauron. Sauron intends to regain the ring, which will give him the power to throw Middle Earth into everlasting darkness and despair.

In two other parallel journeys, hobbits Merry (Dominic Monagahan), and Pippin (Billy Boyd) are being held captive by the Uruk-hai, and human warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), elf archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) are besieged by evil forces in the Rohan kingdom, whose King Theoden (Bernard Hill) has fallen under the spell of Sauron's henchman Saruman (Christopher Lee -- looking remarkably like Cher in her last video).

Once again filmed against the magnificent scenery of New Zealand (with a little tweaking from the folks in the special effects department), the story flashes back and forth between the three adventures, as members of The Fellowship face unimaginable obstacles and dangers, including a lethal army of 10,000 soldiers under the leadership of Saruman.

Fitting companion to first film

Two Towers
Aragorn's (Viggo Mortensen) love for Arwen (Liv Tyler) is tested in "Two Towers."

The same creative team is behind this second installment in the trilogy, including writer/producer/director Peter Jackson. Jackson received an Academy Award nomination for "The Fellowship of the Ring," and will undoubtedly do the same for "The Two Towers." This film is an astonishing accomplishment, building upon the first installment with immense power and sense of purpose.

This middle part of the trilogy has to shoulder a gigantic amount of plot while advancing the story steadily toward the climaxes coming in the final episode. In addition to Gollum and King Theoden, numerous other important characters are introduced: Theoden's beautiful niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto), who catches the eye of Aragorn despite his love for Arwen (Liv Tyler); Eowyn's brother Eomer (Karl Urban); and the sleazy Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), King Theoden's advisor who is really a spy for Saruman.

The weakest of the three stories is the one involving Merry and Pippin. After they escape from the Uruk-hai during a ferocious battle, they are taken in by Treebeard, a living, walking tree-shepherd who is the oldest living being in Middle Earth. Until the very end of the film, Merry and Pippin just ride around in Treebeard's branches while lamenting the tree's lack of interest in helping The Fellowship fight against Saruman.

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli face much more action, intrigue and deception in the Kingdom of Rohan, while Sam and Frodo -- who have penetrated the fortress at Barad-dur deep within the dark forests of Mordor -- barely survive numerous attempts to kill them and steal the ring.

Brad Dourif, left, plays the sleazy Wormtongue, seen here alongside 'Rings' newcomer Karl Urban as Eomer.

It's not the valiant members of The Fellowship, however, but the woefully pathetic Gollum who steals the show. His constant inner battles to either help or kill the hobbits -- and thereby regain the coveted ring -- are beautifully portrayed through the exquisitely crafted special effects.

Between the lightsaber-wielding Yoda in the latest "Star Wars," the quivering Dobby in the latest "Harry Potter," and now the pop-eyed Gollum, the powers-that-be may have to announce a new category for the Academy Awards: maybe something like Best Non-Human/Computer Generated Performance of the Year. And no, neither Madonna nor Keanu Reeves could be considered... although it would be tempting.

"The Two Towers" does not disappoint. This film is a fitting companion to the astounding "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." It just keeps getting better and better. If part three, the conclusion to this grand adventure, maintains the same caliber -- and there seems no reason to think it won't -- this trilogy will go down in cinematic history as a true masterpiece.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" opens nationwide on Wednesday, December 18th and is rated PG-13 with a running time of 179 minutes. "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is produced by New Line Productions, which is owned by AOL Time Warner, CNN's parent company.

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