Cast: Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Liv Tyler, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd
Director: Peter Jackson
Rating: PG (battle violence, fantasy horror)
Running time: 180 mins
About time you got here.
We were wondering what had become of the wee fellas and the beardy fellas and the wee beardy fella with the axe and the girly guy with the bow and for some reason it all went a bit "to be continued" just when it started to get interesting.
It gets even more interesting in Part Two.
Is the second part of Tolkien's trilogy better than the first?
No, it's part of the same epic continuum. Likewise, The Two Towers can't fairly be judged by the usual sequel-or-equal rules.
It can, of course, be compared to the first film in many ways.
Some first impressions: whereas The Fellowship of the Ring was essentially a film about tramping - albeit into peril - the second film starts out as an ode to crosscountry running. Poor, wee short-legged Gimli.
Whereas the first film unfurls gently, allowing readers of Tolkien's doorstop the pleasure of recognition, the second one gallops as if its life depended on it.
Which it kind of does.
Whereas the first was stately and elegant, when it wasn't dispatching assorted beasts into the abyss, this one is a true creature feature and more of a special effects blitz.
Whereas in the first film director Peter Jackson restrained himself from going all out on the mayhem front, here there are beheadings by the blood bucketload.
Jackson himself gets a split second cameo as a rock throwing Rohan warrior on the ramparts of Helm's Deep. And if you are wondering where the look of Gollum - a shady figure in the first instalment but a triumph of computer generated imagery here - came from, he looks like a direct descendant of the nasty baby in Jackson's splatter comedy Braindead.
There are also echoes of Jackson's early works in the scenes of the hideous orcs who seem to speak with East End accents.
What The Two Towers doesn't have is the emotional pull of the first.
Possibly, its various narratives are too diffuse to give it the same sense of purpose that caught so many of us in the first outing.
Acting-wise it doesn't quite feel grounded until the arrival of Sir Ian McKellen who returns as Gandalf the White, his thrilling descent into the pit with the Balrog the films attention getting overture.
But there are many supporting turns from fresh faces which help carry this along. That's especially true of Bernard Hill as the King Lear-like Rohan ruler, Theoden, and Miranda Otto as his niece, Eowyn, a warrior princess in the making.
Though the most valuable supporting player goes to the aforementioned Gollum (a performance by Andy Serkis captured on animation computer), especially in a scene where the two sides of his split personality are at war with each other. Jackson and his Weta cohorts manage to bring off the difficult character of Treebeard too, without him seeing too, er wooden.
But with the extra reliance of the film on the digital realm, much of it comes with a strange ethereal sheen that pushes it back towards fantasy, rather than the sense of having created an alternate world which pervaded the opening of the trilogy. With that comes some annoying bits like the repetitive depiction of Sauron as part Van der Graaf generator, part fiery
eye really didn't do much but remind of 5th form physics.
But so much of The Two Towers is about action. Great battles between roaring Uruk-Hai and valiant Rohan or Gondorians or Ents, depending on which part of the last half hour is under discussion.
That's something to see. Much of it makes Braveheart look like a Glasgow pub brawl.
But where is Frodo and Sam in all of this? Still hanging in there and not quite out of pluck yet. But it is easy to forget about them and sometimes it feels like the movie almost does too.
The road gets longer and more difficult in The Two Towers. But if the narrative unravels into many strands the film manages to maintain a tension on all of them.
It's a lot to take in. Whereas the first film made you want to see the second straight away, the second induces a need to take bit of breather before continuing the quest. A year should do just fine.