As with the first film, the visuals are the real treat; everyone and everything--particularly the landscape--looks and feels just right. And as the story moves into darker emotional territory, the color palette dims to melancholy shades of dun and gray. Though the Ent sequences disappoint somewhat, the battle against the Uruk-Hai hordes at Rohan's Helm's Deep stronghold is thunderingly well realized.
But the flaws in "Fellowship" dog "Towers" as well. Liberties with Tolkien's text again abound and range from the excusable and understandable to the exasperatingly unnecessary. Tone and pacing wobbled occasionally in "Fellowship," and not only do they wobble here too, especially in questionable comic relief bits, the problem is exacerbated by the inevitable cross-cutting between the three narrative threads; some cuts heighten emotional impact while others blunt it. And Jackson again yields to temptation: In "Fellowship," it was the lure of gratuitous special effects; here, it's the horrific glamour of war--the Helm's Deep battle is so fleshed-out that it overshadows the heart of Tolkien's tale, the journey of the Ring-bearer.
Fortunately, Jackson continues to make Middle-earth seem astoundingly real, and whenever the script loses grounding or balance, the enthralling production design usually compensates. Like its predecessor, "Towers" ends on an effective cliffhanger; though there is much to marvel at here, the best may still be yet to come. Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Directed by Peter Jackson. Written by Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Stephen Sinclair & Fran Walsh. Produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson. A New Line release. Fantasy/Adventure. Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and scary images. Running time: 179 min