Thoughts on The Two Towers, Extended Version

I consider the extended version of Fellowship better than the cut version. Not so with Two Towers. I consider the cut version (with one exception) to be far superior to the extended version.

I've seen the cut version of Two Towers several times, and I've always considered it pretty straightforward and streamlined. After seeing the extended version, I must congratulate Peter Jackson on making such intelligent cuts. The extended version is downright convoluted. Talk about confusing! And I'm reasonably well-versed in Tolkien lore.

The extended scenes do carry some interest. There's an entire section between Boromir and Faramir which gives you insight into the brothers and their father, Denethor. A line is spoken which is echoed in the cut version: "Now is a chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality"; when you realize that the line was originally spoken by Faramir's father, it lends the line (spoken the second time by Faramir) some pathos.

Faramir and Boromir
And it's nice to see Sean Bean again. But, still, the scene is very confusing. It's a back-flash, coming at a point in the narrative when we have cut away from the main action (Rohan) to Frodo. It's too many balls in the air and consequently, gives the extended version a clunky feel.

Likewise, there are a number of scenes in the extended version that underscore Aragorn's identity as Isildur's heir. In the books, this is terrifically important. One reason Sauron gets so freaked out--if one can use that phrase about a big, evil eye--regarding the resistance of Gondor is that he believes that Aragorn is coming to reclaim his throne and that Aragorn has the ring.

But in order to make this clear in the movies, Jackson would have had to make the whole Isildur/Gondor/Aragorn-as-Boromir's-boss thing just a tad clearer in the first movie than he did. So I think cutting it in the second made a lot of sense.

Because, really, the Two Towers is about Rohan and the battle with Saruman's forces. Some of the best performances of the movie come out of this storyline. Bernard Hill as Theoden is nuanced far beyond what the role calls for, and he has some of best lines in the movie (hey, I have a yen for weighty dialog). Miranda Otto is marvelous. Karl Urban is totally underused but at least he shows up. And Brad Dourif as Grima is just about as good an ambiguous bad guy as a character can get.

The amazing Brad Dourif
There's a point near the end of Two Towers when Saruman sends the orcs out to trash Helm's Deep. Grima, standing behind him, begins to cry; it is so poignant, it rips at your heart. Here is a self-serving, nasty-minded fellow who believed that his self-serving nasty-mindedness was limited--he wanted a girl, he wanted a little bit of power. And then he discovers that the little bit of power he wanted to wield never mattered to Saruman; Saruman isn't interested in playing power politics with Grima; Saruman is interested in destroying every human being on the planet. It's a huge miscalculation based on evil intent. It's one of Tolkien's subtler moments (the crying isn't in the book but Grima's ambiguity is).*

Back to the extended version: The only scene I regret Jackson cutting between the extended version and the release-to-theater version is a scene where Faramir eulogizes a dead soldier of Sauron's. In both the book and the movie, some rather generalized soldiers from the South stomp up north to help Sauron. Tolkien doesn't say much about them although he gives them "Oliphants." Both Lewis and Tolkien have been accused of insularity in their use of bad guys from the south who bear about them hints of the Arab world. From today's perspective, it is hard not to assume both Lewis and Tolkien are responding to modern terrorism. In fact, however, their insularity is a tad older. They are responding to medieval attitudes towards Arabs which extended back to Hannibal's elephants climbing the Alps to attack Rome.

Which doesn't make it any less insular, of course.

In any case, in the extended version, Faramir gives this nice little speech in which he pities one of the dead soldiers and says, in effect, "Why is his honor any less than mine?"

Lewis would have approved.

It's nice because first of all, it makes clear that Faramir is the more introspective of the two brothers and therefore, prepares the viewer for Faramir's rejection of the ring. It's also nice because second of all, I get tired of orcs (BAD GUYS, BAD GUYS, BAD GUYS) and their residences (BAD PLACES, BAD PLACES, BAD PLACES). I mean, really, what kind of civilization is Mordor? It is one big desolation; what do its occupants eat? I assume even orcs eat meat and carbohydrates. At least, I assume they don't just eat each other and rocks.

I don't have a problem with this most of the time because Tolkien was writing world fantasy with mythic good pitted against mythic evil, and the bad guys aren't automatically supposed to be Grimas (ambiguous and undecided villains). They are supposed to just be bad. But I thought it was a nice touch to point out that badness has its own agendas and its own ways of garnering support. No way those guys from the South are stomping north because of some big eye. They're thinking, "What will we get out of this?" and Faramir's speech pointed that out.

However, Jackson may have thought he was cutting it close to the PC line with the "Oliphants" anyway, so the speech got cut.

He left in, however, one of the best lines of the movie given by Bernard Hill:

"What can men do," Theoden says to Aragorn, "against such reckless hate?" What indeed?

My second favorite line comes at the end of the speech Theoden gives right before the battle starts:
Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? They have passed like rain on the mountain, like wind in the meadow. The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. How did it come to this?
Give Tolkien credit--Two Towers is one of the few pro-war/warrior movies I've seen where people spend a large percentage of the time feeling hopeless and wondering how things got so bad. Which is how good people usually respond to terror and war and reckless hate.

To end: in terms of weighty speeches, I don't even mind Sam's speech, but I confess that what I really like is the beginning portion--from Tolkien's point of view, there is no return, no going back to Exactly The Way Things Were. It's a principle fantasy writers should never forget:
It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
And Frodo's end is foreshadowed.

*For Voyager fans, Brad Dourif plays Suder, the sociopath who tries to control his sociopathy with Tuvok's help. There's a 2-parter where Suder--who has laid off the killing due to Tuvok's influence--must help save Voyager by killing intruders. The despair with which he agrees to this course of action is wrenching; he knows that once he starts killing again, there is no going back. The Voyager series was lucky to get Dourif!

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