The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
Starring: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen
Director: Peter Jackson
New Zealand director Peter Jackson obviously relishes a challenge. Not content with tackling author JRR Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings trilogy in the first place, for this the second of his three films, Jackson begins by throwing the audience straight into the action. There's no Star Wars-style scroll, no booming voiceover to bring us up to date with what's been going on. Considering all we've heard about the diminished intelligence of movie-goers over the past few decades, this is some risk.
But to Jackson's credit, it works. You feel as though you are rejoining the journey; that the past 12 months - the time between the release of the first and second instalment - has flashed by in an instant.
We pick up the story with the fellowship of the ring having just split into three groups. There are the hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his mate Sam (Sean Astin) continuing on to Mordor, where they hope to destroy the ring. There are Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) joining forces with the Rohan people to face the forces of Saruman (Christopher Lee). And there are the other two hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monoghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), making their way through Fangorn Forrest.
Jackson switches the action from group to group, building the tension to a crescendo as we wait for the inevitable battle between Aragorn's crew and the Uruk-hai army. This is where the film explodes, and there has arguably never been a more intense battle on film. Mortensen rises to the occasion and becomes every inch the hero.
But, as far as the characters go, Gollum (Andy Serkis) almost makes the film his own. A bit part in the first instalment, the ring's former owner links up with Frodo and promises to take him to Mordor. But Gollum is one damaged and disturbed little guy - something Frodo is apparently the only one to see. With his straining face and heroin-eyes, he is at once pitiful and terrifying. And he leaves the film with such a lingering sense of malevolence that you won't want the credits to roll.
Jackson has once again produced a film remarkable in its scope and vision, one that takes you to another world.
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers opens on January 9.