Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Andy Serkis, Karl Urban, Craig Parker
Oscar Wins: Best Sound Editing (Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins), Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee), Best Film Editing (Michael Horton), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek)
SUMMARY: After separating from the rest of the Fellowship, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Samwise “Sam” Gamgee (Sean Astin), continue to move towards the region of Mordor, where they intend to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom, thereby destroying it. Fairly quickly, they are attacked by Gollum (Andy Serkis), the once hobbit-like creature who possessed the ring before Bilbo Baggins. The ring has turned Gollum into a pathetic creature, but he is still obsessed with regaining the “precious”. Sam and Frodo fight off Gollum and capture him; Sam intends to drag him along as a prisoner, but Frodo wants Gollum to lead them to Mount Doom, since they are currently lost. Gollum agrees to do this, and Frodo removes his bindings. Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are pursuing the group of Uruk-hai who have captured Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) (this group makes up the rest of the Fellowship). The Uruk-hai come across one of the armies of Rohan (another region), and are slaughtered. When Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli arrive on the scene, they first believe that the hobbits have also been killed. However, Aragorn then notices tracks, and realizes that they escaped and fled into Fangorn Forest. Later, the three come across the same Rohan army, who have been banished by their king, whose mind is controlled by a Saruman (Christopher Lee) minion named Grima Wormtongue. In the forest, Pippin and Merry have met Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), a giant talking, walking tree (called an Ent). Treebeard does not believe the hobbits’ story of what has happened, and decides to go talk to Saruman (taking the hobbits along with him). Still tracking the pair in the forest, Aragorn and the other two come upon Gandalf, who was killed trying to escape the mines: he has been resurrected in order to continue the fight, and now is a White Wizard like Saruman. Away from the forest, Sam, Frodo and Gollum have finally reached the entrance to Mordor, but as it is a heavily guarded, huge gate, Gollum believes that they will have to use a different entrance. In the past few days, Gollum seems to have been changed by Frodo’s kindness, and treats him as his master (though he still loathes Sam). Before they kind find such an entrance, they are captured by a group of Rangers led by Faramir (David Wenham), brother to their late Fellowship companion Boromir. When Faramir learns that Frodo has the One Ring, he decides to take the group to Gondor, so that its king may possess the ring. Back in the forest, Gandalf and the others have abandoned the search for Merry and Pippin and instead traveled to Rohan. There, they find King Theoden (Bernard Hill) under the spell of Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), and the realm falling into ruins. Gandalf manages to drive Saruman’s spirit out of Theoden, restoring him to his real self. This prompts Wormtongue to flee, after which he goes to Saruman at his stronghold of Isenguard. When the Fellowship group learns that Saruman next plans to attack Rohan, Theoden insists on moving his people to Helm’s Deep, a fortification set into the side of a mountain. The members of the Fellowship think this is a bad idea, as they and the army of Rohan will be unable to hold the fort, but Theoden insists. Gandalf leaves to find the roaming Rohan army (that they met once already), while Aragorn finds himself attracted to Theoden’s niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto). During the journey to Helm’s Deep, the group is attacked; during the attack, Aragorn falls over a cliff into the river below, and is presumed dead.
In reality, Aragorn is revived by a vision of his elf-princess love interest, Arwen (Liv Tyler). His horse manages to find him, and after Aragorn heaves himself aboard, travels to Helm’s Deep. In the forest, Merry and Pippin are present at a council between Treebeard and the other Ents, who ultimately decide not to fight in the war. However, when they come across an entire forest decimated by Saruman, they grow angry and attack Isenguard. They manage to overthrow the tower, and imprison Saruman within it, thereby eliminating him as a threat. At Helm’s Deep, the battle begins when a huge Uruk-hai army attacks. To the surprise of Theoden, a group of elves has arrived to fight with them, but they are still vastly outnumbered and outmanned. Despite their tremendous efforts, it appears that the fort will be captured. Just then, Gandalf arrives with the missing army group, who turn the tide of the battle: the Uruk-hai are defeated, and the people in Helm’s Deep remain safe. Meanwhile, Faramir has taken Sam, Frodo and Gollum to a city in Gondor, but priorities change when the city is attacked by more forces from Mordor. Faramir wants to use the ring to win the battle, but is stopped by Sam, who informs him that Boromir was driven mad by the ring, and tried to take it from Frodo. The ring has been making Frodo progressively weaker (mentally and physically), and he is nearly killed before Sam rescues him. Lost in a ring-induced trance, Frodo does not recognize Sam, and nearly kills him before coming to his senses. After seeing this, and learning of his brother’s actions, Faramir frees the trio to continue on their quest to Mount Doom. However, Gollum believes that Frodo betrayed him (when they were captured by Faramir), and loses all loyalty that has developed. The darker side of his personality takes over, and he decides to get the ring back by deliberately leading Sam and Frodo into the den of some mysterious animal on the way to Mount Doom.
MY TAKE: This is the movie that bridges the gap between the start and end of the story, and as such, it’s basically about Sam and Frodo’s endless walking. This gets old really fast, since Frodo looks and acts more and more like a zombie. It’s sort of fun to watch Sam and Gollum fight with each other – at one point, Gollum calls Sam the “stupid fat hobbit” – but Frodo’s just a total wet blanket after a while. It’s much more interesting with the other half of the Fellowship, since they get into some good fights. Even so, things don’t really pick up until the end, when the Battle for Helm’s Deep begins. Up until then, there’s a lot of assembling the allies, which is important, but also introduces more characters and situations to keep track of. I’m not really sure why Aragorn and the others stop tracking Merry and Pippin, but they end up at Rohan, where they gain the help of King Theoden. Gandalf has miraculously come back (under somewhat murky circumstances), and tracks down the cream of Rohan’s army in the nick of time. Meanwhile, after actually getting to the border of Mordor, Sam and Frodo and Gollum are captured and taken back to Gondor, which sets them up for more endless walking. This introduces them to yet another character, and a group that’s fighting in the war, but not really allied with anybody. Like I said, this movie, while strong in plot, is basically a bridge between the start and end of the quest, so it sets up a lot of situations and events that will happen later. Again, Gimli brings the comedic relief, particularly during the Helm’s Deep battle. He and Legolas have a wager on who can kill the most Uruk-hai, so they’re both merrily hacking/shooting along, calling out numbers as they go. When the Uruk-hai nearly break down the door to the fortress, Aragorn and Gimli launch a sneak attack on them. Doing this requires them to get across a gap that Gimli can’t jump: he tells Aragorn to throw him across, but asks, “Don’t tell the elf.” The Frodo/Sam/Gollum half of the movie gets tedious, but the other half is a lot more entertaining.
RATING: Awesome in grand scope: somewhat tedious in small moments.