© New Line Productions....
Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers is not so much a sequel as a second act.
Those who were left wanting more at the end of LOTR 1 will be delighted to learn that The Two Towers picks up exactly where the last movie left off. There are no cheesy scrolling words running up the screen giving us a bit of back story, no potter flashbacks to remind us what went before. For the first time in the history of sequels we're plunged straight back into the action.
That shows enormous confidence from director Peter Jackson. He's so sure that anyone who saw Fellowship Of The Ring will return to see The Two Towers that he's not even wasting screen time on people who want to join the story a third of the way through.
He has publicly stated that "the amount of people going to see The Two Towers without seeing Fellowship Of The Ring would be fairly minute. If you can't spend three dollars to rent it before you see The Two Towers there's no point in going."
That's a ballsy public statement to make when you're a third of the way into a trilogy that cost £200 million.
The Star Wars prequels were about as ironcast a box office smash as you could have. But even George Lucas didn't make each one incomprehensible to anyone who hadn't seen the one before. So the big questions: Was it worth the gamble? Does it live up to the promise of Fellowship? Will it leave moviegoers holding their breath for part three? Yes, yes and hell yes.
This is a truly great film, and that's coming from someone who never read the book and, like many of you, only saw the first film on video. I had always pigeonholed Tolkien enthusiasts as kind of Dungeons and Dragons/sci-fi/progressive rock/quiet loner types. I was wrong, very wrong, shamefully wrong.
I was also wrong in thinking the story was an incredibly complicated one - another reason I feared reading the book. It's actually pretty simple and brilliantly expressed in the film's production notes:
"The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy chronicles the epic struggle for possession of the infamous One Ring. If returned to its creator The Dark Lord Sauron the Ring will give him the power to enslave the world."
So why does a basic "good vs evil, baddie wants to destroy the world, goodies doing their best to stop him" type story take nine hours of screen time, or 1,400 pages, to tell?
One word: Epic. More epic than any story ever made into film.
In fact, if you add The Godfather trilogy, all five Star Wars films and Gone With The Wind together, then multiply them by Gandhi, you're still not coming close to the epic quality, depth and attention to detail of this famous trilogy.
So what happens in this second instalment? Well, for those of you who have already seen part one, what I'm about to tell you will make sense. For those of you who haven't, I strongly suggest you go down to your local video shop, rent or buy The Fellowship Of The Ring, and watch it. Then read on, pausing only to pick up a phone and book yourself a seat for The Two Towers on your local cinema's credit card line.
In fact, at this point everyone reading should do that anyway, 'cos by the time you finish reading this review, the lines are all going to be engaged.
Very briefly, because I just want to whet your appetites, not spoil it for you, the film opens with the Fellowship, a band of humans, elves, hobbits and one axe-wielding dwarf, divided. Lost Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are continuing their hazardous journey to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring borne by Frodo. They capture the grotesquely sympathetic Gollum (Andy Serkis). He is a former keeper of the Ring, forever warped by its evil power, who promises to take them to the Black Gates of Mordor in return for his release.
Meanwhile, the other remnants of the Fellowship, the awesome trio of warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) and elf archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom), encounter the besieged Rohan kingdom where King Theoden (Bernard Hill) has fallen under the evil wizard Saruman's spell.
I won't go into the minutiae of Middle-earth politics, or reveal too much about the love triangle between Aragorn, Arwen (the flawless Liv Tyler - so attractive she makes pointed ears look somehow alluring) and Eowyn (the king's niece).
I won't even try to enlighten you as to the hows and whys of Gandalf's reincarnation as a white wizard, after a fight with a 200ft dragon, ending in a bruising encounter on a snowcapped mountain top - you don't need to know that now.
All you need to know is that everyone comes together at the end for cinema's greatest ever battle scene.
And I don't say that lightly. The scale and brutality of the conflict that rages for the last hour of this film makes the opening forest battle in Gladiator look like a tear-up between the Ground Force team and some irate shoppers at a garden centre in the Cotswolds.
So how good is this film? Well, put it this way. Fact is, for the entire two hours and 59 minutes the only thing that mattered in my life was a plain gold ring on a chain round the neck of a short guy with pointed ears and hairy feet. I was more worried about Frodo losing his Ring than I was about my best man losing my wife's on our wedding day.
As some of you may already know, this is my first film column for The Sun. But what you probably don't know is that my new bosses were so keen to get this review in today's paper that I'm working to a brutal deadline.
The upshot of this is that I haven't had time to devise my own unique rating system. So, in the absence of one - tick all the boxes, 10/10, 100 per cent, five stars, "the must-see film of the year, you'll love it", A+, Outstanding, first class with honours, Black Belt ....