Finally went to see The Two Towers with Warren. His comment afterwards: "Three words--hot diggedy damn!"
Yes, it's that good. It's clearly the middle movie of a trilogy, missing the setup and backstory of Fellowship of the Ring, and missing some of the satisfaction of closure I expect from Return of the King. But as a middle film, it's a doozy.
The book read awkwardly, with the three nearly-simultaneous threads told sequentially. I found it difficult to pull the stories together to divine the timetable. Director Peter Jackson pulled it together neatly on film, cutting appropriately to keep all three tales moving forward while interweaving them. Reading the book was difficult again because of the language, the tedious insistence on archaic structures, on drawn-out dialogue, on exposition. The film, by contrast, shows us the action instead of telling us about it. The scope becomes real, very real, on film. For example, the tremendous battle of Helm's Deep seems so much more huge, horrible, momentous on film than in words. That it took six months to film proves Jackson's devotion to finding the essence of the story and presenting it effectively.
Now the only thing that will make waiting a year for the final film bearable is my commitment to read that last book before release.
Charles Taylor in Salon; Jamey Hughton at Movienews.com; Manohla Dargis at the L.A. Times; Elvis Mitchell at the N.Y. Times. Plus Karen Durbin on "Propaganda and Lord of the Rings," and J.P. Zmirak on "Tolkien, Hitler and Nordic Heroism."