Those who don't yet want to know about the Two Towers movie, skip on by.
My brother called me last night-- my brother who's been downloading all the making-of documentaries from the web as they were made, not waiting for them to appear on DVDs-- and was very, very dismayed. I'll bet he's not the only fan who is. But I'm not.
The first thing to remember is: Ten years ago, if I'd told you there would be a beautiful, live-action, convincing, big-budget movie of The Two Towers; that tens of millions of people were going to watch a movie that included correct Elvish and Entish; that the Battle of Helm's Deep was going to become one of the handful of best cinematic representations of a battle, ever; you'd've told me I was nuts. Don't lose sight of the forest for the ents.
Second: Gollum. This Gollum is not only an astonishing technical achievement, integrated seamlessly into a live-action movie and setting a new, very high bar for successful CGI. It's also an emotionally compelling performance, and sets a new standard in that way as well. (The froglike critter from the Rankin-Bass cartoons now seems shockingly inadequate.)
Third: the physical reality of Edoras and of Helm's Deep. Edoras is the equal of the first movie's Shire, and even better than the first movie's RIvindell or Lorien.
Fourth: Grima. Brr...
Fifth: Don't compare this version of the Two Towers with the version of Fellowship that you watched last week on DVD. Compare it with the version you watched in the theaters last December. There'll be an extended DVD release of this one, too; and Jackson now has enough of a record that we should trust and be excited about that longer movie.
All of that said...
Oh my God! They killed Haldir! You bastards!
The changes Jackson's made to the story of the second volume all seem to me to push in a common direction: characters who are not among the members of the Fellowship may not be heroic and important. They must be made either less brave and willing to face the war than they are in the books (Theoden, Treebeard, Elrond); more wimpy in an inchoate way (Eowyn); more morally dubious (Faramir-- this is the one that does the most damage); or less prominent (Eomer, whose friendship with Aragorn was sorely missed). This is largely so that our inspiring heroes-- Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, and Pippin-- can perform unnecessarily dramatic rallyings-of-the-troops. This, in turn, is in large part because of the changes Jackson has introduced into Aragrorn's plotline (in turn largely motivated by the desire to make the Aragorn-Arwen love story more central, and to make Arwen more prominent). Instead of striding forth from Rivindell with the reforged Narsil in his hand ready to face his destiny, Aragorn has to grow into his leadership, with important help along the way from Arwen and the elves.
This is a very big change, and it's cost us in some significant ways. (I think it has, as one spillover, the loss of the full version of Boromir's and Faramir's dream even in the extended version, and the loss of the dream altogether from the theatrical versions.) It also makes a lot of sense, as a matter of movie-making. The three wholly independent plots of Two Towers are pretty hard to tie into a movie; as a stand-alone book, its climaxes come in funny places and each of the plots ends in a kind of funny place. What Jackson tried to do was to run the three plotlines in parallel, giving each a martial-action climax at the same point. (This was way Frodo and Sam got dragged to Osgiliath. As I mentioned, the Faramir subplot is seriously problematic.) And this structure of changes gives him the opportunity to do this. The arrival of Celeborn and the elvish archers can signal both a rallying of the elves and a rallying of the Rohirrhim. (Note to anyone who, like me, was worried by repeated reference to "the Rohans" in television commentary and printed reviews: the correct "Rohirrhim" is used in the movie.) More or less simultaneously, Merry and Pippin can directly cause Treebeard to become "roused," instead of merely serving as the pebbles that start the avalanche. Later, Aragorn can reinspire the Eomer-less Theoden to greatness-- a reinspiration that wouldn't have been nearly as dramatic had Theoden emerged from his encounter with Gandalf as confident as he did in the book.
So in the service of getting dramatically-timed and Fellowship- (especially Aragorn-)led rallies Theoden is reduced, the Elves are reduced, and the ents are reduced. In the service of getting a martial climax to Frodo and Sam's plotline, and of making sure that our growing-into-office Aragorn doesn't suffer by comparison, Faramir is worse than reduced. He's really betrayed. Since we're supposed to care about love stories: are we now going to feel nearly as happy about Eowyn getting Faramir as her consolation prize? (Maybe so, since she's been reduced as well.)
I'll freely admit: I liked the arrival of the elves at Helm's Deep. I'm not sure that it entirely redeems the weaselification of Elrond over the previous movie and a half; but it was pretty nice, and I understand why it was cinematically called for.
I think Gimli got mocked a bit too much; and I was not happy to have drawrf-tossing mentioned again-- or to have had it mentioned once. But I was clearly in the minority; the opening-day audience roared. And, again, I understand the cinematic demands. Had Gimli not been played somewhat for laughs, there'd've been nothing to lighten the hour-plus of the Helm's Deep plotline. Fine in the book, not so fine in what is, in part, an action movie.
I really missed the full Aragorn-Eomer conversation when they first meet-- though, of course, that conversation depends on Aragorn being willing to claim hios full title and bearing the Sword, so it had to go. I'm not very happy with Treebeard's character.
But the only thing that seemed to me really, really wrong was Faramir; and I don't think the desire to put Frodo and Sam into a battle justifies it.
But, manoman... can you believe we have a cinematic Faramir about whose characterization we can argue?
I thought Fellowship should've gotten both Best Picture and Best Director. I'm less convinced of Best Picture this time... but even more convinced of Best Director.
UPDATE: Heh. Bruce Baugh has a funny take on the discrepancies, though I don't think it really works. (In fairness, it's not really supposed to.)