Joel Siegel Reviews 'The Two Towers'

Opening in theaters: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers — The Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of the biggest gambles in film history.

New Line Cinema probably risked $200 million to film all three parts in New Zealand at once. After the first film, we knew the gamble had paid off. The Fellowship of the Ring won four Oscars and sold $861 million in tickets around the world.

Part two, The Two Towers, picks up right where the first one ends, and the special effects are even more spectacular. But the middle part of a trilogy is always the toughest to tell. And it's even tougher in this case, because of our expectations. This movie simply doesn't match up to the first.

In the middle book, on Middle Earth, the fellowship is divided. The film intercuts three separate stories — tough to do under the best of circumstances — but impossible here because two of the three are better read than seen.

Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) are lost through most of the movie — trying to find their way to Mordor, to destroy the ring. In this part of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic, he took time to discuss philosophy, not exactly a visual treat. In the movie it's time to go get popcorn.

Meanwhile, other members of the fellowship are in danger. Giant walking, talking trees have captured two other hobbits. This passage is a great read — especially by flashlight when your folks think you're asleep — but on film it looks silly.

In the film's towering visual story, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) battles Wormtongue, who has turned the addled King Theoden into a pawn of the evil wizard Saruman.

But even the battle scenes are better in the book. There are simply too many computer-generated images for us to have any idea who is fighting whom.

In my favorite scene, Liv Tyler is speaking with other elves in their native tongue. When she walks out of the room, I get to nudge the person next to me and say, "The Elvish has left the building." Fans will like this, but fans only. Grade: B