If you didn't see 2001's The Fellowship of the Ring — the first chapter in Peter Jackson's three-part film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings — get the DVD. Jackson leaps into Part II with no patience for laggers. The Two Towers, shot at the same time as Part I and Part III, is spectacular in every sense of the word, even if you don' t know an Orc from a Uruk-Hai.
Here's the tease: The fellowship has scattered. Frodo the Hobbit (Elijah Wood) still holds the all-powerful ring that he and Sam (Sean Astin) must drop into Mount Doom. Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) are adrift in a forest talking to an Ent, a tree that talks back. The human warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen, growing steadily impressive in the role) is still fighting the evil Saruman (Christopher Lee) with the help of Elf archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies). It's Aragorn who must release the Rohan king (a noble, moving Bernard Hill) from Saruman's spell and help save Middle-earth in a climactic clash at Helm's Deep (the parallels to the warring forces of democracy and fundamentalism are inescapable) that ranks with the greatest battles in film history.
The Two Towers suffers a bit from being the middle chapter (no beginning, no end), but Jackson keeps the action percolating. The effects astonish, none more so than Gollum, a computer-generated creature, hauntingly voiced by Andy Serkis. Gollum looks like a wasted junkie and speaks (with a rasp to rival Linda Blair's in The Exorcist) of the ring that corrupted him as "my precious." The battle between good and evil in this character catches the soul of the movie. The Return of the King, the final chapter, will be released a year from now. I can't wait.