Of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies The Two Towers is definitely the weakest. I know people often argue that that is the case with the books, too. Well, I couldn’t really make my mind up about that, though it is certainly difficult to take the middle bit of a saga like The Lord of the Rings (without the scary beginning and the dramatic climax) and judge it on its own. That you are probably more inclined to do with a film when you have to wait a year for the sequel or maybe a week for watching the sequel than with a book where you just draw the next from the shelf and continue reading.
However that may be, the second part of the movie version still annoys me most. The extended DVD version is somewhat better than the version shown in cinemas (e.g. the sequence with Boromir and Faramir in Osgiliath is really good), still there it is. I don’t think the annoyance is purely a matter of an upset Tolkien fan getting worked up about the film deviating from the book. That, the first movie did, too. And I could live with it for the greater part (even with the tedious replacement of Arwen for Glorfindel). With the second part, however, I think the movie deviates from the book (a) too often, (b) unnecessarily, and (c) in ways that completely lose Tolkien’s message. In the movie, every single character who, in the book, is generous and wise and neglects his own short-term benefit in favour of an unsure long-term benefit which would be greater though the character himself might not live to enjoy it, in the movie turns into a selfish blockhead: Théoden, Treebeard, Faramir, and even Elrond.
In the movie, the Ents decide not to interfere with the war they regard as not being their own. It is only the immediate experience of his own loss that makes Fangorn change his mind. If you wish, it is like the U. S. entering WWII after Pearl Harbour. While there is nothing at all immoral to this, the book’s message here is quite different: Here, the Ents have felt losses like that before, and no more than in the movie and none that were immediate or urgent enough to force them into action. Unhasty as they are, they might still have tried to weather the storm without striking back. What the hobbits did here was not to show the Ents their own danger but to make them realize that the time had come to help their friends before no friends remained. And the Ents rose to that challenge even at the risk of speeding their own end.
The same difference can be found in the actions of Théoden, King of Rohan. After being healed by Gandalf, in the movie, he refuses to go to war against Saruman and leads his people to the shelter of Helm’s Deep. In the book, he not only rides to war against Saruman (a war which is already upon him anyway, so his whole refusal in the movie makes no sense), but almost at the same time not only finds shelter for his people but orders a muster of the Rohirrim not only to defend Rohan against Saruman but also to help his friends in Gondor. And that he does even before the Red Arrow summons that help and knowing full well that it will leave Rohan less well defended than would be possible otherwise. Or take Faramir, who, in the book, is contrasted against Boromir very sharply as possessing that unselfish, compassionate empathy that makes him value the long-term need of all free people higher than Gondor’s short-term situation and help the Ring-Bearer. This empathy, which makes him help Frodo even if Frodo’s quest has not been laid out to him completely, which could be called wisdom, is not entirely but almost lost in the movie. Here, Sam tells Faramir about the quest much more openly and it is only the immediate threat of the coming of the Nazgul that makes him rethink his decision. In the book, it is his own free will that takes a selfless resolve purely based on trust: The Ring-Bearer’s quest must succeed, even if Gondor should fail.
I’m so upset about this all, because the unselfish struggle with evil is one of the central, recurring elements of The Lord of the Rings. Take the Elves for another example: Galadriel and Elrond send Frodo to destroy the Ring knowing that this will (with all probability) mean the end of their own powers, eventually the end of their realms. And they still fight the slow defeat. If there is any heroism in the battles of this story, it is that. In the movie it is much diminished because it is much less unselfish.
Elrond, in the movie, displays another sort of selfishness when he refuses to let Arwen wed Aragorn. Man, this is not some Peter Smith from Lexington, this is Elrond Halfelven, son of Elwing and Earendil, grandgrandson of Beren and Luthien. His brother chose to become mortal and thus the whole race of Numenoreans was created from which Aragorn descends. Also, this guy has been around for five thousand years and has had all chances to experience what selfish and covetous love yields. There is no way I can accept the movie’s interpretation of Elrond. People argue that with the Ents, for example, there is just not enough time in a movie for explanations lengthy enough to do the book justice and that they just had to speed up things. Why then did they add so many minutes of crap of Elrond arguing with Aragorn or Arwen calling Aragorn back from the Dead? That airtime would have been invested better in explaining Tolkien’s story rather than adding completely superfluous elements and diminishing the original’s moral message.