Serkis's agent initially pitched him "three weeks of voice-over work in New Zealand." Though his face and body would never appear on screen, Serkis soon discovered that Jackson wanted him to be a Gollum who would act with Elijah Wood as Frodo and Sean Astin as Sam, albeit in a skin-tight body suit. Jackson filmed the Gollum scenes three times: once with Serkis, once without him, and once with him alone; then computers re-created his movements in wormy Gollum form with persuasive specificity. (Taylor said his company achieved the "translucent skin" that Jackson had envisioned by the "skin of their teeth.")
Serkis fueled his reptilian choreography and wheedling, serrated rasp with a complex, psychologically charged interpretation. His Gollum - already treasured by readers of the book as Tolkien's most accessible and insidious villain - is both a Ring-addict in constant need of a fix and a once-sentient character who experiences pangs of conscience for killing his cousin. (Serkis took his inspiration from a feline: Gollum's guilt makes his throat muscles constrict and his whole body contort like a cat trying to spit out a hairball.)
All about free will
Going into the movie, Jackson had general notions about what he wanted to accomplish. (Apart from minor re-shooting, he filmed all three movies at once, but is finishing their post-production one at a time.) "I'm not the world's expert on trilogies," he told reporters, "but I would think the second chapter is the complicating one. If the first chapter sets your heroes out on a quest, establishes who they are, and why the quest is important, in the middle chapter the forces against them have to apply pressure, have to close in on them. You must get your protagonists to a point of despair. You're setting up the final chapter, which in theory is the triumphant, climactic installment."
Later during an interview, he elaborated freely about his interpretation of Tolkien, rather than the primary challenge of translating the author to the screen. "The Lord of the Rings is about freedom and enslavement," he says. "Frodo is doing what he's doing because he's trying to protect the homeland, trying to keep the Shire from being enslaved. He doesn't really care about Rohan or Gondor or anywhere else, he cares about the Shire. And the Ring is about enslavement. People talk about the Ring as a metaphor for the nuclear bomb, which is not what it's about at all. The Ring represents a loss of free will. It stops you from making decisions for yourself and starts to tell you what to do and enslaves you and traps you."
The movie has another dynamic CGI character in Treebeard, an "Ent" or shepherd of forests who resembles a towering tree trunk topped by one of those fruit-and-vegetable still lives designed to look like a human face. He ultimately wars against the wicked Lord Saruman (Christopher Lee) for uprooting acres of woods while pulling hybrid monster-warriors (known as Uruk-Hai) from the earth. Treebeard simultaneously embodies the strain of pastoral poetry in Tolkien and his horror at gutting unspoiled nature.
"Tolkien's whole environmental thing is not just about the environment and the Green message as it would be today," Jackson says. "It's about the enslavement of the factory. Tolkien hated the factory, because you'd show up at 9 o'clock in the morning, and you couldn't go home. Until the whistle blows at 6 o'clock at night you're enslaved. So it really is about the loss of your ability to function as the person you are. He has his characters fighting against that loss. It's not pro-war, but he certainly sees that some things are worth fighting for, like your freedom. If your freedom ain't worth fighting for, what is?"
Diving into the story
The Two Towers opens without any explanation of the first film's action. Jackson plunges us into Gandalf's battle to the death with the fire-demon Balrog and presents it as one of Frodo's telepathic visions. Throughout, the moviemaker dots the film with moments that are thrilling and contemplative - near-epiphanies in their sudden evocation of second sight and prophecy.
Periodically, the action stops in a good way: to let the movie breathe. The human hero Strider, aka Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), and his Elf lover Arwen (Liv Tyler) muse over the fate of their interspecies romance; the Elven leaders Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) contemplate the fate of Middle-earth.
The result is a film that keeps ardor, mania and wisdom coursing through its fervid action, lifting viewers out of their workaday environment and into a transcendental space. When you watch the Aragorn-Arwen story play out, you experience the full tragic impact of a mortal Man loving an immortal Elf. Only afterward do you analyze how Jackson overcomes their geographic separation and keeps their relationship vivid in The Two Towers.