The acting is consistently excellent, including that of the CGI. In fact, it's amazing how much the CGI has advanced in just a single year; there's none of the awkward moments where unnatural movement snaps you out of suspension of disbelief, a problem in some of the Caradhas and Moria sequences in FOTR. Gollum is *fabulous*, every bit the demented yet pathetic creature he should be.
The Ents are wonderfully done; PJ messes around a little bit with the events in the sequence, but I'm not unduly distressed by it, though not certain it was needed. The basic nature remains the same; Pippin and Merry meet the Ents and trigger their going to war against Isengard. The image of the Ents digging their roots and and standing against the great wall of water that washes away the orcs and all their works is one of my favorite bits of the whole movie, lovely and resonant.
And this is a rare thing to say for a modern blockbuster, but I don't think PJ made *enough* use of CGI at Isengard. Tolkien's description -- Ents tearing apart rock like bread-crust, eroding stock and stone like a hundred years of tree-root damage in a minute, seems to call out for more screen time than we got. But it's a small quibble indeed.
The Sam & Frodo track was also just about perfect, at least up through Ithilien. A certain amount of invented or elaborated incident, but no more than was necessary to work as a movie. The additional side-trip to Osgiliath made me twitch at first, but upon consideration I could see why PJ needed it for a parallel so that F & S don't seem an anemic end lost between the two great battles of the other tracks. But Faramir, oh my captain! PJ just mangled him. Him starting to take them back to Gondor *could* have worked; it's very basic to his character that his love of his father and obedience to the laws of Gondor often conflict with his own wisdom. So having his sense of duty win out for a while over his belief in the danger of Isildur's Bane, that would have been fine. But Faramir talking, without irony, of the ring winning the war for Gondor? Faramir, of " I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway." And sob, not a fragment of his speech, one of my favorite speeches in all of Tolkien.
For myself, - said Faramir, - I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves. War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Númenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.
Probably because *this* Faramir would never say such a thing. If there's one thing I could ask Peter Jackson, it would be "Faramir? What the fuck?"
The Rohan track started not-well, with the loss of a wonderful grace note -- Eomer is not at all startled at seeing an elf and a dwarf. None of this 'legends springing to life' stuff, just 'hey! why are you here?'. Which makes me think that the sense of awe and wonder that Boromir projected in Rivendell was all Sean Bean and not PJ. It seemed a peculiar edit, since it would have doubled the impact of the elves appearing at Helm's deep, which more on later.
It improved a bit with the gorgeous design of Edoras and a fine Eowyn and slimy Wormtongue, though I might wish they had restrained themselves a bit on Grima's makeup. He's not actually supposed to look like a zombie. The freeing of Theoden from his dotage is clunkily literal. Maybe needed for a movie, but I really wish PJ had trusted his actors a bit more -- I believe that Ian McKellan, Bernard Hill, and Brad Dourif are good enough to carry it off as Tolkien originally wrote it.
And then there is much mangling, for no clear purpose that I can see. My next question to PJ would probably be "Theoden King? What the fuck?" Instead of going to relieve Helm's Deep, he's retreating there, he rants about protecting his people but then refuses to send for reinforcements, for no earthly given reason... the Helm's Deep sequence, while fabulous in terms of look and impact, just seemed choppier and more incoherent than I expected. Possibly a result of Arwen being chopped out of it post-filming.
And the olympic-torch bearer orc was a very rare case of a visual clunker from PJ. Even when his character or plot choices are questionable, LOTR (so far) has always *looked* right. When it failed, it tended to be in inability to make the supernatural work completely on film, as in Lorien. The little torch run with the magnesium flare just kicked me right out of LOTR into near giggling and wondering if New Zealand is putting in an Olympic bid or something.
Aragorn's near death seemed a rather pointless bit of invention -- you already had the battle with the Wargs for excitement, you already had an army of 10,000 Uruk-hai for despair, it seemed there solely to provide a hook for various bits of Arwen and Aragorn backstory in which Elrond continues to be kind of one-note bitter. Which was a disappointment. I accept the need for a hook, but couldn't it be a less cliche'd one?
I'm not a huge purist when it comes to adaptions; in fact, one of the things I like about PJ is that he's not afraid of the text. Excessive reverence can kill a book to movie adaption as sure as indifference can. But I think PJ swung a little too far the other way this time. I'm pretty indifferent to reordering and eliminating of events and even creation of new ones, as long as the characters and themes remain fairly accurate. In FOTR this was so, in TTT not so much.
Don't mistake me; it's still a fabulous movie, more tauntly paced that FOTR. Love FOTR as I do, it feels all of it's three hours, and one is likely to remember one's bladder round about Lorien. Do go see it.