I was stuck in hard core geek-out mode for a long time anticipating these movies, and they did not disappoint (NOTE: except one major thing, which I will rant about in a minute). The scenery was epic; New Zealand IS Middle Earth. The costumes and set designs were true to the story and also true to life...They actually made chain-mail armor by hand.
The visual effects were stunning. From the evil gleam in Gollum's eye to Sauron's fiery gaze, all looked and felt real. The actors hit the right notes for each character, and the entire series was damn near flawless, except one little thing...
The screwed up the whole climax of the entire three-movie series. You know, the part where they actually destroy the ring, the specific task they had been working on for roughly 9 hours of movie?
In the book, Gollum bites off Frodo's ring finger and, in a fit of joy, celebrating his reunion with his Precious, he falls off the edge of the cliff into the vat of molten lava below.
In the movie, after Gollum bites off Frodo's finger, Frodo attacks him and they both spill over the edge, Frodo clinging to a rock while Gollum plummets to the lava holding the ring.
Gone is the irony. The irony of Gollum doing himself in, of his greed destroying the ring, of the ring that was created by evil being destroyed by evil. The irony of his being happy and falling to his doom, destroying the ring in a fit of joy...blown away and replaced by three more minutes of slo-mo melodrama.
I forgive Peter Jackson for this grievous misjudgement, but just barely. If the rest of the series kicked one ounce less ass, this would have really spoiled it for me. But as it is, the rest of the series did kick mountains of ass, so I'll grin and bear it.
Although I am nervous about the extra material they are adding to The Hobbit...