There and Back Again by a Different Route - or All roads lead to Rohan
The opening scene of Gandalf and the Balrog is mesmerizing. You can actually sense the rage and shock of the creature as it is assailed by a foe it did not expect, I hope it is expanded in the SE DVD.
From there the story departs from the books, but it ends up in the same place.
The chase of the Uruks by the 3 companions is accurate, though abridged, and the meeting with the Rohirrim is tense and deadly. You can see the coiled readiness of the riders to strike at the three strangers they find in their land, and the bitterness of Eomer at what is happening to his country.
Gimli is used to good effect to lighten the film somewhat, staring during the pursuit, though perhaps a little too much throughout the film.
Grima is as slimy as can be, and his effect on the king is despicable. His treatment of Eowyn is nothing less than mental molestation. I am not sure I like the way Gandalf cures the King of his debility, but it works for the film and jumps the story ahead to the correct point where the king throws Grima out.
This is also a part that will undoubtedly be expanded in the DVD, it would be good to do to fill in the story a bit.
The Ents, though different than my imaginings, are wonderful! I doubt anyone will be disappointed in their appearance! There is too little of the Ents and Entmoot, and no Quickbeam! Pippin needs to contrive a way to get the Ents to act, which is probably where the DVD will differ. I have no quarrel with how PJ handled this, it is great reading, but would take quite a while to showcase in a film for theatrical release. This must be the one area of the film that will be expanded in the DVD. I hope so at least. I also want to see more of the Ents in action. I can only hope.
The battle at Helms deep is all that has been reported. Gritty, perilous, action packed. I do not know how it could be made better. Yes, elves show up, but in a way that helps the story, though there is a part I do not understand when the leader of the troop of elves greets the king. You will see what I mean when you see it. PJ made the right call to make this the center point of the movie. I would hazard a guess that if any scenes can be added to it, would be to show the glittering caves.
You can see Eowyn's growing attraction to Aragorn, and in flashbacks, you can see the emotional weight of the conflict between Aragorn, Arwen and Elrond. It also allows us to understand Aragorn's dilemma, of loving a woman that would give up immortality for him, causing her to die, and his desire for her to live. There are hints in the story that the choices of Arwen and Aragorn are not a settled thing, and that Eowyn will complicate things. This is more developed that in JRRT's work, though it is hinted at even there. It will be interesting to see where this is taken in ROTK.
The Gollum creature is very well done. It has been praised so much that I was actually a little let down, but he was still the absolutely the best animated character that I have ever seen. and the actors did an excellent job of working with it. The scenes where Gollum is fighting with others are unsurpassed by any other film I have seen that uses animation, whether including live action or not. The development of Gollum as a character makes him very sympathetic, you actually feel real pity for him, laugh at him at times, even though you see his truly dangerous side as well. Using Serkis to create the character, instead of letting the animators do it, was a brilliant move by PJ.
The meeting of Frodo and Sam with Faramir is a bit different from the books, though they do show Oliphaunts, and they are scary. Faramir is done very well, though I am not sure I like the detour PJ made here. Faramir feels the temptation of the ring more strongly than in the book, but it does work in the film, and moves the story along. It weakens the Faramir character a bit, in my opinion anyway. Though in the end he does just as in the book, and sees the right action to take and sends Frodo, Sam and Gollum on their way. This is also a place that might be expanded in the DVD.
The winged mounts of the Nazgul are wonderful. Prehistoric, somewhat creepy, a combination of many deadly themes in literature of evil flying monsters.
All in all, I do not think this could have been done any better. I have only 2 problems now. Waiting 10 months or so for the SE DVD, (GO FOR FOUR HOURS PJ!), and 12 months for ROTK!.