It's been a really long while since I had seen this trilogy. Going back to Middle Earth was as enjoyable as was the first time I saw this at the movies, when I was on my early teens.
I've seen all the extended versions these last two days and I've opted to review the "trilogy" as a single movie, because in the end, that's what it really is.
To take on the gargantuan task of adapting Tolkien's work is just a mindblowing concept. It takes someone with a frickin ginormous pair of nuts to even dare to approach such books. I'm not a HUGE fan of the books, but I enjoyed them fair enough, so taking the elephant out of the room right now, this is a movie based on a book. It's not the book. If it was the "book" it would loose the purpose and would be downright impossible, so things had to be taken out, introduced and done on a different way. What's more important is how you do the approach to the source material, and Jackson and his crew do exacly what it should: the message of unity amongst diverse people, with different ideals, different creeds, how someone so little can achieve something so big, the ecologic message, the love for all things man can do of good, etc etc is all here, all proud and glorious. And obviously the main story and quest don't diverse that much from the original book trilogy.
The screenplay is sharp and very very ambitious, for it tackles so many genres that it could turn into a huge festival of random happenings but it's fortunently focused and it all feels consistent. There's comedy, love stories, warfare, adventure all over and even dowringht chilly horror and atmospheric moments. I really appreciate people who can blend so many approaches altogether, without loosing focus on the essential. There are flaws though, sometimes sequences are a bit repetitive and happen a bit too often and the dialogues can come as corny and cheesy to almost unbearable levels at times but it's passable and pretty much all of the actors deliver really well the difficult tasks they had at hand.
One thing that accompanies the script really well is the superb cinematography. Not just the gorgeous shots of New Zeland but how many moods are created on all situations with fantastic lighting, brilliant set designs, lively costumes and a good blend of CGI landscapes with natural environments. Middle Earth feels alive and no character feels out of place in it. Some things haven't quite endured the test of time. Studio lighting sometimes comes way off on character's faces on CGI heavy sequencies, it's evident the chroma used on some scenes and sometimes the mix of natural light and digital on both real actors and digital creatures creates a very distracting mix.
The CGI is superb after all this time, specially when the creatures are still. They have tons of details on their expressions and are all very well design. But when things get moving.... boy, things get hairy now 10 years later. It's all too blurry, feels unnatural and you can spot for miles what is animated and what's not, creating a very messy blend. Nevertheless, at the time this was made, I was in complete awe, but nothing like having something livelier, characterized in front of you, but hey, given the creatures you see that would be just impossible, no?
Soundtrack is memorable, I was humming the tunes all the time, for I remembered them all this time later and helps the audience to indentify where they're at and with whom.
Going into more detail would be painful on such a huge movie with so many ideas, genres, characters, action set pieces, etc. But this is indeed a masterpiece of recent times and changed many things. Not only is this a nearly flawless technical ride, way ahead of it's time when introducing on how Gollum came to be and with many other inovations on the FX department, but it also never forgot having heart, soul, giving every character the attention it deserves, respecting the source material, getting across a universal message for all ages and for all creeds, leaving a huge smile on your face with contempt. This is cinema. When you get out of a movie theatre and have learned something or felt something that makes you a richer person, being 10 or 80 years old, then the filmmakers have completed their goals. And LOTR has plenty for everyone and even spare for the naysayers.