OK, I guess I'd better say sthg about TTT which I saw with Bill and LSC. These two are big, big, BIG fans of LOTR and Tolkien and know the books and the first film backwards! Hence they can pick up on every little flaw or neat little trick. For my part, I read the books over 10 years ago and didn't think they were all that. This maybe places me in an enviable position wherein I have a rough idea what happens but am genuinely surprised by plot changes and the like. For example, I forgot that Sarumon turned bad until Gandalf turned up at the tower in FOTR. What this also means is that I don't have preconceived ideas about characters, scenes or plots... I am a blank piece of paper if you will, ready to be manipulated by the director into, depending on how good the film is, an excuisite piece of origami or a screwed-up ball. Hence, perhaps I can be more objective about it without getting pissed off that changes have been made (and since I didn't think the books were perfect anyway....)
So now you know that, what was the film actually like? In a word: good. In two words: very good. World class/take-my-breath-away good? No. Not quite. But that's only if you consider it as a stand-alone movie. I think a problem with this film is that it's the middle one. We already know all the prinicple characters, we know what they have to do and so now they have to do it. Except that there's an awful lot they have to do, and there simply isn't time to see it all. As a movie, it is flawed because there are 3 plot lines throughout the entire thing which don't converge or conclude - but there is no way that this could ever happen simply as it's the second book of a trilogy. I didn't like the jumping between the stories, but there was no way to avoid it.
I think LSC may be on to sthg when she says she's going to try to hold judgement to see what Peter Jackson does in the third which I reckon is gonna be the best of the lot as everything will come together in probably quite an epic finale. Then, when you put the three movies together, the second one will seem better as its role will be better understood. It's like being told a joke without the punchline at the moment.
I don't think it ever could be as good a movie as the first, as there was very little that could have gone wrong in the first one - provided they got Tolkien's world right. Think of it as a rollercoaster, the first one points out the track and the loops and bends and the cars that are going to follow it. The second one takes you up a small slope with a few turns but it's main goal is to get you to the top of the track for the real adventure in the thrid movie.