Full disclosure -- this was a VIP prescreening with free booze -- which is why I'm at home with a buzz hating Elijah Wood writing this while you're probably standing in line to hate Elijah Wood at the midnight opening. Spoilers ahead!
1. I was really looking forward to Elijah Wood not being in this movie. It was nice to see Ian Holm in freaky shiny young make-up, but if I had heard "My dearest Frodo..." one more time in voiceover, I would have expected Frodo sick in bed playing NES baseball and a whine of "Is this the kissing part?" to interrupt the middle of the movie. A little too much frame for me, and even those five minutes of Elijah were enough to turn my stomach. At least he didn't giggle.
Yes, I know I'm an angry drunk, but I dislike Elijah Wood even when I'm sober.
2. It was worth seeing because Ian McKellan as Gandalf is always worth seeing, even when the script is a little watered down, which I think this one was. Stretching one book into three movies is a feat, and it really showed -- particularly with the "It's not Hogwarts without you, Hagrid" ending on the peak when the giant eagles saved the day (again, though story-chronologically first). I'm sorry, but I just won't ever buy cheering for someone else's touching moment when you just got battered all to hell eighteen times in a row like those dwarves just had. In that moment, wouldn't you rather lay there being insanely grateful you're still alive than give one fleeting lick than a halfling saved the day?
3. Cate Blanchett stole the show again. She's so amazingly beautiful and eerie and must actually be half-elf.
4. The stone giants were SO COOL. Thranduil's stag was badass.
5. I don't know if it was the HFR, the 3D, or the three neat whiskeys -- but a lot of the movie looked choppy when that's exactly what it shouldn't have looked like. Some of it looked AMAZING, like Rivendell and Galadriel and the Shire, but a lot of the action looked like a video game. And, like, not a new game; like, Shadow of the Colossus -- which is a great game -- but graphically outdated. This is not a bad thing because it's going to make an AWESOME GAME, especially the goblin city level.
7. Did we really need all those dwarves? It may have been worth it to cut a few out during the adaptation so that viewing audiences could get to know at least a couple of them. Happy, Grumpy, and Gluttonous would have been better than Thing 1, Thing 2, and Bad Who-Hairdo. And Thing 3, Thing 4, and Other Bad Who-Hairdo.
So what's my conclusion? Ehhh, it was ok. It felt a little bit like seeing Episode I -- obviously geared more toward kids, less of a story and more of a pageant of days gone by. Surely a massive accomplishment and a lovely entertaining film, but I won't cherish it so dearly as the other Lord of the Rings films. I blame Elijah Wood.