I loved Fellowship. Two Towers was good, but starting to go downhill. And RotK was a huge disappointment.
I disliked every liberty Jackson took with the story. Denethor didn't need to be made into a villain, and his death scene in the movie was ludicrous instead of sympathetic. Having the ghosts come win the battle of Minas Tirith was a deus ex machina bit that felt so completely fake. (And really, having Elrond just show up at Helm's Deep in The Two Towers, after it took the party months to get there? Come on
. One of the major themes of the story was that the elves were leaving the world to humans, for good or ill.) The scouring of the Shire was another bit I was very disappointed to see left out, the theme that evil can still reach out to such faraway places, and has to be fought wherever you find it. And yeah, the cutting of such awesome bits of the story as the houses of healing, and Eowyn and Faramir's relationship, for time constraints, was a disappointment too. The whole "good Smeagol bad Sam" bit was tedious and unnecessary, and if Jackson hadn't decided to add that fluff in we could have had a much more satisfying theatrical release.
I guess I'm too much of a snob to ever be pleased.
Jackson, pah. THIS
is the best ever movie adaptation of LotR.
Yes, I thought Fellowship was the best of the three. The Two Towers was the most difficult to do, and while I HATED it when I first saw it, I eventually calmed down and I think when you look at it in the context of all three movies as an entity (which is how Tolkien wrote the books--the division into a trilogy was done for the convenience of the publisher) it holds up a little better.
A quibble with your quibbles: Dude, Denethor WAS a villain! He was a villain in the books too--just a smoother one than in the movies. He became corrupted. For whatever reason, he became corrupted and I think, while they went over the top a bit with him in the movie, his character was essentially true to what was in the book. Personally, I didn't find his death in the books sympathetic particularly. I thought he was an arrogant, cold-blooded old bastard in both the books and the movie.
When I saw Two Towers I HATED what they had done with Faramir's character. I hated that the Ithilien Rangers beat the shit of out Gollum and basically tortured him to get information. I hated that Faramir was almost corrupted by the ring and dragged Frodo to Osgiliath. They turned the character back around at the end, but it was a very fragile conceit that they hung that on (he saw Frodo almost give the Ring to a Nazgul but Faramir shot an arrow into the beast he was riding and it ran away
. With the Ring right in front of it. Dude, if they could be chased off that easy, we wouldn't even have a story.)
However, I thought, in RotK that Faramir's character was put back on track. I didn't think that the romance stuff held up in the film in the way it does in the book. It's more implied than anything, I guess, but there are issues of time and it actually is a side story to the real plot.
I loved the scouring of the Shire in the books, but I totally get why he left it out of the movies. It would not have worked. It ruined the death of Saruman though. I was mollified at that point when I saw the extended versions.
I had quibbles myself about things that seemed both unnecessary and underdeveloped (why introduce a particular conceit if you're just going to throw it out there and never have anything much ride on it). For instance, the whole bit about "Arwen is dying" because her fate is tied to that of the Ring. It's never explained, only mentioned the one time, and not ever developed as a motivation for Aragorn.
But on the whole, I think they did what they needed to do to make it work for the screen while staying true to the books in both spirit and letter (as far as possible).