First of all I want to say I had no problem with an Unexpected Journey. I liked all the exposition. If I'm going to stick with characters throughout 3 movies, I want to know them. Even more so if they are characters belonging to a beloved book I grew up with. In fact, the parts of the movie the critics wanted more of (ie the action in the last hour) were the weakest parts for me.
So that being said, this theatrical cut of DoS was almost like an extended teaser for me. I was blaringly obvious that so many character-developing scenes were cut to make this an action-packed movie. In no other theatrical Jackson Middle Earth movie have I felt so frustrated. Now I'm waiting for the Extended Edition. Its kinda like a cruel joke - I have to wait for the movie all over again.
Its really obvious in the first hour. Everything is rushed until they get in the barrels. Beorn's sequence seems almost unnecessary in the context of this film; almost as if its just a motel for food and a nap. There is certainly much more here.
Mirkwood too is WAY to fast. So hurried I was kinda shocked. Its supposed to be a long, claustrophobic, desperate trek. I KNOW there will be more here. The writers have already said Bombur falling in the enchanted stream and then carried by the others will be in the EE. (Anyone else notice that Bombur is the only dwarf who has yet to have a single line?)
Inside Thranduil's palace should have a little more of Bilbo sneaking around and formulating his escape plan. The elves trade with laketown isn't made clear, plus the ones in the barrel room just seem to suddenly appear to be in a drunken stupor. (anyone else recall Legolas and Gimli's drinking contest in the Two Towers EE? it takes A LOT to get an elf drunk)
Once the company gets into Laketown things get better. However Bard needs more characterization, especially amongst his children. There also needs to be a little more explanation why he has so much friction with the Mayor of Laketown and his lackeys.
Finally there's Gandalf in Dol Guldor. As it stands this seems almost shoe-horned into the film. It doesn't stand alone very well; if you didn't pay attention to the White Council scene in AUJ or know how this will play out during for the next movie and beyond in the LOTR, I can certainly imagine at novice fan being a little lost.
So yes, I eagerly await the EE. While AUJ only had about 10 minutes of extra footage (mostly extending scenes by a minute here, a minute there), I would not be surprised if Desolation will have 20 minutes or more.
But that's what I hope for in the future. As for what I witnessed tonight, I give it a B. As I mentioned, some points were lost because of the rushed beginning and the lacking Dol Guldur sequence. The scenery and details, as always is spectacular. The spider confrontation was even creepier and better than I expected. Richard Armitage shines in this one. Thorin pretty much dominates the film. Bilbo plays a more supporting role, at least until he's inside the Lonely Mountain. And I will join the chorus in saying Smaug is absolutely wonderful.
Although an ENORMOUS Tolkien fan, I'm not such a purist to disregard a movie's liberties. I liked the orcs/elves/dwarves in a barrel scene (although Bombour's literal barrel-roll was pretty ludicrous). I didn't mind Bard's ancestor opening up Smaug's vulnerable spot, rather than it just being an opening in his gem-encrusted belly. However, I did not like the Kili/Tauriel romance. If it was one-sided, that would have been fine, but being mutual was just - uggg - mush. This was just exasperated with it forcing Tauriel's presence in Laketown. That I DID NOT LIKE at all. Plus the mutual affection kinda cheapens the Gimli/Legolas bonding which happens in LOTR. So that was my biggest peeve. It made an A- film turn into a B-
Jackson has said that the theatrical cuts are for movie fans and the EEs are for Tolkien fans. So I guess my real critique will have to wait...(good god)... a year.