I finally got a chance to see the extended Lord of the Rings
The extended version is a much more leisurely movie, even though it is only half an hour longer. There is much more exposition, in particular of the hobbit way of life. In the theatrical release, we are barely introduced to hobbits before Frodo and Samwise are crashing their way through the wilderness. In the extended version, we get to see a bit of what hobbit life is like.
The journeys from the Shire to Rivendell and from Rivendell to Moria take quite a long time in the books, but were almost instantaneous in the movie. The extended version is more faithful to the book, giving a fuller scope to Middle Earth.
The best thing about the extended version is the greater depth it gives to three characters, Aragorn, Boromir, and most of all Gimli. We learn a bit more about Aragorn's parentage and why he is who he is. Boromir's relationship with Pippin and Merry is shown in greater depth; despite his treachery to Frodo, he has real affection for the hobbits, which is evident in several added scenes and bits of dialogue. Gimli, however, benefits the most from the extended movie. In the theatrical release, Gimli is a bit of a caricature--"Nobody tosses a dwarf!" In the extended version we get to see his relationship with Galadriel. If you are a Gimli fan, you must see the extended version.
I enjoyed the extended Lord of the Rings quite a bit, and have added it to my Christmas list.