A lot of the discussion centres around Smaug, and I am given hope by Del Toro's encouraging noises in that regard:
Smaug should not be "the Dragon in the Hobbit movie" as if it was just "another" creature in a Bestiary. Smaug should be "The DRAGON" for all movies past and present. The shadow he cast and the greed he comes to embody- the "need to own" casts its long shadow and creates a thematic / dramatic continuity of sorts that articulates the story throughout.... One of the main mistakes with talking dragons is to shape the mouth like a snub Simian one in order to achieve a dubious lip-synch. A point which eluded me particularly in Eragon, since their link is a psychic one.
To me, Smaug is the perfect example of a great creature defined by its look and design, yes, but also, very importantly, by his movement and -One little hint- its environment - Think about it... the way he is scaled, moves and is lit, limited or enhanced by his location, weather conditions, light conditions, time of the year, etc. That's all I can say without spoilers but, if you keep this curious little summary you'll realize several years form now that those things I had in my mind ever since doodling the character as a kid had solidified way before starting the shoot of the film.
This is good stuff; a director who seems to understand fantasy and has genuine passion for the real deal, not its diluted derivatives.
Dragons have become almost boring over time. Actually, on this point I think I can see where China Mieville was coming from with his banalifying systematization criticism of D&D; Statting out dragons was a noble impulse on the part of the designers (what could be more iconic than adventurers slaying dragons - and how else to do that if they don't have Stats?) but it demystified and de-romanticised the things to the point where they became standard. Check out this picture from the 3rd edition Monster Manual, for example:
A perfectly acceptable picture (although with the slightly cartoonish look that characterised 3rd edition), but one that I'm sure you'll agree doesn't convey much in the way of awe or terror. It's almost anodyne.
I also blame the Dragonlance books, which were responsible for a lot that was bad about 2nd edition AD&D in general: over the course of those books dragons went from being terrifying ancient reptilian demigods to humdrum, ordinary, rather pathetic creatures - like overgrown, scaled, flying horses. Nothing could have been more bland than end-of-series Dragonlance dragons.
It wasn't ever thus. Compare the picture above, for instance, with the great John Howe's picture The Death of Smaug:
Admittedly the 3rd edition Green Dragon picture isn't an action shot, but I still know which of the two has more majesty, mystery, wonder and romance. I hope 4e goes some way to rectifying the problem, but I remain to be convinced.