I keep meaning to read the Harry Potter books but just never get around to it. The only advantage to not having read the books is that I'm not outraged months in advance about the ways in which the story was changed for the movie. I don't care if they cut out the short yet crucial scene where a character with some goofy name like Gumptius Hump showed Harry the most efficient way to stroke his own wand. I'm usually pretty cool even if I have read the book upon which a movie was based. All I really care about is whether the movie works. Still, it's nice not to have anything invested in the story ahead of time. Unfortunately, I knew how Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince would end ahead of time. Hell, everyone who was on the internet in summer of 2005 knew. If you were a regular at any sort of online forum or message board, no matter the subject, it was only a matter of time after the book Half-Blood Prince came out before you saw a subject header that spoiled a major event in the book, something having to do with a murder and who committed that murder. What a shock that would have been had I not known it was coming. I've wondered since I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince if that foreknowledge hurt my appreciation of the movie but, since I liked the movie, the damage doesn't seem to have been too bad.
The story opens where it left off in Order of the Phoenix. After a battle that claimed the life of Harry's godfather Sirius Black, Voldemort's resurrection has been revealed. The upside of that is that the magic world can now mobilize against him. The downside is that Voldemort and his Death-Eaters can now act openly. Riding in on storm clouds*, three Death-Eaters launch a quick assault on the magic world's center of commerce, Diagon Alley, and kidnap Mr. Ollivander, the fellow who sold Harry his Phoenix Feather Wand back in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone**. This attack also results in the destruction of London's Millennium Bridge.
This brings us to Harry reading about the incident in a diner a few months after his battle in the Ministry of Magic with Lord Voldemort. Still recovering from the trauma of that fight and the death of Sirius Black, the closest thing he's ever had to a father, he's unsure whether he will return to Hogwart's, especially since the same newspaper asks whether Harry Potter is The Chosen One whose destiny it is to engage Voldemort in a final apocalyptic battle. After managing to pick up a pretty waitress, Headmaster Dumbledore shows to cast the Cockus Blockus spell that whisks Harry away from his date and to the home of a man named Horace Slughorn, a former Hogwart's teacher who refuses to return to his old post until he's presented with the prospect of having Harry Potter as a student. It turns out that Dumbledore's real reason for luring Slughorn back to Hogwart's is that Slughorn has a memory that he won't reveal involving a former student named Tom Riddle who would grow up to be Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore believes (knowing what I know now, I can say rightly believes) that this memory is the key to Voldemort's ultimate defeat.
Pretty much every character, good and evil, who hasn't been imprisoned or brutally murdered in the previous five movies is back for this one. This includes Professor Severus Snape. In one of the opening scenes, we discover something that always seemed rather obvious, that Snape is in league with Voldemort. We see Snape ebing visited by the violently insane Bellatrix LeStrange and Narcissa Malfoy, the mother of Harry chief school rival Draco Malfoy. They have Snape make The Unbreakable Vow to help Draco complete a mission for Voldemort and, if he fails, to complete the mission himself. As to what that mission is, you can sit in a theater for two hours and find out the same way I did. So, Snape is working for Voldemort. Or is he? I guess we find out next year, unless you've already read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.
The movies two and a half hour runtime allows for character development that normally gets thrown out in the first story conference, like when Harry begins to notice that Ron Weasley's kid sister, Ginny, is no longer a kid. The Quidditch match in which Ron becomes his team's hero is also something that would have been cut out. The Harry Potter films have always been something of a protected class. You fans of the books who like to complain that this or that scene is gone should realize that most studio executives would have preferred that the movies be nothing more than spells that cause explosions with maybe a few jokes and one or two melodramatic scenes sandwiched in between said explosions. One of the things that's kept people coming back to the theaters after six movies is the fact that we get to see characters like the bizarrely wonderful Luna Lovegood, someone who could have been removed from this movie altogether for the sake of length but whose absence would have been sorely felt. It's this sort of stuff that keeps us coming back even as the series gets progressively darker. When you see this, you'll know that no character is safe anymore, not even Harry.
So far, I know absolutely nothing about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows and, unless I ever get around to actually reading the books, hopefully I'll keep it that way. If I find out ahead of time that Harry breaks up Draco Malfoy's meth lab or that Neville Longbottom has anal sex with Luna Lovegood, I'm going to be very upset.
* I loved the way the Londoners were so enraptured by the sight of storm clouds. They must not get a lot of rain there.
** To you confused Americans, that's the actual name of the first book/movie. I like it better than Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, a title created by American publishers who thought the original title to be too darn fancy. They thought this because they are morons.