Voldemort's back, people.
What are we going to do?
Oh right, we're going to wait for another movie or two because J.K. Rowling still wants to lay down some rap on us. Hence, we get Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the second to last… um, third to last… um, sixth chapter in the Harry Potter saga. The movie version was directed by David Yates, who handled the previous four of the eight Potter movies. Yeah, this guy had a pretty good handle on them by the time he tackled this one.
Like most of the other installments, this one sticks pretty close to Rowling's plot and ideas. But Yates also had to make some cuts, which affected more than just the blood pressure of hard-core fans. Let's take a look.
Things are bad for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends: Voldemort's winning the war, people are scampering for their lives, and Harry's godfather Sirius Black isn't coming back from the icy pit of death. Yates visually captures Rowling's bleakness with a lot of scary yellow skies, storm clouds, and gloomy corners. Want an example? Check out the quidditch match from The Sorcerer's Stone: it's all bright and sunny and full of green grass. Now look at the practice scene in Half-Blood Prince. There's not so much as a single daisy in sight. Rowling's encroaching sense of Ultimate Doom shows up in purely visual terms, letting us feel it even if we aren't being explicitly told.
Our director goes this route with the more direct story elements, too. Harry needs to stand alone at the end of the series, which means everyone's favorite non-Gandalf wizard, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), has to go. Yates keeps Dumbledore's journey to the cave with Harry intact, and the final battle at Hogwarts stays pretty true to the book (with the exception that Harry isn't paralyzed; we'll talk about that in a sec). He also includes key elements like the Deatheaters' attack on the muggle world (shown here as the destruction of Millennium bridge and without the meeting with the human Prime Minister, but getting the point across just the same). And Professor Snape's (Alan Rickman) betrayal of Dumbledore arrives right on schedule.
Stable plot? Check. Conveying Rowling's big points? Check. Harry's really on his own now, with all his powerful buddies pushing up daisies. Whether he's ready for it or not he's going to start paving his own path. Godspeed, Hank.
Have you seen the size of Half-Blood Prince? Yeah. It was no question that Yates would have to make some cuts. And with those cuts go some of Rowling's themes.
The most telling removal is a lot of the backstory involving Voldemort-to-be Tom Riddle. We see a few scenes involving boy Tom, yes. But we get nothing about the Gaunts or the other dark, twisted stuff that shows how he became the evil overlord we all know and hate. The omission diminishes our ability to sympathize with Voldemort—and with that, lessens Rowling's message that evil people can come from quite normal backgrounds. (And let's face it, that's a heck of a lot scarier than being able to talk to snakes.) While we don't mind losing some Voldemort screen time (yeah, he freaks us out), his character does get a mini-shaft.
Yates also changes one specific moment at the end. You guessed it—when Dumbledore dies. In the book, Dumbledore paralyzes Harry and makes him watch helplessly while the Deatheaters take the old wizard down. Not so in the movie. On the big screen, Harry's able to act, but he's stopped by Snape—Snape!—who cautions him to be quiet. It's actually kind of a funky change, placing a bigger question mark around Snape (who knew that Harry was there and yet didn't paralyze him and bring him to Voldemort?) and presumably increasing Harry's guilt for not acting in time to save Dumbledore. Since it happens at the end, there's not much of a payoff here—but it does get picked up in The Deathly Hallows. For now, we're left wondering about Snape's motives, enhancing Rowling's idea that no one is as evil (or as good) as they may first appear.
One last thing: the final on-screen battle doesn't involve Harry's remaining friends the way it does in the book. Harry's pretty much alone, and the rest of Hogwarts only shows up after the fireworks are over. Yates even lets resident basket case Bellatrix LaStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) run amuck in Hogwarts without so much as a single wand set against her. Why the change? Probably to spotlight the main event. It doesn't steal the thunder of the giant epic battle in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and it stresses the point that Harry is on his own, with no powerful friends to reach out and save him.
What do you think: should the ending have been truer to the book? Shmoop amongst yourselves.