Next year, the Hunger Games movie series begins and the Twilight movies end. It's sort of a passing of the tween torch, from vampire angst to post-apocalyptic deathmatches. And no doubt, Hunger Games will be hoping to capitalize on the Twilight audience.
But the truth is, Hunger Games is light years better than Twilight. And let's hope that Suzanne Collins' dystopian saga becomes more popular on screen than Stephenie Meyer's vampire romance. Here are all the reasons why Hunger Games fills Twilight full of arrows and then lights it on fire. Spoilers ahead...
Top image of Katniss Everdeen by Eeri Wyatt at Deviant Art.
In case you've missed both books, here's a quick synopsis. In Twilight, vampires and werewolves are real, and a girl named Bella falls in love with a mysterious vampire, eventually marrying him and bearing his half-vampire baby. In The Hunger Games, it's a horrible oppressive future and the evil government forces people in the "Districts" to send two young people as "Tributes" to compete in an arena of death, to remind them of the costs of rebellion. A young girl named Katniss fights in the Hunger Games and eventually becomes a symbol of defiance.
So let's break down the differences:
Bella Swan is a quiet, introspective girl who always stood at the back in her ballet recitals, until she meets a hot vampire named Edward and becomes obsessed with becoming a vampire and getting some hot vampire love. Bella's always got a bit of a deathwish — her first statements in the book are about imagining her own death, and later she goes cliff-diving when Edward leaves her.
Meanwhile, Katniss is an awesome hunter who is already skilled with the bow and arrow at the start of the first book, and who volunteers for the Hunger Games in order to spare her sister. And then wins due to raw cunning, courage and heart — becoming a symbol of resistance to the totalitarian Capital in the process.
There's a whole blog devoted to what a weak, self-centered character Bella is. As one reader tells Today.com, Bella "comes across as a weak, boring thing who always needs to be rescued" She's in a co-dependent relationship with Edward, who tries to control her and take her away from everyone and everything else in her life. Or just read our own Kaila Hale-Stern's explanation of the books' anti-empowerment message.
Meanwhile, Katniss manages to be strong as well as emotional. Bella goes on and on about sacrifice, but Katniss makes a huge sacrifice right at the beginning of her story, and she keeps on caring about others, like Rue, even when she's in a situation where she's supposed to think only of her own survival. Katniss knows who she is, even though everybody's trying to turn her into something else — which is something I bet a lot of teens (and adults) can identify with. And Katniss has to become good at pretending, to the point where she no longer knows which feelings are real.
In other words, Katniss is both a better hero and a better representation of teen angst than Bella.
The Love Triangle
In Twilight, eventually Bella's friend Jacob turns out to be a werewolf — and he's into her. But she's not into him, or maybe she is, but she's into Edward more anyway. Edward can make her young and beautiful forever, and make her part of his glamorous young family, while Jacob just has his Native American tribe, who live in La Push and only even turn into werewolves when vampires are around. In the end, there's not much suspense about which of the two dudes Bella will choose. It's like Pretty in Pink all over again, and Jacob is Duckie.
Meanwhile, Hunger Games also has a love triangle — but it's a lot more interesting and suspenseful. Katniss has a thing for Gale, her hot friend from District 12 who goes hunting in the woods with her. But she's convinced to pretend she's in love with her fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta, who really does love her. And maybe she grows to love him as well — she's not even sure herself. Eventually, she grows to care more about Peeta — until something shocking and horrible happens in the third book.
Katniss' love triangle has more subtlety and real emotion, and also more surprising twists, culminating in a bittersweet ending, at best.
In Twilight, there are basically vampires and werewolves. Jacob's pack has a few different splinter groups, and there are a bunch of different vampire "covens," including a scary pack of newborns that attack in Eclipse. There are also the Denali coven, who are sort of succubi but basically still just vampires.
Meanwhile, Hunger Games has some awesome creatures. In the Hunger Games where Haymitch won, there were mutated carnivorous squirrels and giant killer birds. Katniss has to contend with tracker jackers and mockingjays, not to mention horrific wolf mutations. And then in her second games, there are carnivorous orange monkeys. And in the final book, there are weird lizard people who hunt Katniss personally and are nearly impossible to kill.
Carnivorous orange monkeys and lizard-human hybrids win out over vampires and werewolves every time. It's just a law.
We get a fairly good look at the power structures in both worlds — in Twilight, there are the Volturi, an ancient vampire family from Italy who lay down the laws of vampire-dom, mostly to try and keep vampires secret. Their leader is Aro, who's power mad and wants to add Edward and Alice Cullen to his clan — but Aro is also basically a nice dude who's willing to listen to reason and won't be too much of a hard-ass when circumstances don't warrant it.
Meanwhile, there's a reason why The Hunger Games has helped give us a new blossoming of dystopian fiction for teens — the vision of a post-apocalyptic America is incredibly compelling, even in spite of the somewhat random classical Roman touches. President Snow is a great villain, who really is willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power, and the pomp and circumstance of the Games gives us a great window into how this society works, and how its media culture is created.
Unlike the politics of the Volturi, which are kept vague at best, the politics of the oppressive but media-saturated Panem are explored pretty well — not surprisingly, given Collins' background in television.
Potential to Change Movies
And here's where I really want to make a claim for Hunger Games — Twilight hasn't really changed movies that much. It's been an isolated phenomenon, spawning a few weak copycats like Beastly that missed the point of Twilight's appeal. To be fair, you could give Twilight credit for the fact that we're about to be inundated with fairytale movies, including three separate Snow White films. But I think that was coming in any case, and other fantasy series like Harry Potter are equally responsible.
At San Diego Comic-Con, Summit Pictures devoted part of their Twilight: Breaking Dawn press conference to showcasing the three authors whose books they'd optioned, in the hopes that one of them would be the next Twilight. And the noticeable thing about them was: none of them was anything like Twilight. There was Erin Morgenstern's circus story The Night Circus, Veronica Roth's future dystopian saga Divergent, and Isaac Marion's zombie love story Warm Bodies. So even Summit isn't betting that the next Twilight will be anything like Twilight.
(I do think Twilight gets some credit for giving us the Vampire Diaries TV show — which is a great reason to be thankful, because naked Damon.)
Meanwhile, if Hunger Games is a big success, it could have all sorts of awesome effects — like, maybe we could get a new wave of cool dystopian future movies. After all, the publishing industry has already given us a truckload of other books that could serve as source material. But also, here's hoping that Gary "Pleasantville" Ross is able to give us the teen action movie we deserve, and the scenes of teenagers murdering each other are appropriately violent and emotional, just as they are in the books. This should be a vicious, vicious movie, tinged with irony as we witness both the up-close-and-personal slaughter and the glossy media version of it that everybody else sees.
And yeah, most of all, let's hope Hunger Games breaks this dumb Hollywood preconception that people won't go to see movies about female action heroes. (Milla Jovovich and Angelina Jolie have already put a dent in this with some recent films.) While it's true that nobody wants to see Nicole Kidman pout her way through a brain-dead remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Jodie Foster turning vigilante, people will show up for good movies about women who kill with bows, arrows and grit. Jennifer Lawrence has been great in some other recent films, like X-Men: First Class — here's hoping she makes Katniss as much of an icon as Ripley.
Breaking Dawn and the first Hunger Games movies are both being directed by great auteurs: Bill Condon and Gary Ross. But only one of them has the potential to change movies for the better.