This November, [The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2](tag:449866)arrives. Hundreds of thousands of fans across the world will head to the theater hoping the final movie in the series lives up to their wild expectations, whilst studio execs will serve truffles, champagne and you-know-what at pool parties in their Bel Air mansions. Before then, I'll be grabbing a bag of popcorn and settling down with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, stuffing my face and reflecting on the good old days when the story of boy who lived reached its epic climax.
Don't get me wrong - I love the The Hunger Games films. And yes, you might say that comparisons with Harry Potter are both absurd and irrelevant, and you'd probably be right. But the truth is that whilst The Hunger Games has clearly been marketed in a way intended to repeat the success of Potter - and box office receipts have been pretty stellar - Mockingjay Part 2 needs to be a seriously memorable, satisfying finale if the franchise is going to cement its place in pop culture.
And so, allowing for the fact that Mockingjay Part 2 is not yet out, here's how the key elements of both Suzanne Collins' hugely popular YA dystopian series and JK Rowling's epic story of good versus evil stack up against each other in my mind.
Katniss or Harry?
On the surface, Katniss and Harry aren't worlds apart. Katniss volunteers to compete in the Hunger Games to save her sister; Harry is sorted into Gryffindor, on account of the sorting hat seeing bravery in him, and like Katniss he's selfless, often putting his friends before himself.
In some respects, Katniss is kind of cold. Sure, she's been conditioned that way - her life in District 12 was shitty as hell, and the government have turned her into a killing machine in the name of mindless entertainment. She drew the short straw.
But Harry didn't exactly have it either - his parents murdered, raised by muggles with a seriously tiny collective IQ, locked in the cupboards under the stairs, not to mention all the stuff that happens later - and yet he remained likeable. He had a sense of humour. He was a fundamentally good person with the capability to go dark once in a while, because evil literally lived inside him. It's about how you deal with the hand life deals you.
Then again, if Harry and his army of friends are taking on a small but powerful group of dark wizards in Deathly Hallows Pt 2, Katniss is on a mission to topple a totalitarian government who wield serious power. Her mission is bigger, and like a cat with nine lives she's escaped death more often - but the threat Harry faces feels more real, more dangerous, and ultimately we're given more books and more movies to grow with him and become a part of his world.
Who wins? Harry, because ultimately he's more likable and his struggle feels more personal - but Katniss is a pretty great hero too.
The power of death
A lot of people die in The Hunger Games - that's the entire premise of it - and some deaths, like that of Rue in the first movie, are pretty emotional. But the downside to the story is that death is so frequent, we risk becoming desensitised to it. It's expected. The emotional impact is reduced because the only true shock would be if Katniss herself didn't make it out alive.
Harry Potter spends the best part of five books teasing the imminent possibility of Voldemort's return to power and the rise of the Death Eaters, without actually killing many characters, because the fear of death is more impactful than death itself. And when finally Sirius Black was murdered at the hand of Bellatrix, it was truly shocking. Rowling gave her audience an epic reward for their patience, and we felt something.
I got chills all over again watching Dumbledore fall, slo-mo, already dead. Of course, Deathly Hallows part 2 is a Hunger Games-esque bloodbath, but by that point the audience needs that. We deserve it. And again, with seven films versus three to amp up our expectations for the climax, Potter has the advantage here.
Who wins? Harry Potter takes this one easily - the deaths of Sirius, Dumbledore and Snape are all massively emotional and totally memorable, and in all three cases quite shocking.
Diagon Alley or the streets of the Capitol?
I can't state strongly enough that the set designers on The Hunger Games did a spectacular job. The Capitol is a truly stunning ersatz-utopia which, at least on the surface, would be an incredible place to call home. The architecture is both futuristic and gloriously retro and seems quite heavily inspired by the Fritz Lang classic Metropolis. But there's something false about it - which makes total sense, given that the Capitol is a totalitarian government masquerading as a democratic regime. It feels false because it is false. It also reflects the shallow nature of its inhabitants, who are all style over substance.
On the other hand, Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are far from flashy, but instead steeped in wizarding history. Hogwarts has secret passageways and hidden rooms even Dumbledore had never discovered. The underground vaults of Gringotts bank are accessible only by rollercoaster. It goes without saying that there are no underground rollercoasters in the Capitol.
Really, this one could go either way. If you're a flashy kind of person, you can probably envision a life lived in the surface-deep beauty of the Capitol. But if you're more of a traditionalist, the Gryffindor dorm room will more likely be your cup of butterbeer.
Who wins? It's a dead tie. The Capitol and the games arena are polar opposites to Hogwarts and Diagon Alley, but both are superbly realised on-screen.
President Snow vs Voldemort
Audiences love a villain - the Joker is probably more popular than Batman. But the best villains have a weakness, just one, something so debilitating that to come face to face with it would destroy them. The genius of Rowling's epic story is that Voldemort's weakness is Harry himself. Sybil Trelawney, in her first true prophecy, predicted that neither Voldemort nor Harry could live whilst the other survives. In some ways the entire narrative of the seven Harry Potter books is an epic-scale cat and mouse game between the boy who lived and he who must not be named. Without Voldemort, this story doesn't exist.
President Snow is a perfectly entertaining villain, even if Donald Sutherland is a little too charming to be truly menacing. His weakness is that he didn't count on the potency of the human spirit, on the desire to be liberated, didn't foresee the uprising lead by Katniss in Mockingjay Part 1. But he's not essential to the story. Another shrewd politician could fill his shoes.
Who wins? Only with Voldemort is Harry Potter a story worth telling, which is why he's one of the greatest villains of all-time, and why The Hunger Games' President Snow is defeated in this round.
So, in summary, the Hunger Games movies to date, although excellent in their own right, don't quite match up to the adventures of Potter in terms of the epic heights reached in movies from Order of the Phoenix onwards. But perhaps you disagree, or have something more to add - leave a comment and chime in...