The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023)
Screenplay by Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt
Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins
Produced by Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Francis Lawrence
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Rated PG-13, 2hr 37m
~ guest review by Jana Leigh Welch
If you have not seen/read the original Hunger Games series of films, go back and do so before seeing this installment. There are some aspects that won’t be understood if you are not familiar with the originals.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the backstory of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), the future President Snow, the villain of the original Hunger Games series (played by Donald Sutherland).
Snow was not always a villain. He is actually a hero is the first part of this story. The movie opens during the rebellion. Then it jumps 10 years. While it is a prequel, they explain almost nothing of the rebellion so you need to see the original Hunger Games for them to explain the rebellion, how The Reaping started.
The rest of the movie is split into 3 parts. After Snow’s father dies in the rebellion, the family loses everything and is poor. In Part 1, we learn that Snow has been doing well at the Capital’s school to win a monetary reward. When he’s at the ceremony he learns that they’re not doing this award based on academic merit. They’ll be mentoring tributes in a bid to win.
In Part 2, we have the game. Snow is paired with Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler). He is the only mentor that actually cares about his tribute. The others care only in the aspect of winning money. In Part 3, we see the repercussions of Snow’s actions during the games.
This movie explains some things from the original series, but also opens up more questions that are not explained. During the movie Snow suggests changes to the games. Things that we see put into practice in the other installments. But it doesn’t explain which of those things are his new suggestions and which were already in place. In this installment, it is Game 10. The tributes are put into the zoo so people can come gawk at them. They’re not given food nor training. Also, previous to Game 10, there were no mentors. The tributes were put into an arena with a quick fight to the death. Viewership is down so the capital decides to make their best students mentors to the tributes. Snow writes an essay with suggestions. By the time we get to Katniss and Peeta’s time (Game 74 and 75) many things have changed. The tributes now have lavish accommodations, interviews, fancy meals, and practice sessions. Snow made these suggestions so people would know more about the tributes and be encouraged to watch to see how their favorites do.
Tigris (Hunter Schafer) from Mockingjay is in this movie. They make her a cousin of Snow’s. In Mockingjay she was on the rebellion’s side. Nothing is explained, or even hinted at, why she changed sides.
District 12 is portrayed completely differently than it is in the original series. In this one it’s a lively, loud, bright, happy place with parties and dancing. In the originals it’s dark and depressing. Nothing is shown for why these changes came about. In this movie there’s no reference that it’s a mining town.
This movie has so many twists (many of them predictable) you can barely keep track of who is really good and who is really bad. We see Snow turn from a hero to a villain. It’s a slow burn. He makes little choices and it culminates in him not being as noble. But where the movie leaves off it seems very unlikely that Snow could ever be president and that’s never explained.
Something that bothers me in all the Hunger Games is the vague introduction of the tributes. In every one they don’t clearly tell us the other tributes’ names. The most honorable character in this entire movie is never clearly named. I loved his character and have no idea what his name is. He was noble and actually cared about what they were being forced to do. Some tributes act like animals and revel in the killing. He took time to honor those dead. He does an admirable thing (no spoilers!) and while not done, it reminded me of when Rue died and Katniss put three fingers to her mouth and then raised them and it becomes a symbol of the rebellion.
The costumes were great; the colors and styles add so much more depth to the characters and their roles. Lucy Gray is a gypsy. Her main costume plays into that. People talk about it being so colorful and she talks about the fact that it was her mother’s. Viola Davis’ look was so dynamic, I forgot it was her. In the beginning Tigres tries to make a shirt fancier for Snow to blend in with his rich peers. She uses bathroom tiles to make new buttons.
The music was good. There is “Hanging Tree” that Katniss sings in the originals, but there are other songs, too. Singing is what people notice about Lucy Gray because she sings at the reaping after her name is called.
The movie was well cast, for the most part. I could believe I was seeing Coriolanus and not Tom Blyth pretending to be Coriolanus. Peter Dinklage and Viola Davis are always superb in every role they play. Rachel Zegler did okay with the role of Lucy, but her expressions and emotions never seem sincere. It seems she bounces quickly from upset to happy and back again.
The story left too much to be desired. There was no need for this movie. It was a decent watch. But not necessary at all.