‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’ is the perfect prequel to a fan favorite series

Courtesy of Murray Close/Lionsgate

The book series, “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, instantly became a fan favorite upon its release and the release of the film adaptations.

“The Hunger Games” stars Jennifer Lawence as Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta =Melark. These two star-crossed lovers from District 12 fought their way through not one, but two Hunger Games and fought in a rebellion against The Capitol. 

The Hunger Games are a televised spectacle put on by The Capitol where 24 individuals, two from each district, are “reaped” by having their names pulled from a raffle. These 24 individuals are all delivered to The Capitol where they fight to the death until one victor remains. 

The four installations of “The Hunger Games” movies are: “The Hunger Games”, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”. The four, released from 2012 to 2015, quickly became a cult favorite.

The newest addition to “The Hunger Games” series is “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes”, which premiered in theaters on Nov. 17. The novel, also written by Suzanne Collins, was released in 2020 — 12 years after the first book was published in 2008.

When it was announced that “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” was going to be adapted into a film, fans went wild. The chance to see a prequel explaining the upbringing of the villainous President Coriolanus Snow and the start of The Hunger Games drew fans in, and made this a highly anticipated release. 

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” follows an 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) as he’s assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a girl from District 12, through the 10th annual Hunger Games. 

Snow, along with the other monitors, are told by gamemaster Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) and game-creator Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage) that their goal is to make a spectacle of their candidates to boost viewership of The Hunger Games.

However, once Snow meets Lucy Gray, all he cares about is saving her life.

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is split into three parts: Part One: The Mentor, Part Two: The Prize and Part Three: The Peacekeeper.

Part One: The Mentor.

Part One of the film is meant to show Snow’s “ordinary world”. It introduced us to his fellow classmates and set up the plot of the film.

We see Snow and Lucy Gray’s first meeting, where sparks immediately fly. The chemistry between the pair is just as deceptive as their relationship. The audience is left wondering if their chemistry is real, or if it’s because they’re using each other for a greater goal, leaving us in the dark alongside the characters.

We see Snow painted as a young man, desperate to win a cash prize to save his cousin Tigris (Hunter Schaffer) and his Grandma’am (Fionnula Flanagan) from being evicted from their home. Which is a stark contrast from the tyrannical, evil man we see him as in “The Hunger Games” series.

One of the few things Part One does well is create anticipation. Because a large majority of the audience has seen “The Hunger Games” series, they’re eager to see Snow’s character development.

Unfortunately, it is not a strong start to the film. Right off the bat, the side characters fail to deliver their lines with any personality and the dialogue borders between funny and cringy.

The slow moving plot with little-to-no action serves as a rocky introduction to a long awaited series and almost begs the questions: Did fans hype this movie up too much? 

The beginning of the film nearly tricks audiences into thinking it’s going to be a flop, but luckily the other two parts pick up all of the slack.

Part Two: The Prize.

Part Two starts as the tributes enter The Hunger Games arena and follows the tributes as they fight to the death. 

Part Two is, by far, the best part of the film. Maybe it’s the familiarity of the games, but this part draws the audience in to create a sense of urgency and seriousness.

The lack of action in the first part is quickly made up for in this section. From explosions to killings, the filmmakers showed up and showed out with the effects. Although it took a while for the action to get started, my jaw dropped for nearly the remainder of the film once it did.

Twists and turns, jumpscares and unsuspected plot points made me forget entirely about the measly first part and instead had me honed in on the screen.

The 10th annual Hunger Games is a shadow of what we see in the 74th and 75th Hunger Games that are featured in the original series. No trackers, no elaborate arena and not even the glamor of The Capitol.

The lack of extravagance in “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” shows the struggles and strides that had to be made in order to reach the advanced weaponry and technology we see in the first films. 

The feel of a post-war society is raw and real in this film, and the desperation of The Capitol’s leaders to create order and instill fear within the districts is palpable through the screen.

Part Two gives the audience a taste of the violence and action in the arena that is prevalent throughout “The Hunger Games” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”. If you’re a fan of the original series, Part Two is sure to have you reminiscing on Katniss’ and Peeta’s time in the games.

Part Three: The Peacekeeper

Part Three of the film, while not as action packed as its predecessor, has exemplary character development of Snow. 

In the original Hunger Games films, Snow is depicted as coldhearted and cruel, leaving fans to wonder how he became that way. Part Three of “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” dives into Snow’s snapping point, when he goes from being an innocent boy from The Capitol, to a callous and paranoid individual. 

The only thing lacking about Part Three was its pacing. Snow’s breaking point felt rushed through and he suddenly went from a likeable character to someone we were supposed to hate, but it just didn’t have the effect it needed too.

Fans of the book have critiqued the film saying that Snow’s internal monologue in the book depicts him as a bad person throughout, and not just in the story’s final moments. Had the filmmakers and screenwriters implemented more scenes to show audiences his true nature, it would have helped characterize him as a villain, rather than someone to root for.

Tom Blyth’s performance of Snow, however, shone brightest in his final moments on screen. His portrayal of manic paranoia had me riveted, eager to see what moves he’d make next. Blyth’s performance was consistent throughout, but his demeanor in Part Three broke the barrier between a good performance and excellent performance. 

Blyth blossomed and showed audiences that he is more than ready to take on complex characters and impress us all in the process. I, for one, cannot wait to see his future work.

“The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” can stand alone and be seen by those who have never seen The Hunger Games films, but die hard fans will appreciate the references to the original series. The screenwriters knew exactly what they were doing, hiding similarities between the stories for fan’s to obsess over. 

The final line of the film is sure to leave fans, like myself, obsessing over it for days after.

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is now playing in theaters, and if you’re a longtime fan or just getting started, this is a film you don’t want to miss.

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