A Highly Entertaining Watch that Retains the Hunger Games Appeal but Struggles with Pacing
Fans of The Hunger Games franchise have been blessed by yet another book-to-movie adaptation in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to the first movie set nearly 64 years before Katniss Everdeen takes her sister’s place in the reaping. The story follows a young Coriolanus Snow, the tyrannical president of Panem and the main antagonist in the original Hunger Games trilogy, as he struggles to protect his family’s lineage after the destruction of the war by teaming up with his mentee, Lucy Grey Baird from District 12, in hopes that her survival will save both of them. However, Snow will soon learn what lengths he will go to to protect his family, country, and, ultimately, himself. It’s a look into Snow’s rise to power as he molds and shapes the Hunger Games into what is seen in the original trilogy.
The movie was released to theaters worldwide on Friday, November 17, 2023, nearly eight years after Mockingjay Part 2 was released, thus ending the franchise. Or so fans thought. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is directed by Francis Lawrence and stars Tom Blyth (Billy the Kid) as Coriolanus Snow, Rachel Zegler (West Side Story) as Lucy Grey Baird, Viola Davis (Women King) as Dr. Ghal, Hunter Schafer (Euphoria) as Tigris Snow, Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) as Casca Highbottom, and Josh Rivera (West Side Story) as Sejanus Plinth. The film was distributed by Lionsgate Films and is based on the prequel titled the same name written by Suzanne Collins, the author of the original books.
An Exciting Plot that Struggles with Pacing
The Hunger Games prequel is a highly entertaining watch that does almost everything well, except for making the one mistake most book-to-movie adaptations struggle with assuming the audience has already read the book or has prior knowledge of the film. It’s why book-to-movie adaptations are such a finicky genre, one that has almost guaranteed success because of its previously established fanbase but may not be as accessible to newcomers who have no prior knowledge of the world of Panem, the Hunger Games, President Snow, or Katniss Everdeen. Dune struggled with the same thing, as anyone who had not read the book had little to no idea what was going on, instead, distracted solely by the spectacle of the cinematography and the elaborate costume designs.
However, while The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has a few details here or there that may not have been as clear if one didn’t read the book or somehow avoided watching all of the iconic Hunger Games movies, there is still something for everyone to enjoy, even if the pacing is a bit fast (another struggle with book-to-movie adaptions. Do you split the book into two movies and risk them being too dull, too slow? Or cram everything into one longer movie and have it be a bit fast?). The movie retains the feel of the original Hunger Games movies, from the set designs, the costumes, the exciting plot points that stay true to the book, the social and economic dynamics surrounding the concept of the Hunger Games, and the humorous moments placed perfectly throughout that gave viewers a rest amongst the emotional turmoil.
One other thing to note is the less-than-satisfying conclusion. The film claims to see the rise of Coriolanus Snow’s rise to power, but the ending could have been a bit meatier. That said, the film stays true to the book’s ending, which was also unsatisfying; however, fans might have been upset if things were tweaked for a different ending, another mistake that many book-to-movie adaptations make. So, while the director’s decision to stay true to the book is noble, one can only wonder if creative intervention was needed.
The Acting Performances that Brought the Film to Life
While the movie’s plot is interesting in and of itself if the acting had been anything below excellent, the movie could have easily been cringy, especially regarding the singing parts. However, the performances brought the movie to life and made it that much more entertaining to watch. Tom Blyth as Snow was a fantastic casting choice. Not only does he look the part, but his performance makes Snow’s descent into evil realistic and relatable. Viola Davis delivered yet another note-worthy performance as the diabolical Dr. Ghal, Peter Dinklage, too, was fantastic in his role as the tortured professor, Hunter Schafer was the perfect Tigris, and Josh Rivera was great as the emotional Sejanus. Everyone played their role splendidly, making the film that much better.
Rachel Zegler’s performance was something to highlight. As mentioned above, the character of Lucy Grey Baird could have easily been cringy, from her singing performances to the absurd dress that she wears for most of the movie. However, Zegler’s acting style was spot on, making Lucy’s character come to life, but where Zegler really shined through was in her singing performances. Not only is her voice beautiful, but the rawness that seeped into every line of her songs felt so real that viewers quickly forgot they were in the theaters and not sitting in the arena with Lucy as snakes coiled around her body.
Creative Cinematography and the Nostalgic Aesthetics
The cinematography and camera work were creative, incorporating engaging angles, shots that helped bring the story to life, and scenes that made the movie cohesive. The movie felt gritty, like the dystopian that it is, with flashes of the eclectic that helped the struggles of Panem feel more real and more relatable. The soundtrack, too, was effective, adding to the film’s overall mood while mixing new songs along with the franchise’s classics like “The Hanging Tree.” The graphics for the movie were seamless as well, making the fantastical elements feel more realistic.
Watch the Rise of President Snow in Action
All in all, the movie was worth a watch. Though the film may have a few snags, including the pacing and the attitude that everyone knows what’s happening already, it’s still worthwhile to see. The acting is compelling; the aesthetics are nostalgic to the original Hunger Games movies, and the plot is exciting.
Don’t miss President Snow’s tumultuous climb to power in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the latest installment, playing in theaters nationally and globally.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023) Official Lionsgate Movies Trailer