The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes movie poster

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

In theaters November 17, 2023


158 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , ,

In 2008, author Suzanne Collins set the literary world on fire with the publishing of the dystopian novel The Hunger Games. The first in an initial trilogy of books, Collins introduced the world to Katniss Everdeen, a spunky 16-year-old who volunteers for The Hunger Games, and gains the love and respect of the districts after coming out on top. Those three books went on to sell over 100 million copies and spawned four movie adaptations that ignited the career of Jennifer Lawrence and grossed nearly $3 billion at the global box office. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 10 years after the publishing of Mockingjay, Collins released The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, a prequel to the original trilogy. Three years later, Collins traded her role as author for producer of the new film of the same title.

Adapted from the book, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes takes place 64 years before the introduction of Katniss. The Hunger Games have now been in existence for 10 years, but have failed to keep the attention of those in the Capitol and the 12 districts. With The Hunger Games used a tactic to keep the districts in line after the rebellion 10 years earlier, the Capitol tries out new tricks to make the games more entertaining and have viewers invested in the 24 tributes forced to compete with death being a certainty for all but the victor. In the words of Dean Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), the creator of The Hunger Games, the goal of the upcoming reaping is to “turn the children into spectacles, not survivors.”

Unlike the trilogy which focuses closely on Katniss and those around her, the prequel shifts its attention to a teenage Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), the man who would later go on to lead Panem as an evil and dictatorial President. Whereas a grown-up Snow is wealthy and powerful, the younger version is a boy who has grown up in poverty under the guardianship of his grandmother after both his parent passed. Near the top of his senior class, Snow has leveraged his charm to make it appear as though he comes from wealth so that he may fit in amongst the snooty and elite. But just minutes away from Snow potentially receiving the exclusive Plinth Prize which is awarded to the student with the best grades and affording him the ability to attend university, the Dean changes the rules leaving Snow with the reality that everything he worked so hard for may have all been for naught. Now mentoring a girl named Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler) from District 12, the worst of the districts (also where Katniss would hail from decades later), Snow is forced to find a way to keep Gray alive if he wants to claw his way out of destitution.

Lucy, like Katniss, has something special about her. From her introduction wearing a colorful dress that stands out among the drab colors within her district and her competitors to a voice better than any angel, she exudes confidence with equal parts sass, rebelliousness, and trouble. It’s those traits along with Snow’s help that will hopefully allow both to triumph and come out with great wealth.

A trained musician who made her acting debut in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, Rachel Zegler is well-cast as Lucy Gray. Her spunk, her voice, and her vulnerability play well off Blyth who captures Snow’s vulnerabilities and eventually succumbs to the dark side. But it’s the supporting cast that shines brightest. Jason Schwartzman, who jumps off the screen in nearly every movie he is in, shines as Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman, the host of The Hunger Games. Schwartzman owns all of the best lines and serves as the humor in an otherwise dark film. Conversely, Viola Davis’ role as Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the head game maker, is devilishly delicious as she attempts to revive games that are on life support.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is divided into three parts, each following an important part of Snow’s life. Unfortunately, it’s the last part that brings the film down. With the first two parts showcasing the chemistry between Snow and Gray, the last part feels far longer than the actual length of the film. Most likely because it takes place after the enthralling Hunger Games, but also because Snow’s descent into evil doesn’t occur overnight and director Francis Lawrence attempts to play it for every cent. The movie adaptation will likely thrill fans of the books, but as a film, it leaves the viewer seeking a bigger payoff than what they receive during the final third of the nearly 2.5-hour movie.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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