Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Premise: A prequel set sixty-four years before the events of the original movie. Eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) is an up-and-coming student in the capital of Panem. He is assigned to mentor a competitor (Rachel Zegler) in the tenth annual Hunger Games.
What Works: Fans of The Hunger Games who are looking for more of what they loved about the original series of stories will be pleased by The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The prequel returns to Panem and the story runs through a lot of the distinguishing elements from the earlier films such as the reaping, the backstage drama, and the gladiatorial fighting. The violence of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes hits especially hard in places. Very young and otherwise virtuous children are drafted into the games and the filmmakers are unsparing about their fate within the boundaries of a PG-13 movie, making The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes heartbreaking in a way that the other films were not. The prequel also revisits the link between spectacle and politics. That idea is worked into the drama and it comes across organically but poignantly. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes also works in a few references to the other films but not in an obnoxious way. The story plays in three parts and the last segment of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a bit different from what we’ve seen in other Hunger Games tales. The film has several strong performances, namely Tom Blyth as future Panem president Coriolanus Snow and Rachel Zegler as competitor Lucy Gray Baird. Blyth is convincing as the younger version of the man we know from the other films (played by Donald Sutherland) and Zegler has a feral but smart quality that makes her dangerous even as she avoids violence.
What Doesn’t: Prequels have a duty to change or at least deepen the world, the characters, and the drama of the existing stories. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes doesn’t do that. Thisis mostly a standard Hunger Games adventure. In revisiting what fans enjoyed about the earlier films, the prequel often feels like a greatest hits reel. It adds very little that is new to our understanding of the games and this world. The characters are one dimensional. Snow becomes an early version of the politician from the preexisting stories but that transformation is not very interesting. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has some problems with its sound, namely the ADR (automated dialogue replacement or dubbing) which occasionally does not match the tone of the scene or the mouth movements of the actors.
Bottom Line: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a satisfying addition to the series. It mostly revisits the familiar elements of the earlier films and doesn’t add much that’s new but it does those elements well.
Episode: #975 (December 3, 2023)