The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds is an important but flawed prequel
Miscellaneous / / November 20, 2023
It seems that the authors tried to show three films in one, but it turned out to be a mess.
On November 17, the next part of The Hunger Games was released worldwide. Director Francis Lawrence, who directed almost all the previous films, directed the prequel. The plot, based on the book of the same name by Suzanne Collins, tells about the early years of the future president of Panem Coriolanus Snow - in the main series of films he was played by Donald Sutherland, but now the role has been given to the aspiring actor Tom Blyth.
The idea seems good - to show how a kind and honest young man turned into a cruel and calculating politician. And Snow is really good in the film, as is the main character played by Rachel Zegler. But it seems that the authors overestimated their capabilities: they showed too much in one film and got confused in themes and genres. The result is a disjointed story, which is saved only by bright actors and the core of the plot.
The film interestingly reveals the origin story of The Hunger Games.
10 years ago, rebel districts attacked the Capitol, the capital of Panem. The inhabitants were under siege and starved for a long time. But the rebels lost, so as punishment, the country’s leadership organizes every year “The Hunger Games"- a mortal fight of randomly selected people (they are called tributes) from the districts.
The battle is broadcast on television, but every year the ratings fall: viewers are tired of watching inept teenagers fight in an ordinary arena, most of whom die in the first minutes. To somehow raise public interest, The Hunger Games creator Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage) comes up with the idea of mentors - children from high society should mentor and promote their tributes.
Young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) becomes one of the mentors. His father was once killed by rebels, his mother died long ago, so he and his sister are in povertybut they hide it. Participation in The Hunger Games could be an opportunity for Coryo to increase his status and earn money. The young man takes on the daring Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) as his mentee. Coriolanus decides to raise people's interest and sympathy for the girl, personally meets her in the capital and soon becomes sincerely attached. He wants Lucy Gray to survive, but this can only be achieved through deception.
All this is just the beginning of the picture. It is clear that next will be the same competition where Lucy Gray will try to win, and her mentor will show miracles of cunning. Moreover, the authors of the prequel (both book and film) act wisely: they do not try to compete in color and scale with the latest parts of the franchise.
They create a radically different atmosphere. Here “The Hunger Games” is not yet everyone’s favorite grotesque show, although the host, played by Ben Schwartz, tries his best. It's just a dirty fight in which unfortunate people kill each other out of desperation. No interesting landscape, positional struggle or globality. But watching this would be boring not only for Panem viewers, but also for real viewers. Therefore, in “The Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds” there are completely different accents.
Almost nothing is told about the tributes themselves - even the story of Lucy Gray is skipped over in minutes. But they talk about the perception of The Hunger Games by the inhabitants of Panem, and it turns out that even among the elite, opinions differ. One of the children of rich parents, the best Friend Corio is completely opposed to demonstrative killings.
But the most interesting of all is Snow himself - in fact, he is the only character with gray morality. He even honestly tells Lucy Gray that he wants to help not only her, but also himself. On the one hand, the young man becomes attached to his ward, on the other hand, he expresses ideas on how to attract more viewers. That is, it rather helps the development of The Hunger Games. Anyone who watched the previous films remembers who Coriolanus becomes. Therefore, watching the internal struggle is interesting and even creepy.
It would seem that everything is fine, what complaints could there be about such a logical and harmonious story? But there is a nuance.
Everything described above applies only to the first half of the film.
The atmosphere changes too often and unpredictably
There are quite a number of films that dramatically change genre towards the middle, but this only makes them better. "Life is Beautiful", "Psycho", "From dusk to dawn“prove that such a move is acceptable and works great: a comedy can become a drama, a crime thriller can become a horror action movie. But to do it right, you need to be, if not Hitchcock, then at least Roberto Benigni or Quentin Tarantino in a duet with Robert Rodriguez.
Alas, Francis Lawrence did not have enough skill or courage to move away from the literary source. Therefore, “The Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds” seems like just two (if not three) films that for some reason were compressed into two and a half hours of runtime. To draw parallels with other famous franchises, imagine if the Star Wars prequel trilogy were packaged into one film.
Although it turned out even worse here - “Star Wars” does not change the genre. And the first half of the new “Hunger Games” is quite harmonious dystopia. But then it turns into a drama about PTSD and a dark story about moral choice. There is no need to retell the plot, but the life and appearance of Corio and his friend, the location, mood, pace and even the color scheme of the film will change. And here they develop the theme of preparing another uprising rather vaguely. And don't forget about the romantic line.
If this is not enough, imagine that everything that happens is a musical. No, fortunately, the characters do not sing during fights and shootouts. But it seems the director decided to make full use of the talent of Rachel Zegler, whose career started with West Side Story. Steven Spielberg. That's why Lucy Gray sings at every convenient and inconvenient opportunity - even in the arena after her victory.
There is some justification for this: in the world of The Hunger Games, it was this heroine who came up with the very composition about the “Hanging Tree” that Katniss performed in Mockingjay. But in "The Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds" Lucy Gray is only her sings three times, and there are many other funny and sad tracks. Although, to be fair, Zegler’s voice is incredibly beautiful, so it’s just a pleasure to listen to her.
Perhaps if the prequel had been divided into two two-hour films, it would have turned out much better: each part would have been revealed in more detail, and the difference would not be jarring. But now there is one part that in the middle I really want to pause and roll the credits.
Excellent young actors save
Fortunately, you'll only want to find fault with the film after it's finished. After all, even in those moments where the plot fails, the actors almost always pull out the action. Tom Blyth is the authors' main find. His look and confusion are so natural that you instantly believe the character. Throughout the film, the attitude towards the hero changes several times: from sympathy to contempt. This is the tragedy of young Coriolanus Snow - he sincerely wants to do what is best, but he has two exactly opposite goals.
Rachel Zegler has become one of the leading young actresses in recent years: she shone in West Side Story, appeared in DC cinematic universe, and will soon play in “Snow White” (yes, many criticize the film in advance, but as a stage in development it’s cool). She excels at portraying an emotional and very assertive heroine. It's nice that the creators aren't trying to make her a new copy of Katniss Everdeen. Lucy Gray is initially different, both in appearance and behavior.
The only thing I want to scold the authors for here (or even rather the designers and casting directors): you can’t make the main character stand out so much from the rest of the tributes. Everyone around is dirty, shabby and traumatized, and then it turns out white-toothed Lucy Gray in a bright dress. Guess who will win?
The secondary characters could also be good, alas, there is simply not enough time for them. Therefore, they remain more of a function that develops the main characters, and at the same time reminds of the connection with the franchise.
This includes the ever-gloomy Casca, played by Peter Dinklage, and Tigriss, played by Hunter Schafer, and Sejan Plinth, one of Josh Andres Rivera's first major roles. It’s especially a shame for this trio: their characters are very interesting, but they only flicker in the background.
The only annoying one is Viola Davis as Volumnia Gall. And not in the sense that the actress played so well villainess, which is infuriating. On the contrary: she is such a caricatured character that she does not fit into the overall atmosphere.
Of course, throughout the film there are references to past parts of the franchise: Mockingbirds, Katniss - not yet a name, white roses, a bow, a song. Fanservice lovers will have something to look forward to. And in general, as in the case of “Star Wars“, it’s more interesting to watch a prequel if you know that the charming main character will eventually become a villain.
"The Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds" could have been a good part of the series. And even at first it seems so. If only there was a little less chaos in the construction of the picture, so that there would be no feeling of a constantly jumping plot and a desire to show all at once.
More exciting stories🍿🎥🎬
- The 10 Coolest Movie Villains. Lifehacker Readers' Choice
- 30 Best Sci-Fi Movies: From Detonator to Inception
- The 20 Best Sci-Fi Action Movies of All Time
- 100 really cool movies about post-apocalypse
- 50 best action films that you can watch endlessly