The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel giving fans a glimpse into the life of President Snow before he becomes the villain we know today. It’s not a story about the rise of a villain, instead it’s a chapter in his life. A resume builder if you will. We see Coriolanus at the top of his class, be one of the first mentors at the Hunger Games, as well as join the military. If that’s not a president’s resume I don’t know what is.
Throughout the story, we learn that Coriolanus Snow comes from an affluent family. However, after the war, the Snows are definitely not on top. Coriolanus and his family can barely afford food, and his cousin, Tigris, is doing everything she can to keep him looking sharp and something in their bellies.
However, on the day that the scholarship for higher learning is supposed to be announced Coreolanus world comes crashing down. There will be no scholarship. However, there will be a new Hunger Games student mentorship program. Whoever’s tribute is the winner or fan favorite will win the prize. So now Coriolanus must work magic with District 12’s Lucy Gray Baird to win the money and change his future.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of the book there was a lot I enjoyed and feel the film translates well.
That said, I truly believe this is the BEST adaptation and film we have of The Hunger Games series to date.
THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES HAS STELLAR CASTING
When you see an all-star cast like this it’s easy to assume it’s only to put butts in the seats. While that may be a little true the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes cast is absolutely phenomenal.
Viola Davis’s (The Woman King) portrayal of Dr. Gaul is haunting, with a dash of Mad Scientist meets Adolph Hitler. Watching her fully embody this character was a masterclass in character work. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) isn’t what I imagined when reading the book. That said he’s significantly better. His interpretation of Casca Highbottom is heartbreaking and intricate.
Hunter Shafer (Euphoria) brings the kindness that we need from Tigris. I have the same complete for the film as I do for the book. I need more of her! Don’t drop the bomb that she’s Coreolanus’s cousin and not tell me why they have a falling out. Jason Schwartzman (Quiz Lady) is fantastic as Lucky Flickerman, the first host of the Hunger Games. He brings much light to the darkness that is throughout the film. His comedic timing is impeccable and always welcome.
Rachel Zegler (West Side Story) does a lovely job as our Songbird, Lucy Gray Baird. I wasn’t expecting the character to be southern, but somehow it all works. I would skip all the singing in the books, but I really enjoyed her performance in all the songs. However, I wish they had allowed Lucy to be the strong character she is in the books. I think Rachel could have easily pulled off the fake damsel in distress, but instead, the writers decided to push a love story that doesn’t really exist. More on that in a bit.
Tom Blyth’s performance as Coriolanus Snow is spectacular. While Snow is not a sympathetic character, Blyth does an incredible job of teetering the line between sociopath and narcissist. He easily brought the inner workings of the character to the forefront. It would’ve been easy for him to just play a villain, but Blyth gives Snow the intricate nuance he desperately needs.
However, my biggest standout in the film is Josh Andrés Rivera as Sejanus Plinth. This was my least favorite character in the book. However, Rivera made me love and care for him with his raw and incredibly vulnerable performance. I could see how much it pained him to be helpless in a world where he had power. Rivera managed to turn a whiny character into someone I was rooting for.
BUILDING THE WORLD OF THE 10TH HUNGER GAMES
When reading, I enjoyed how starkly different the Hunger Games are and the way the tributes are treated. They are not glamorous given the 5-star treatment. Instead, they’re treated like cattle headed to the slaughter. Throughout the story, we learn about the students who come up with the ideas that make the Hunger Games what we know them to be today.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes film did a fantastic job of not just saying but showing how different things used to be. Everything from the color pallets to the almost war film-like shots during the Games themselves. The cinematographer manages to capture the essence of the world we know and love but gives it a retro twist.
In order to really set up Coriolanus’s world there is an added scene to the top of the film that’s not in the books. I appreciate that dark visual in order to really show how horrible the war truly was for everyone. In my opinion, this wasn’t to garner sympathy for the capitol it’s just to set the tone and show how Tigris has always taken care of him. That way when she is giving him advice or warning him he’s turning into his father it has weight.
CHANGES TO MAKE CORIOLANUS SEEM SMARTER
There are a couple of moments in the film that are changes from the book that I don’t love. Coriolanus Snow is a clever man, but not necessarily the smartest. However, the film would have you think he’s both. Instead of stealing people’s ideas, they’re already his. Instead of giving Lucy a choice with Rat Poison, it’s already done for her. The handkerchief is also incredibly obvious in the film, whereas in the book it’s more of a happy happenstance.
I also truly believe that this is not a love story. However, the movie wants to make it one. The characters are Songbirds, who are enchanting, and Snakes who lure you in. When reading the book Lucy is obviously using Coriolanus to stay alive. She emotionally manipulates him in order to get the help he needs. That doesn’t mean Coriolanus isn’t doing the same back to her, it’s just not one-sided. All of those moments from Lucy are cut from the film. I do not appreciate when adaptations feel the need to lessen the female characters to lift up the men around them. The original The Hunger Games film franchise was guilty of this as well. Stop it.
All that said, I still found The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes to be absolutely fantastic. This film is epic storytelling at its finest with an impeccable cast. Go see it! You will not be disappointed.