The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
Suzanne Collins’s best-selling Hunger Games trilogy proved quite the smash both on page and screen, with four hugely successful films released between 2012 and 2015. The series helped make Jennifer Lawrence a megastar and earned a legion of fans the world over, enraptured by the world of Panem, Katniss and her allies’ fight against the Capital and the diabolical President Snow. Collins returned to the games with 2020 novel Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, set 64 years before the events of the previous trilogy, focusing on a younger Coriolanus Snow who is studying at the Capital’s prestigious academy.
Inevitably it has resulted in a major film adaptation with Francis Lawrence, director of Catching Fire and both Mockingjay adaptations. Rising star Tom Blyth has the unenviable task of following in Donald Sutherland’s footsteps as Snow, while Rachel Zegler is Lucy Gray Baird, an entrant in the tenth Hunger Games from District 12 and a promising musician. Baird is Snow’s mentee, with much of the film focusing on their relationship and the differences in their background.
Far from being a copy of the earlier films, it is clear from the off that this world is younger and closer to the war that led to the creation of the games and the disconnect between the Capital and districts. This Panem is far less technologically advanced and the games themselves feel more brutal and less extravagant than those Katniss took part in.
There are elements returning from the previous films with Jason Schwartzman in delightful form as Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman, the first television host of the games and an ancestor of Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman. Schwartzman injects some much-needed humour into what can otherwise be quite a morose film.
While there is not an overarching antagonist in the same way as in the original trilogy, the closest to this is Peter Dinklage’s Highbottom, who seemingly has a vendetta against Snow leading him to ally himself with Viola Davis’s Dr Volumnia Gaul, the head game maker. Davis clearly is having a ball hamming it up to the max as the dastardly Gaul, spending much of her time in a laboratory with an assortment of creatures.
Blyth and Zegler share strong chemistry, making their relationship believable. Blyth subtly conveys Snow’s fall from grace, as he begins to unravel, showing a lust for power and to have his family restored to a place of prominence in Panem society. Zegler performs numerous songs throughout the film, showing her talent as a singer, already made clear in West Side Story. If none of our protagonists are as strong as Katniss, the ensemble cast keeps the film on track and the audience invested for most of its two-hour 40 runtime.
That being said, the lengthy runtime does drag in parts, and conversely, some of the plot threads and character development feel rushed, so the story may have benefited from adapting its sizable source material into two films. Some of the more important character moments in the final act feel too abrupt for audiences to fully connect with them.
The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a welcome return to the universe of The Hunger Games, feeling familiar in some ways yet worlds apart in others. If it is not as groundbreaking as its predecessors, fans will surely lap up the opportunity to re-enter the arena with a series of new tributes. It seems likely that this will not be the last we see of this series on the big screen but rather an appetiser for further games to come and for the most part is a strong addition to the juggernaut franchise.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is released nationwide on 17th November 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes here: