64 years before audiences meet Katniss Everdeen, the Mockingjay that frees Panem, the very first District 12 victor is reaped for the 10th annual Hunger Games: Lucy Gray Baird. While Katniss ignites the revolution that takes future President Coriolanus Snow by storm, it is the brief yet impactful relationship between teenagers Lucy Gray and Coriolanus that truly sets him on the power-hungry path for dictatorship.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the fifth installment in the Hunger Games universe, serving as a prequel to the four original films. It is based upon the novel of the same name by author Suzanne Collins. Francis Lawrence returns to the director’s chair for the fourth time within the series, while Michael Arndt returns to write the screenplay for the first time in the franchise since The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, alongside co-writer Michael Lesslie.
The film’s star-studded cast includes Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Josh Andrés Rivera, Viola Davis, Jason Schwartzman, Hunter Schafer and Peter Dinklage. Filming took place between July to November 2022 in locations throughout Poland and Germany. One of the most notable filming sets is the Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, Poland, where the cast and crew shot the arena scenes for the 10th Hunger Games.
One factor that is more important for this film than the rest of the franchise is the score and presence of performances throughout the film. Renowned composer, musician and producer, James Newton Howard, returned for this fifth run of the series. Howard did an incredible job of captivating the audience with beautifully unique ballads and speaking to the exact feelings and emotions of the characters at just the right moments. Zegler also did an outstanding job of bringing Lucy Gray to life through song and representing who she is outside of the arena.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows the story of young Coriolanus Snow (Blyth), who lives a hidden poverty-stricken life with his grandmother and cousin, Tigris Snow (Schafer), about a decade after the end of the horrific rebellion. As he approaches graduation from the Academy and has done everything within his power to win the Plinth Prize, a scholarship that will allow him to continue on to university, Corionlanus is thrown a curve ball; the final test for the scholarship is to see which of the top 24 students will best serve as a mentor to their tribute during the 10th annual Hunger Games. Coriolanus is initially disappointed when he is paired with District 12’s female tribute, Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler), but it does not take long for the two to form a connection before Lucy Gray is thrown into the arena. Will Coriolanus be able to save Lucy Gray and win the prize money, or will his newfound interest in a certain songbird turn the Capitol-born boy into a snake?
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was first shown during its European premiere in Berlin, Germany on November 5, with its world premiere taking place on November 9 in London at the BFI IMAX theatre. The film was officially released in theatres on November 17, and as of November 28, has made $103.2 million in domestic sales and $98.9 million in international sales. The film stayed on top of the box office charts for its first two weekends in theatres, surpassing the past two weeks of releases including Next Goal Wins, Thanksgiving, Trolls Band Together, Napoleon and Wish. While critics have given the movie a 64 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, fans have clearly been more receptive to the film, giving it a score of 89 percent.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is one of the very limited number of prequels that has lived up to the original films within its franchise. Especially since this film was released eight years after the previous film in the series and includes an entirely new cast, it is not easy to fully regain the attention and trust of its audience; original fans have grown up, and new audiences may be unfamiliar with the ties to the first four films. Aside from this, The Hunger Games is based on the novels by Collins and more often than not, readers have a difficult time connecting to films after reading the work they were based on because books tell a story in more depth than a movie is capable of doing. This can be another factor to consider when releasing these films, however many fans state that this prequel stays true to Collins’ book in a number of ways, even though it misses out on a few fan favourite moments and details.
One of the best things about this prequel is the seemingly endless nods to The Hunger Games films, their beloved characters and the tiny details that only longtime fans would recognize. For starters, Lucy Gray is seen bowing before her District after being reaped for the games, a pose that is all too similar to Katniss’ bow at the end of her skills showcase with the Gamemakers in The Hunger Games (2012). Audiences also hear Lucy Gray singing “The Hanging Tree,” a song she wrote after an innocent District 12 civilian was publicly hanged. In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014), Katniss can be heard singing this same song, 65 years later. The introduction of familiar characters, including Tigris, who is shown to be an ally to Katniss in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015), is a more in-depth exploration of her character and how her relationship with her cousin progressed over the years. Without giving away too much outside of the presence of familiar birds and scores, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes does justice when circling back to the films fans first fell in love with.
The cast has undeniable chemistry with one another and their ability to create perfect, tragically beautiful relationships between their characters shines through during this film. Blyth and Zegler have a wonderful connection on and off the screen, which makes the pair’s complicated correlation one that audiences can trust and fully believe in. Another interesting dynamic that would have been lovely to see unfold in greater detail is that of Coriolanus and Tigris. The limited amount of screen time that they did have together speaks volumes in regards to the reasoning for the type of relationship they had at the beginning of the film versus how the duo interacts during the final few scenes.
While relationships are important, there were multiple characters who stood out all on their own. Lucky Flickerman, the host of the 10th Hunger Games, has many one-liners that cause whole audiences to break out into laughter. Whether his jokes are directed at the tributes, the obstacles that the Gamemakers are implementing or the Academy students themselves, Lucky certainly knows how to grab viewers’ attention. Even though this film possesses a serious tone, his humorous, often dark jokes, are implemented at just the right moments.
The costumes are Capitol-approved and fit the over-the-top expectations of individuals of all ages. Red is certainly a prominent colour throughout the film and is seen on various characters, including the Academy student’s uniform, Lucky’s suit and Dr. Volumnia Gaul’s dress and gloves. The costumes fit the nature of each character and adjust to fit the personality changes that each one undergoes as the film progresses.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a near-perfectly crafted film, stuffed with just the proper amount of action and storylines. This film narrates Coriolanus’ backstory through a mixture of emotions and scenes that leave audiences feeling sympathy, anger and confusion with the future President and tyrant of Panem. If you’re looking to reignite your obsession with The Hunger Games or would love to learn more about how President Snow became the evil leader fans know him to be, this film is perfect for you.
You can catch The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes at your local Cineplex theatre today.