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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds  and Snakes

When the original trailer for THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES was released, the palpable excitement that used to revolve around the original series simply wasn’t there. This could be chalked up to a variety of factors, including the fact that Jennifer Lawrence was nowhere to be found, and the undeniable truth that the finale of the original HUNGER GAMES series was lackluster at best. Having read the source material, I was still excited about the prospects, as SONGBIRDS was one of the better novels in the entire franchise.  

THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES tracks a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) as he attempts to climb the ladder of high society. He has excelled in school and seemed to be on pace to win the illustrious Plinth Prize, which would catapult him to stratospheric heights within the Capital. Life, however, doesn’t always work out the way one would hope. Rather than bestowing the award to the top student at the Capital Academy, the top 24 must serve as mentors to competitors in the flailing Hunger Games.  Interest in the Games had been waning, and seeing as this would serve as the 10th annual event, the prevailing thought is that mentors would help interject life into the proceedings. Whomever proved themselves to be the most effective mentor would win the Plinth Prize and find themselves on the fast track to endless riches and glory.  

Snow is assigned the female competitor from District 12. During the Reaping ceremony which was being broadcast live, Snow’s competitor, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) not only planted a snake on one of her rivals, but also sang a song, enchanting all of those who watched. Though the meager District wasn’t known for producing victors, Snow instantly understands that his apprentice has the innate ability to win over an audience. Encouraged by his cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafer), he sets about winning Lucy’s trust in hopes of building a partnership that will benefit them both.

The difficulty facing SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES, both as a novel and a film, is that fact that there is no redemption arc for its main character. The Coriolanus Snow from the original HUNGER GAMES is a maniacal, sociopathic, murdering rapist. He will destroy anything and anyone to stay ahead and will sink to whatever depths are necessary to satisfy his twisted desires. There is no Darth Vader moment to be found here. He’s evil from beginning to end. So, how do you craft a story and create a sympathetic character out of an irredeemable monster? That’s what made Collins’s novel so great. It remained an engaging, interesting story despite knowing its inevitable conclusion. He was evil through and through, and in the novel, this was never in doubt. Fueled by Blyth’s performance, the film finds a way to forge him into a viable leading man, while never hiding who he truly is. 

Given that the Games themselves are essentially a shell of what they would later become, they only take up about a third of the film’s running time. Prior to that is the character introductions and lead-up to the event, and then the final third explores what happens after. This is truly where the downfall of the soul of Coriolanus Snow comes into focus, and we witness his downfall begin. Though never exactly likable, there did seem to be some redeeming qualities about him early on, but in the end, his greed and thirst for power were always going to override everything else.  

The performances by the entire cast are spot-on, with Blyth effectively showing the insecurities and furies of a man destined for deplorability. Zegler’s Lucy has shades of Katniss, and while never quite as magnetic as Ms. Everdeen, conveys a certain chiseled charm and determination. Supporting performances by Peter Dinklage as the Dean of the Academy, Viola Davis as the Head Gamemaker, and the scene-stealing Jason Schwartzman as the host of the games are all welcome additions and bring unique perspectives to characters that would heavily influence how the Hunger Games would appear in the future.

THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES

Now playing in theaters.

RATED: pg-13

RUN TIME: 2h 37min 

GENRE: Action, Adventure, Drama 

STARRING:  Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Viola Davis 

DIRECTORS: Francis Lawrence

WRITERS: Michael Lesslie, Michael Arndt, Suzanne Collins 

GRADE: B+

Jamie Wallace