It’s been nearly three weeks since The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes released on November 17th, and it is still the number one movie in the world. It has reached $200 million in box office sales, dominating the charts even over Disney’s Wish and Ridley Scott’s Napoleon.
This is the fifth of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games film series, and the fourth directed by Francis Lawrence. Based on the best-selling books by Suzanne Collins, TBOSAS is a prequel, set 64 years before the rise of Katniss Everdeen. It tells the story of a young yet-to-be-villain President Coriolanus Snow, who was originally played by Donald Sutherland, and is now portrayed by lead actor Tom Blyth.
Blyth stars alongside Rachel Zegler, known for her roles in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and the upcoming live action Snow White, who plays Lucy Gray Baird, a singer and performer from District 12. Snow, who must deal with the secret effects of poverty after war strikes his home in the Capitol, is tasked with mentoring Lucy Gray as she is chosen to fight to the death in the Hunger Games.
It also features actors such as Josh Andrés Rivera (West Side Story), Hunter Schafer (Euphoria), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Viola Davis (Fences, The Help), and Jason Schwartzmann (Rushmore).
TBOSAS has received divisive ratings: a 64% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, yet a 89% general audience score. But what do fans of the original series, as well as fans of the 2020 TBOSAS book, really think?
I’m here to tell you.
I was lucky enough to attend an early fan screening of TBOSAS before it was officially released, and have also seen it again since. Suffice to say, I greatly enjoyed it.
You can’t talk about this movie without first raving about Blyth and Zegler’s performances. They both had very large roles to fill, and they did it perfectly. Zegler is filled with charisma and drive, especially during her musical numbers, which she even sang live on set instead of lip syncing to a pre-recorded track. Like Lucy Gray to those around her, Zegler is captivating and steals your heart with every word.
As for Blyth, he especially blew me away. He perfectly balances the young ambition of Snow with the strive for power he will eventually achieve. Even though fans know of the villain he will become, it’s hard to help but root for him with his well curated charm and cunning ways; all the while, still being incredibly unsettling and even scary at times. There is a specific turning point in his character that shows how he becomes the villain we know, and it is bone-chilling.
The movie itself is, somehow, even darker than the original series. Characters like Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), a terrifying mad scientist, and Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), the grim creator of The Hunger Games, shape the world we will come to know. We truly get to see the minds of the heart of the dystopian Capitol, which was a breath of fresh air much needed in the original trilogy, as the Capitol citizens in Katniss’ time can easily be dismissed as simple archetypes. Here, we see their ideologies at work, and backstories as to why they believe them.
The movie is filled with callbacks and easter eggs to the original series. From an unused bow lying in the arena, to picking Katniss roots, to the ever beloved “The Hanging Tree” sung, this time in rendition by Zegler. If you’re a fan of the original, TBOSAS rewards you well.
As a book reader, my first response was to ask while reading, “How in the world are they going to fit all of this into one movie?” And the answer is: they didn’t. Well, they tried. And they certainly did their best to fit all they could in the movie’s 2hr 36min runtime, which is already longer than any of the previous Hunger Games films.
The book, as well as the movie, is separated into three distinct acts: the introduction, the Games themselves, and the final act taking place in District 12. Many fans believe the third act is especially rushed, and could likely be its own movie. However, director Francis Lawrence opted to keep it one movie instead of a two parter like he did for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay films. This meant that a lot from the book was cut, and it almost felt like the movie was a summary at times. There are plenty of amazing scenes, but there is very little room to savor them as it quickly jumps to the next.
There is one character that especially did not get as fleshed out as I had hoped: Snow’s fellow peer and mentor Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera), who grapples with living in the Capitol after moving from his home in District 2, meanwhile being tasked with mentoring a tribute in the games from the very same district: his former classmate, in fact. Sejanus is, in the books, our moral compass, and a tragic one at that. In the movie, Rivera brings him to light with a heartfelt performance, but it doesn’t give enough time to appreciate him for what he brings, and instead feels like a rough cutout of the book version.
Other characters, like Clemensia Dovecote (Ashley Liao), and Lucy Gray’s family and fellow performers, The Covey, have also been drastically cut for time, and they will be sorely missed.
There has even been a petition with over 20,000 signatures asking for an extended cut. However, producer Nina Jacobson has said there currently are no plans to release one, and that she believes there likely won’t be in the future.
Simply put, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a movie that leaves fans appreciative of what they have, and desperately wanting more.
By Caileigh Winslade, Freshman, DePaul University
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