An Ode to its Origins

A Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Review

Written by Eleanor Partington

Eight years after the original series came to a close, we once again enter the cinema into the dystopian world of Panem, but this time, into the dark, war-torn, near wasteland of the Capitol in its ‘dark days’. The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is an excellent addition to the franchise. However, it is a controversial one due to its choice of lead characters and its 65-year disconnect from the original characters, but it may be comforting that throughout the movie you will find many nods to our most beloved characters. While the film was very nearly a masterpiece in my eyes, here are a couple of critiques from me, a book reader.

Firstly, I would like to preface these comments by mentioning that as an avid movie watcher, this film was everything I could have asked for: the acting was brilliant and the set design and world-building were grand monuments reinforcing the incomparability of physical sets to CGI backdrops, and the inspiration their interactivity gives to the actors. However, as someone who is also a fan of the books I have a couple of gripes, such as the fact that the lack of blood during the violence of the games undercuts the shock and horror of these games that the films try to prove. It becomes rather comical instead of sad to see the characters stare, horrified, at their immaculate hands after a brutal attack. Secondly, in my opinion, the pacing of the first and last part was too quick, cutting out important plot points and character building from the book and minimalizing the deaths by not stringing them out enough. They didn’t draw out the deaths, which limits the impact they had in the books, in an attempt to adhere to its 12A rating; which honestly, could have worked much better as a 15 age rating, if not for the realism of the fight scenes but also to make a show of the brutality of the games to drive the message home and make Snow’s future work in furthering that brutality that much more shocking. 

The inner workings of Coriolanus’ brain play a huge part in explaining his selfish personality and self-serving motivations in the book, which, unfortunately, was not translated completely into the movie. I did expect this going into the film due to the difficulty of portraying this from a third-person point of view that is typical of films, but the exceptional performances from the entire cast make this a lesser issue. Jason Schwartzman’s remarkable performance as the first-ever host of the Hunger Games, precursor to the original film Ceasar Flickerman, brings a much warranted comedic effect to the tragedy of the story while perfectly encapsulating the worrying disconnect of the Capitol, even in the olden days. Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth’s portrayals of Lucy-Gray Baird and Coriolanus Snow, respectively, are incredible and they manage to capture the smallest intricacies between their characters even within the rushed timeline that allotted less developmental time together. Even I, as a hater of the newly emerging 3-hour film format, can easily say this film could have benefitted from being longer.

Now, onto what was well-received, the music! Some of the best on-screen singing from Rachel Zegler (who sang live in her scenes) I have ever seen, and I need to give a huge shoutout to executive music director, Dave Cobb, for the exceptional translation from words on paper into beautifully fitting sound. Quoting British and Appalachian folk music as inspirations, Cobb and Zegler capture the heart of the music style in the book as Zegler breathes soul into this movie through her voice. I could write an entire essay on how much I love the sound design in this movie, but I’ll keep this spoiler-free for now. Costuming by designer Trish Summerville was also stunning, bringing history into the character’s looks while also creating the reality of Suzanne Collins’s descriptions in the book. It couldn’t have been an easy task, but Summerville managed it expertly; the academy uniforms were among my personal favourites, and the thought process and hidden details in Dr Gaul’s lab outfit were incredible.

Despite directly following the SAG-Aftra strike and coming from a book that wasn’t widely accepted even by fans, Hunger Games: a Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes achieved a 91% audience rating from Rotten Tomatoes higher even than fan-favourite Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) which is an insane achievement. I’m hoping to see its name at least mentioned in the upcoming awards season— the amazingly warm and interactive actors as well as the insanely talented crew thoroughly deserve some recognition. To summarise my review, as a fan of the book, there were definite areas for improvement, but as a fan of movies, it was excellent, and I have already booked a second viewing.

Written by Eleanor Partington, Edited by Paige Tamasi, Photography by Ruairidh Colquhoun, Published by Paige Tamasi.