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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Reel Critic: “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes”

<p>&quot;The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes&quot; was released Nov. 17 in theatres.</p>

"The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" was released Nov. 17 in theatres.

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is the latest installment in one of the twenty-first century’s most beloved franchises. Based on the bestselling book by Suzanne Collins, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” takes viewers back in time to the barbaric tenth annual Hunger Games, where a young Coriolanus “Coryo” Snow (Tom Blythe) is rising to power in the dystopian country of Panem. 

Sixty-four years before we meet Katniss Everdeen, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) is reaped for the Hunger Games from the poor, coal-mining District 12. The games are in their early development stage, with students in Panem’s wealthy capital serving as mentors for the first time. Snow and Lucy are paired together under the watchful eye of head game maker Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) and Dean of the Academy Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage). Tensions rise as Snow’s “frenemy” Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera), who lived in Panem’s poorer districts until his wealthy father bought their way into The Capitol, tries to sabotage the games. Jason Schwartzman also stars as Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman, the comedic weatherman-turned-host of the Games, and Hunter Schafer serves as Snow’s wise older cousin. 

Zegler is stellar, and the casting is strong across the board. This feels like a big break for Blythe, who is both charming and disarming, successfully portraying the character development of well-known movie villain President Snow. Schwartzman’s zingers provide unexpectedly fun moments of comic relief to the film, while Davis is chillingly evil.

Clocking in at a solid 2 hours and 38 minutes, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds of Snakes” is far from a tight 90-minute movie. Despite its length, however, the movie’s plot clips along quickly. The film is separated into three chapters, providing the lead-up, intense climax, and  devastating fallout of the Hunger Games. No scene is wasted, and every interaction serves a purpose in the plot development of the movie. Even if the story does feel a little overstuffed at moments, the limited standstill time from scene to scene keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.   

Fans of the book will notice some key differences since the plot is tightened and sped up. The details about some of the other mentors and tributes as well as Snow’s inner thoughts have been lost in the adaptation from page to screen. Snow’s rise to evil is less visible and calculated in the film than the book, which might throw off unsuspecting viewers off. While Snow’s character development was nuanced and realistic for the first 2 hours and 15 minutes, the full extent of his evil motives is revealed in the rushed final 20 minutes of the movie. 

As the title suggests, there are several ballads in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” Zegler, of “West Side Story” fame, shows off her impressive vocals throughout with stunners like “The Hanging Tree” and “Nothing You Can Take From Me.” Her style is a delightful mix of folk and country, complete with a fun, twangy accent. Mixed in with intense action scenes and tender moments, however, some of Zegler’s songs felt a little out of place with everything else the film was trying to do.   

Also, be sure to stay until the end to hear Olivia Rodrigo’s stunning, haunting ballad, “Can’t Catch Me Now” as the credits roll. 

Fans of “The Hunger Games” franchise will undoubtedly enjoy getting a morbid look inside the brutal early world of the games and Panem. It’s interesting to see how some traditions in later Hunger Games —–- the interviewing and parading of candidates, the fantastical arena, gifts, and mentors — are developed. For first-time viewers of the franchise, too, the film draws the audience into the character of President Snow and the development of the games, leaving them wanting to see more of the world of Panem. 

Spoiler alert paragraph! We can’t discuss “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” without addressing the crazy ending. Lucy and Snow’s relationship disintegrates fast, leaving us wanting to know more about the cracks in their early relationship and a deeper exploration of their dynamic in general. Snow shows how cold and cunning he is in the final scene, but it sneaks up on us rather abruptly. Tigress is also an underutilized character; she hauntingly points out Snow’s similarities with his father, who was also a power-hungry and brutal figure. We think Lucy Gray lives on in the woods, but her fate after Snow fires his gun into the forest is strikingly ambiguous. 

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is an ambitious film that largely works. The mix of action, music and romance in a familiar yet frightening dystopian setting makes it a nail-biter from start to finish. 

Maggie TLDR: Going in blindly, the film was easy to follow and captivating. But I was blindsided by how quickly Snow turned evil and think that could’ve been developed better. 

Charlie TLDR: I read the book and think this would’ve been a better, more fleshed-out mini-series, but I loved it nonetheless. You should watch it. Snow lands on top. 

Charlie Keohane

Charlie Keohane ’24 (she/her) is an Editor at Large. She previously served as the SGA Correspondent and a Senior Writer.   

She is an environmental writing major and a psychology minor from Northern California. Outside of academics, Charlie is a Senior Admissions Fellow at the Middlebury Admissions Office. She also is involved with the women’s track team and hosts Witching Hour, a radio show on 91.1 WRMC. In Spring 2023, she studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, watching Greta Gerwig movies, polar plunging, sending snail mail, and FaceTiming her rescue dog, Poppy. 

Maggie Reynolds

Maggie Reynolds '24 (she/her) is the Editor in Chief.  

Maggie previously served as the Senior Local Editor, a Local Section Editor, and a Staff Writer. She spent this past J-term interning for VTDigger, covering topics from affordable housing in Addison County to town government scandals. She also interned for Seven Days VT as an arts & culture reporter summer 2022 and as a news reporter for the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY summer 2021.   

Maggie is majoring in History and minoring in Political Science and Spanish. She was a three-year member of the Women's Swimming and Diving team. Maggie enjoys running, hiking, and iced maple lattes.