Published Dec. 13, 2023
BY DANIELA FOLEY
Following the success of the original “Hunger Games” franchise, based off Suzanne Collins dystopian novel series, prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” shows a stunning inclusion of cinematography, vocals, costuming, acting, but character development of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) falls short.
Written by Michael Lesslie, Michael Arndt and Collins, the prequel toys with the concept of raw humanity and whether humankind is evil in certain conditions. Taking place 64 years before the original series, the movie lends insight into Snow’s past as he reimagines the Hunger Games for its 10th annual occurrence to gain audience interest as he mentors a young woman from District 12: Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler). The Hunger Games is a “game” created to enforce the Capitol’s power after a rebellion, in which two children, ages 12-18, from each one of the 12 districts, are selected to fight to death until a single victor emerges.
Though Snow has low expectations of his mentee, as the female tribute from the poorest district, he soon realizes her ability to gain audience interaction.
The use of Zegler’s gorgeous vocals are effective and show Lucy Gray as a ‘songbird’ amid the ‘snakes.’ In the arena, Lucy Grey uses her voice as a weapon, showing her perseverance, which eventually aids her success in the Hunger Games by evoking emotion among citizens of the Capitol and District 1-12 and allows her to gain sponsors.
Ultimately, the most influential aspect of the movie is the acting. Certain scenes, such as when each tribute falls to their death in the arena, display vulnerable, authentic emotions. One scene in particular, where a tribute, Reaper (Dimitri Abold), gathers dead bodies in the arena and covers them with a Capitol flag, shows his empathy and defiance of the Capitol and is perfectly embodied by Abold. Though Blyth hits the target with his portrayal of Snow throughout the beginning of the movie, his character switch at the end appears rushed, perhaps because the book uses internal monologue to aid his transformation, difficult in a film adaptation.
When the audience initially sees Lucy Gray, the tribute for District 12, she is dressed in a memorable rainbow dress, contrasting others in her district. In doing so, costume designer Trish Summerville effectively demonstrates Lucy Gray’s creative side and separates her from the other tributes.
Finally, the cinematic aspects of the movie are captivating by demonstrating the differences between the dictatorial landscape of the dust-covered poorer districts, the Capitol and the arena. Captured in Germany and Poland, the filming shows the dystopian aspects of Panem, encapsulated by cinematographer Jo Willems. The Capitol shows creative technology resembling a Brutalist style of architecture in process of implying power, but the set of District 12 depicts the repression and poverty of an area lacking infrastructure.
“The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is an excellent prequel through its vocals, cinematography, costuming and acting.