Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes has several noticeable flaws. But it is still a laudable attempt at adapting Suzanne Collins’ complicated prequel for the big screen.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Synopsis
The civil war between the Capitol and the Districts devastated young Coriolanus “Coryo” Snow’s family—his father was killed and his family fortunes were wiped out. Years later, a grown-up Coryo sees a way out of poverty in the form of the Plinth scholarship prize, but his hopes are dashed when the judging criteria of the prize are unceremoniously changed. To have a shot at the scholarship, Coryo must now successfully mentor a tribute for the 10th Hunger Games.
Finally carved out the time to watch this prequel adaptation on Monday evening. I’ve looked forward to it for months.
Looked forward to because I read the book in August and to my surprise, deeply enjoyed it. I say “surprise” because I was so sure beforehand that I would loathe it; I see most prequels as outright attempts to milk popular franchises bone dry. But through the magic of masterful writing and plotting, Suzanne Collins succeeded in weaving a story that kept me spellbound. What’s more impressive is that I didn’t even find the abundant fan service at every corner intrusive. Normally, the mere appearance of one would have me rolling my eyes.
Were I to write a review for the book, you bet I would rate it a five-star. Correspondingly, I was hugely curious to know whether Francis Lawrence’s film adaptation would do the book justice.
In a nutshell, not entirely, but I feel this is a case of genre limitations and Lawrence’s team already doing their best. (Lots of YouTube comments predicted the former, by the way). To elaborate, Collins’ dispassionate prose was often punctuated with the heated internal thoughts and debates of a young Coriolanus Snow, and these are engrossing to read not just because they demonstrate how Snow is capable of great good or evil, but also because they show that the man will always be Machiavellian whichever way he swings. By opting not to resort to cheesy voiceovers and the like, a correct decision for doing so would have compromised the movie’s grittiness, the Snow character on screen is significantly simplified. A harsher phrase to use would be vastly reduced.
To be clear, this simplified persona is still fascinating to watch. Tom Blyth’s superb portrayal adds a dangerous charisma too, one that is often irresistible. But for someone who perhaps made the mistake of reading the book beforehand, there was undeniably a mild disappointment. I remind myself that there is perhaps no other way about it but I can’t help but feel a certain regret.
Moving on to the other characters and cast, there are gems everywhere. As I highlighted in my visual summary, Viola Davis is clearly having great fun here and plays every wickedness of the diabolical Dr. Gaul to sweet perfection. Peter Dinklage, brief as his scenes are, dishes out all that is expected of him with almost effortless aplomb.
Songbird Rachel Zegler sings, charms, and at the right moments, seduces with a peculiar blend of fragility and strength. I can easily see how this crafty songbird can befuddle even the calculative Snow.
The overall story, as expected, moves with a breakneck speed and in doing so, condenses many events of the book. For viewers who have not read the book, I doubt these condensations would be noticeable but, well, they glaring to me. One area that I felt the movie could have spent more time on was the relationships between the other mentors and their tributes. Some of the most heartwrenching moments of the story involve these other pairings.
But all in all, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is still a laudable attempt at adapting a long book for the big screen. Not exactly the best in the franchise, as some publications are calling it, but certainly one that succeeded in keeping me glued to the screen.
I was seated upright throughout the Hunger Games arc, despite already knowing how everything would end. To me, that is an accomplishment.
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