Design inspired by the motifs/important symbols in the film.
Design inspired by the motifs/important symbols in the film.
Isabella Edghill

REVIEW: Dystopian has returned with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

BACKGROUND & SPOILER WARNING 

Over 10 years after the original release of the blockbuster film, “The Hunger Games”, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, marking a beginning for the dystopian era of filmmaking, the series has continued. The prequel film “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” has entered the box office. Here’s some background information.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is a Young Adult dystopian novel, published in 2020, and written by Suzanne Collins. This prequel takes place 64 years before the original Hunger Games Trilogy, which was published between 2008-2010. The Hunger Games follows protagonist Katniss Everdeen living in a post-apocalyptic North American country known as Panem. Panem is split into a wealthy Capitol and 12 districts varying in poverty. Every year, two childrenone boy and one girlfrom each of the 12 districts are selected in a lottery to compete in what is known as “The Hunger Games”. 

The “Games” were created as a punishment for the previous rebellion against the Capitol (the “Dark Days”) in which District 13 was destroyed. Each boy and girl known as “tributes” fight to the death in an arena that is televised for the country to watch. The Victor and their district are rewarded with food, supplies and riches. The “Games” are a form of entertainment for the Capitol and are to remind the districts of the lack of power compared to the Capitol and as a reminder of the failed rebellion. 

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” follows a new protagonist who happens to be the antagonist of the original trilogy; Coriolanus Snow, the future president of Panem. The story follows 18-year-old Snow and his family and their struggles with poverty in post-war Panem. The Snow family was wealthy and well respected before the rebellion, but after their patriarch, General Crassus Snow, is killed in action, the family begins to struggle.

Snow is chosen to become one of the first-ever mentors  for a tribute in the 10th annual Hunger Games as his final project for the Academy, the Capitols’ most prestigious secondary school. Snow is assigned the district twelve female tribute: Lucy Gray Baird. The movie follows Snow’s experience as a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games and its aftermath.

REVIEW

Dystopian has returned. “The Ballad of Songbirds of Snakes”, directed by the one and only Francis Lawrence, exceeded expectations with the blockbuster. 

James Newton Howard created an immersive score that encapsulates the world of Panem perfectly, with the reuse of many musical compositions from the first four films, the score remained stand-alone with fresh pieces of music. The “Katniss” theme by James Newton Howard from original films is reused multiple times within the film. 

Rachel Zegler’s haunting rendition of “The Hanging Tree” is hauntingly beautiful with her low range. The soundtrack addition of “Can’t Catch Me Now” by Olivia Rodrigo, which was perfect considering her rise to stardom much like the first movie soundtrack featuring two original songs by Taylor Swift; “Safe and Sound” and “Eyes Open,” occurring during her original rise to fame in 2012. 

It is difficult to challenge the casting decisions made by Debra Zane and Dylan Jury. Tom Bylth and Rachel Zegler’s chemistry was incredibly raw, and it accurately represented the book relationship between Snow and Lucy Gray. Zegler’s deep, soulful accent contributes to her protagonist’s southern charm. Blyth’s performance carried Snow through his descent into madness and villainy as if he jumped right off a page in the book. 

Other actors that performed stood out include Hunter Schafter as Tigris Snow, Viola Davis as Dr. Gaul and Josh Andrés Rivera as Sejanus Plinth. 

While the first original trilogy movie cinematography was enjoyable, Francis Lawrence’s cinematography and vision for world-building within Panem sets him apart from many dystopian directors. Since the last original Hunger Games film in 2015, Lawrences’ growth is clear; from the set designs and cinematic shots capturing the audience attentiveness for the duration of the film, while encompassing the sophistication and extravagance of the world of Panem. Under Lawrence’s creative direction, the movie’s positive reception from critics comes as no surprise. 

“As before, director Francis Lawrence remains faithful to Suzanne Collins’ novel, with high-quality filmmaking and solid performances,” Rich Cline, a Rotten Tomatoes critic, said.

Like most book based films, expectations of creative changes are noticed but there would be surprise to not see as many as the first 4 films included. Whilst most helped the flow of the movie, unfortunately, the exclusion of many relationships and characters to be left out, was discouraging. 

The character Clemensia Dovecote, one of Snow’s fellow mentors, was overlooked in the movie compared to the book. In the film, Dovecote is regularly present until a harrowing encounter with the Gamemaker, Dr. Gaul leaves her fate vague.The book, however, tells us she is transported to the Capitol Hospital and later returns traumatized and terrified with neurological damage. If the movie shared her literary fate, the addition of the event would foreshadow continuous negative development of Snow’s character, which affects the games and People of Panem, including Snow’s Cousin, Tigris.

Maude Ivory was another prominent character within the book and not in the movie. Maude was a member of the Covey, a young girl very close to Lucy Gray. She took a liking to Snow in the book, and his caring relationship with her showed a depth of character missing in the movie. 

The plot revolving around Sejanus Plinth’s character deserved more time. While the movie did a great job of representing Snow and Sejanus’ relationship, the dependency Snow had on the Plinth family as well as his effect on them went much overlooked. One of the “creative” changes that affected the transition of Snow’s character is how Sejanus joined Snow on the train to District 12. In the book, Snow was alone in District 12 for weeks before Sejanus showed up. In these weeks Snow contemplated suicide due to the distance he feels towards his family and no support. When Sejanus then showed up he had Snow’s diploma that his father had forced Dean Highbottom to grant, which later allowed for Snow to complete the officers’ test, as only graduates could take it. The film has Sejanus show up with his own diploma and not Snow’s. After Sejanus unfortunately was hanged, Snow returned to the Capitol and received the Plinth inheritance from Sejanus’s family, who believes that Snow was a good friend to their son.. 

MAJOR PLOT CHANGES

The final battle of the tenth annual Hunger Games was between Lucy Gray and Reaper. Unlike the film, where the snakes killed everyone but Lucy Gray, in the book Dr. Gaul did not intend for all of the competitors to die. Therefore, in the book, Lucy Gray does not win by default, she must battle Reaper to the death. Like the film, Reaper makes a makeshift cemetery for the bodies of the tributes, however, excluded from the book, and Lucy begins to move the bodies around knowing that Reaper will obsessively start to put them back, tiring him. Eventually, Reaper gets tired and thirsty and drinks water out of a puddle that unknowingly Lucy had poisoned. 

The last interaction of Lucy Gray and Snow happened much differently in the novel than in the book. The film showed their last interaction when Snow found the hidden guns in the cabin and for the film, this showed the moment Lucy Gray made her final decision to leave Snow. This scene is portrayed in the book through Snow’s inner monologue and in fact, happened after Lucy had left the cabin to look for Katniss’ roots. Through his inner monologue, he concluded that Lucy would betray him and made a much clearer revelation that Snow would turn on anyone if it affected his future. 

Debatably, the exclusion of the decision to wipe the tenth annual Hunger Games from existence was the worst creative decision for the film. At the end of the novel, when Snow returns to the Capitol, he learns that Dr. Gaul had been testing him to see if he could become her protégé. In the novel, Dr.Gaul explains that the best thing to come out of the games was him: Coriolanus Snow. But she stresses that the 10th Annual Hunger Games were very experimental and it was too dangerous to keep them in the memory of the Capitol and districts alike. Furthermore, Dr. Gaul erased any record of the event. While some may believe this doesn’t affect the film because there is no mention of it at all, the addition of it would further connect with the rest of the films how Lucy Gray, the first District 12 victor, never got mentioned.

Despite my critiques, the film was stellar and exceeded expectations. I hope to see more from the incredible actors and Francis Lawrence. Also, I hope Suzanne Collins publishes another novel within the world of Panem very soon.

 

 

My Ratings:

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Letterboxd: ★★★★☆

About the Contributors
Morgan Schmidt, Social Media Director
Morgan Schmidt is the Social Media Director for Manual RedEye. You can contact her at [email protected].
Isabella Edghill, Webmaster
Isabella Edghill is Webmaster for Manual RedEye this year. She enjoys reading and playing the violin, and is passionate about exploring issues around diversity, identity and empowerment. You can contact her at [email protected].
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