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Hit or Miss: ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Review

By Kristia Niña Daymiel | December 1, 2023

“What are the Hunger Games for?” If you asked President Snow of the original Hunger Games trilogy, he’d surely say it is to keep the districts in line. But for the 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow, yet to become tyrannical and sadistic, his answer may have been different. The repressive dictator Snow who leads the Hunger Games—which plays more like a live-streamed death march—once thought that the Hunger Games was only to punish the districts and the people within them.

A romanticized dystopian tale of fascists glorified by state-sponsored propaganda, the trilogy composed of “The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire,” and “Mockingjay” connects much of its story through a thriving production of a televised killing spree. Even in real life, however, the Hunger Games film series found its sweet spot in our own entertainment realm. Case in point: the series as a whole is currently the 21st highest-grossing film series worldwide following the release of its prequel, “Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

 Recounting the events of the tenth annual Hunger Games, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakesjourneys 64 years back—before Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark’s (Josh Hutcherson) tragedy-drama love story took place. It is set in a war-torn version of North America where ruins and vintage elements are woven into every frame. But aside from walking its audience down a historical Panem, the movie shows the past of the Capitol’s dictator, Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth). It turns out, he wasn’t always the ruthless, violent, and tyrannical person he later became known as.  

Far from his usual role of spearheading the annual Hunger Games, antagonist Snow takes the spotlight as a protagonist this time, wondering for himself: “What are the Hunger Games for?” Chosen as one of 24 mentors, Snow tries to beat the odds against his conquest to redeem the image and prominence of his once-elite family. It is in this context that the film shows a never-before-seen Coriolanus Snow: head over heels and blossoming with affection for his tribute Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) of District 12. 

Even with the disparity between their stratified origin, as the Capitol and the poorest district of Panem could not have been further apart, Snow and Gray were determined to work hand in hand for victory—or better yet, survival. 

If one looks forward to another morbid tale encompassing a royale death battle, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakescould be a must-watch. However, it won’t guarantee to quench your thirst for the battle of tributes, because more than forced mortal combat, the plot incorporates the rest beyond the arena by documenting the life of then-18-year-old Coriolanus Snow. Not to mention, the movie adequately tells the chronicle of President Snow’s rise to power, which then makes it likely a great prequel. However, author Suzanne Collins might just have more explaining to do considering how the four other Hunger Games movies never at all involve Lucy Gray, besides the “The Hanging Tree” song—unless Collins is working on a follow-up sequel that will bridge the gap between the 10th and 75th Hunger Games. 

Even for those who know the Hunger Games trilogy like the back of their hands, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” may still seemingly appear as a newfangled time-traveling story that leaves more loose ends than before the story first began. As long as the movie gives sense to how the young, compassionate Snow turned into a wrathful ruler, the rest remains in history. 

Everything the movie figuratively and literally tells about the trilogy—though some may be a little less obvious like Lucy Gray’s fate—does not always relate to the other Hunger Games movies detail to detail. Admittedly, more eagle-eyed viewers may have gotten more out of the film and Gray’s narrative. But then again, if the details are this obscure, then the film may have a problem with viewers who don’t have the vigilant eye to dissect the film even until its most minute of features. Perhaps, this is what makes the matter of Snow’s story unfolding and the rest of Gray’s fate untold that makes “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” a hit or miss. 

The contrast between Snow’s and Gray’s treatment in the film may truly be seen as a blunder on the side of the filmmakers. In the grander scheme of things, however, all these details lead to one realistic ground: Power provokes cruelty. Power is the privilege to freely choose to do good or evil to whatever extent. It just so happens that, for Panem, power was used for fascism—which turned its land into a breeding ground for oppression that justifies itself through the same means. 

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