Trailer for The Hunger Games: Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds/Courtesy of Forum Film
Rating: Three stars/Walla system!, Image processing
A decade and a little ago, in the world after Harry Potter and Twilight, the Hunger Games movies became the new cinematic hit according to a successful series of books for youth and young adults. Hunter Katniss Everdeen, who reluctantly becomes a star on a murderous reality show, has made Jennifer Lawrence a star and the teen dystopia genre a trend that everyone wants a piece of. By the end of the series, which consisted of four films, the enthusiasm had been slightly extinguished, which of course did not stop the decision to produce a film based on the prequel to the series, "Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds," published by author Susan Collins in 2020.
Why "The Hunger Games"? In addition to excellent casting, suspenseful writing, and a mix of action and romance, the books and their film adaptations captured something of the time. The audience was crying out for new stories that reflected the escalating political and social tension, the entertainment business becoming more voyeuristic and grotesque than ever, and the fact that at the center of the story was an ordinary poor girl, motivated by justice and love for those close to her, all of which fit the spirit of the times. "Ballad of Snakes" introduces a much less sympathetic hero, the corrupt dictator Coriolanus Snow a young who will become the villain of the original series, but that's actually the other side of the same coin. The same agitation that made Katniss a cultural icon has evolved into a satisfying collective loathing of characters like Snow—aristocrats and rich people who think they deserve everything and will step on anyone on their way to the top.
Back to Panem. From "The Hunger Games: Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds"/official website, Murray Close, courtesy of Forum Film
The new installment in the series takes place more than 60 years before its predecessors, ten years after the bloody civil war of the fictional state of Panem. Young Snow (Tom Blythe) is a high school student at a prestigious academy, where the next generation of the wealthy and privileged is educated at the Capitol. He may be an excellent student, but to make a good impression and stand out from his classmates requires pretense. He may have status—the son of a good family and an important general who was killed in the war—but he certainly doesn't have money. He shares his late parents' crumbling penthouse with his grandmother and cousin Tiger (Hunter Schaefer, "Euphoria"), who helps him maintain the illusion of wealth and also provides him with emotional support and moral guidance.
Being one of the school's top students, Snow was chosen to serve as an instructor for one of the competitors in the tenth edition of The Hunger Games. As you may recall from the previous films, this is a televised event held annually as punishment for the 12 counties that rebelled against the Capitol during the war, and are used by it as cheap labor to produce food, weapons and supplies. A boy and girl from each district are randomly selected and sent to fight each other to the death.
But viewers are no longer interested and the initiative is on the verge of being canceled, so teenagers are recruited to turn their peers from the provinces into more television characters, with the top performers winning a handsome cash prize. This dubious educational mission is entrusted to two even more dubious teachers: Dean Kaska Haybottom (Peter Dinklage), a vengeful character who doesn't even bother to hide his dependence on painkillers, and game director Dr. Volmina Gol (Viola Davis), a sadistic scientist with a special love for creating terrifying mutations.
More in Walla!
"The Maestro" turns a story about a handsome and complicated Jewish genius into a candy that the audience goes crazy with
See full article >
Snow teams up with a candidate from District 12, the poor and neglected coal mining district — but as with Katniss Everdeen, the seemingly low-odds candidate is eye-catching at first sight. Lucy-Grey Baird (Rachel Zegler, "West Side Story") has a colorful dress, musical flair, plenty of chutzpah and electrifying charisma — qualities Snow is quick to recognize as television usefulness. He repeatedly tests the boundaries and rules to give her an advantage in the competition, doubt to win a prize that will allow him to go to university, and doubt because of his own interest in the young singer, who is like the exact opposite of him.
The version of The Hunger Games that appears in the film is completely different from the one we've seen before, and the more of it you are exposed to, the more it's clear why it doesn't win viewers' sympathy. In the original trilogy, participants are treated like star athletes, with combat training, meticulous styling and TV interviews. This is little more than a gladiator battle starring starving children. The Capitol's dehumanization of these children is so extreme that it puts them in an empty cage in the zoo, without food or medicine.
Snow understands that the key to success lies in restoring humanity to these children, but that understanding doesn't come from the goodness of his heart—those insights come from his cousin Tiger and classmate Cejanus Flint (Josh Andres Rivera, also a "West Side Story" co-star), whose family bought his way from District 2 to the Capitol. Snow doesn't sympathize with the moral difficulty of Sejanus, who had to guide a competitor who was his classmate in his old home, but he understands that identification is useful. Not just as a ratings jumper, but also as a way to extort money from viewers, betting on the winner or as sponsors to allow contestants to receive assistance while in the ring.
A new version of the familiar story. Peter Dinklage from The Hunger Games: Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds/Official website, Murray Close, courtesy of Forum Film
The book version of Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds turned these ideas into delicacies. It's a violent, dark and ugly story about a man who would do almost anything to reach a position of power and influence. Childhood in the shadow of war and years of poverty and hunger did not give him perspective on the importance of friendship, love or family, on the contrary. All the hardships he went through only strengthened the feeling that he was elevated from a people, an ideal person destined for greatness. The book is not told in the first person like The Hunger Games, but the reader's exposure to Snow's incessant inner monologue reveals his ego, growing moral corruption, and the possessiveness and jealousy that his attraction to Lucy-Grey arouses.
The film struggles to give viewers the same perspective. Francis Lawrence directs the new film in a similar manner to the previous three films he directed in the series. It's a very direct adaptation, devoid of creativity or originality, that simply tells the events of the book with slight variations. The script doesn't tell us Snow's thoughts, not in Voice Over or in any other way, so you won't find a psychological glimpse into the psyche of a future dictator. Lawrence doesn't even take advantage of the basic cinematic principle of showing instead of telling – for example, you won't find a shot showing the protagonist having trouble walking or bleeding because of shoes that are too small, just a sting from another character indicating that he noticed the makeshift shirt and old shoes that no longer fit him.
Even in a downgraded version it is still an interesting story, so watching the film is not completely superfluous. Tom Blythe and Rachel Zegler manage to add value to their characters. Some of the film's most beautiful moments occur when Zegler receives a guitar and microphone, and the songs written for the film are convincing to win the hearts of Capitol viewers. In the supporting cast segment, Schaefer and Jason Schwartzman stand out favorably as the emcee Lucky Flickerman. Viola Davis is always good, but in the transition to cinema Dr. Gol went from a terrifying villain to a campy and amusing character from a children's Halloween movie, which is a bit of a shame. The weakest link in the cast is Josh Andres Rivera. The relationship between him and Snow is one of the most important to the story, but the chemistry between the two just doesn't work on screen, while his own moral punching amounts to tortured looks or childish tantrums.
The main problem with the film, which characterizes the cinema of the period no less than the "yuck, rich" stories, is its length. This time the problem isn't necessarily the length itself, but the film's not-so-articulate attempt to cram far too much material into its 158 minutes. Believe it or not, the existing material includes only some of the scenes filmed for it, with the current length set so as not to split one book into two films again, as happened in the third and fourth "Imitation Ravens" films in the original series. Probably as a result of this brevity, the film suffers from a dilapidated and confused structure, with the occurrence of several months that feels like a busy week or two. It may touch on the same philosophical ideas about human nature and convey all the important plot points, but along the way the emotional depth and soul that Susan Collins conveys well on paper has been lost. The same problem existed in the previous Hunger Games films, but this time there is no cast and character to make up for it.
- More on the subject:
- The Hunger Games
- Peter Dinklage
- Viola Davis