NOW IN THEATERS! The Hunger Games presented a bold and wonderful alternate future history of America. Panem, the country that rises out of the ashes of our current republic, is a fractious collection of districts. The trilogy from some years ago covered the end of the brutal sport. So, what’s left to explore in this world? Working from Suzanne Collins’ prequel novel, screenwriters Michael Leslie and Michael Arndt, with director Francis Lawrence, cover how the Hunger Games started and how Coriolanus Snow (the intensely handsome Tom Blyth) ties into this volatile and tormentous series of events with The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Panem, the country that rises out of the ashes of our current republic, is a fractious collection of districts. Revolts rise but are swiftly squashed. After one particularly brutal rebellion, Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage) and his best friend, Crassus Snow, are tasked to develop a particularly fiendish punishment for the districts. While drinking too much, the Hunger Games comes about as a joke, or Crassus thought. Casca, though, takes it to Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), and thus, the deadly sport is born.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes then leaps forward years later. Coriolanus and his cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafer) are impoverished members of a disgraced house in the Capital. Crassus led an ill-fated revolt against the Capital, seeking to install himself as President for life. The consequence of this action left the Snows in ruin. Coriolanus is determined to win the Plinth Prize and secure a spot in the Capital’s University.
Meanwhile, Casca has decided he needs to make it harder than simply being valedictorian to secure the Plinth Prize. Now, you must successfully augur and mentor a pledge through the Hunger Games and not cheat. To punish Coriolanus further, he selects a pledge for the woeful District 12, Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler). Lucy is a troubadour and a gypsy who finds herself stuck in District 12. When she was whisked away to the Capital, Lucy sang a delightfully twisted revenge song.
“To punish Coriolanus further, he selects a pledge for the woeful District 12, Lucy…”
Special mention must be made of Davis and her portrayal of Dr. Volumnia Gaul. Every aspect of this character, from her wild hairstyle to her droll form of speech, speaks to her nature as a savagely intelligent mad scientist. She was, by far, the most fabulous scene chewer in this film and one of the stand-out performances here. I loved every moment Gaul was on screen.
What transpires next, dear reader, is best left for you to discover when you watch The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I heartily encourage you to do so as this is a wonderful film. Lawrence brings a potent and deep understanding of Panem and its people to the table, as he has directed Catching Fire, and Mockingjay parts 1 and 2 previously. Every piece of this story has been carefully thought out and developed. The screenwriters adapt the novel in a remarkably realistic manner with great vim and vigor. The cinematography is great, especially in District 12, which primarily relies on natural lighting.
The acting across the board is wonderful. Blyth does what I suspected would be exceptionally difficult and humanizes Coriolanus. Now we see how this starving and disgraced lordling of our potential future dystopia would be prepared to do almost anything to ensure his family’s survival and success. Blyth is both intelligent and intuitive. He gains a deep understanding of this world and its broken people. Dinklage is quite effective in a drunk, understated way, as Highbottom. His determination to punish the family Snow knows no bounds. Zegler is a natural stage performer, and casting her as a folk guitarist and singer was an excellent decision. Her glorious (non-autotuned!) voice is put to amazing use throughout the film.
Seek out The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. It’s deeply mesmerizing and engrossing. You will not be disappointed in this trip to the Districts.
"…deeply mesmerizing and engrossing."