Eight years after the film series that made Jennifer Lawrence a household name concluded, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes takes us back to Panem and the dystopia’s disturbing yearly event. Francis Lawrence, who sat in the director’s chair for the last three Hunger Games movies, returns to direct this prequel based on Suzanne Collins’s 2020 book of the same name.
Where can you watch The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes in the UAE?
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is currently playing in cinemas across the UAE, such as VOX Cinemas.
Before he was the brutal dictator with a penchant for poison and white roses, played by Donald Sutherland, President Snow was just a poverty-stricken 18-year-old Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) desperate to return his family to pre-war glory. The film opens with Coriolanus and his cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafer) scavenging the Capitol’s streets for food during the war and witnessing a starving citizen butchering the leg of a recently deceased. Brutal, yes, but it’s also an effective way to establish where the character’s motivations come from.
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A decade after the war ended and the Capitol won, Coriolanus is a hard-working Academy student, hoping his good grades will earn him the financial reward he needs to continue his studies at the university. The Hunger Games have been a yearly occurrence for a decade as punishment for the district’s rebellion, but Capitol citizens have gotten tired of watching children fighting to the death in the arena.
To encourage viewer engagement, the deranged Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) and the games creator Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage) introduce the concept of student mentors for each tribute. Coriolanus is assigned Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), the female tribute from the impoverished District 12. On the day of the reaping, she impresses Capitol viewers by singing and by putting a snake in a rival’s dress.
Coriolanus must figure out how to help his tribute survive the arena for the financial reward at play while grappling with his growing feelings for her.
A worthwhile prequel
The version of the Hunger Games presented in The Ballard of Songbirds & Snakes is a far cry from the glossy reality TV show treatment Katniss experiences in the first movie. There are no luxurious trains, make-up artists, or penthouse suites for the unfortunate tributes. Instead, they are hauled in like cattle and kept inside a Zoo cage with no food or water before being thrown into the arena for their televised demise.
While the result is the same, this is where a young Coriolanus sees his opportunity to shine. He’s horrified at how the tributes are treated, yet his feelings have nothing to do with the children’s well-being but everything to do with optics.
Tom Blythe’s portrayal of a young President Snow is highly effective. Instead of approaching the character as inherently villainous, we see a young, malleable, and ambitious young man who’s slowly learning how far he’s willing to go to achieve his goals.
In her take on Lucy Gray, Snow’s tribute/love interest, Rachel Zegler’s performance is very convincing. She adds a lot of context to some of the mannerisms and actions Katniss would take on decades later. And Zegler is a very talented vocalist who gets the chance to showcase her range in the film.
On the downside, the film’s attempt at adapting the entire The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes book into 2-hour and 40-minute features did make it all feel rushed. The second half won’t make as much sense to those who haven’t read the book, which is far from ideal when you’re making an expensive blockbuster. Perhaps this film would have worked better as a miniseries or a 2-part feature.
Overall, prequels and sequels to beloved movies tend to be poorly made money grabs. That’s not the case with The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Lori C. is an entertainment writer who studied Film and Television at University. She watches and reviews films and series from most genres, but some of her favourites include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, and True Blood.