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‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’ 4K UHD (Blu-ray review)

Lionsgate 

 

I’ll start by sharing, I am a fan of the Hunger Games Trilogy books.

While I was well into my 30s when the books were published, like many adults, I found myself picking up several YA novels, their stories more entertaining than a good chunk of the adult fiction published at the time.

Come for the sci-fi; stay for the dystopia.

The original Hunger Games films starring Jennifer Lawrence were solid adaptations of the source material full of teen angst, great cameos, and fashion that kept the cosplay community going for several years.

My interest was piqued when The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes was released.

The film delves into the story of  President Coriolanus Snow, the dictator of the Panem. We follow Snow’s “tragic” beginnings of his elite family falling on hard times after the war, living in poverty,  and Coriolanus’s fight to rise to the top and recover his family’s place in society.

Snow and his Capital classmates are the mentors for the tributes of the 10th anniversary Hunger Games, competing for who will make the most impact in the Games, and win the coveted prize. Coriolanus must win the prize to secure his future. Coriolanus’s assigned tribute is renegade Lucy Gray from District 12.

Together, Coriolanus and Lucy take on the Games, and their partnership has unexpected consequences.

The script does not lend much to seeing an arc from where Coriolanus Snow starts in Songbirds & Snakes to where he ended up in the later Hunger Games series. We get little glimpses of what might motivate Coriolanus beyond wanting the good life, his wanting to secure his only surviving relatives’ financial future.

These glimmers are not enough to ever think that he is a good man. His striving to achieve never is for more than himself and his family. Tom Blyth (Billy the Kid) as Coriolanus is good at portraying calculating, but his chemistry with Rachel Zegler’s Lucy (West Side Story) reads as stiff, which is a problem when the budding romance is supposed to be the instigator for changing the way this young man looks at the world. There is never a moment where I don’t think he would use Lucy or sell her out if it came down to a choice of him or her.

Rachel Zegler, as talented and wonderful as she is, feels like she is in another film. From Lucy’s costume and make-up to the way she is framed in her shots, Zegler is filmed like she is in a musical, not something that works well when going for a dystopian tragedy. Her voice is beautifully trained, but that polish feels miscast for Lucy’s bohemian style and the rustic culture of District 12.

Both Viola Davis (The Help) as the devious Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul and Josh Andrés Rivera (West Side Story) as Coriolanus’s dissident friend Sejanus both gave 1000% and carried my emotional investment in the story, anchoring the opposing views of Panem and keeping the world real.

The pacing is uneven.

Honestly, it might have been better to split the story into two films. We spend a good amount of time getting to and through the Games, but then the story of what happens to Coriolanus, Lucy, and Sejanus after the Games in District 12 feels rushed and a missed opportunity to delve deeper into these relationships so when they are lost, it breaks Coriolanus making him into Snow.

There is a reveal with Snow’s nemesis Dean Casca Highbottom where the Dean explains why he has dogged Snow his whole career, and by the time we got to the reveal, it had no impact.

Extras include commentary, making of documentary, song, and trailers.

The choice to make prequels fascinates me.  90% of the time, we know what is going to ultimately happen to the main characters. It’s a tricky thing, getting viewers to invest in the ride if the character’s future self is still in possession of all their limbs and digits. The peril never feels real.  The journey holds little surprise unless you have writing that grabs you and acting that keeps you hooked on the story at the moment of viewing. These things should make you forget you know where the story is going.

Unfortunately, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes has neither.

 

 

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