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The student-run news site of H. B. Plant High School

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The student-run news site of H. B. Plant High School

PHS News

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Lands On Top

Amelia Knust
The newest installment of the Hunger Games franchise, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was released this Thanksgiving, causing fans everywhere to go into a frenzy for the new film. Read more to see the journey this movie has had since 2020 and a review of the final product.

“I don’t sing when I’m told. I sing when I have something to say,” proclaimed Lucy Gray Baird, the female main character in the new Hunger Games prequel- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Suzanne Collins, the author of the iconic series, operates the same way. Her monumental series brought forth an era of dystopian literature in the mid-2010s. Still, Collins has yet to use this opportunity to milk the world of Panem further, even though there were millions of stories to tell. Likewise, when it was announced in 2019 that she would be releasing a prequel novel about the origin of the series’s main villain, Coriolanus Snow, it was clear that this was not a cash grab to try to reinstall some hype for the series after the movie franchise concluded in 2015. Collins stated that she wanted to touch more on the political polarization she noticed around her, and so birthed The Ballad of Songbirds and Sankes, a 500+ page novel that delves deeper into political theory and ethicality than any of her other novels. Soon after, it was announced that it would be adapted into a film, released in late 2023. As someone who preordered the book in April 2020 and anxiously awaited cast announcements throughout the excruciating 3-year wait, it’s clear that my expectations were incredibly high for the film, and that I would be present for every step along the way.

As it began, the odds weren’t exactly in Ballad’s favor, with the marketing team showing evident confusion about how to draw the crowd into a series that had already ended. First, they attempted to use a romantic angle. The movie’s first look arrived in late 2022 with an exclusive Vanity Fair preview, featuring a photo of the main characters, Coriolanus Snow and Lucy Gray Baird, lying on a forest floor together. People immediately criticized the shot, claiming that it looked cheap and nothing like what a Hunger Games movie should be. Clearly, this was not a great way to introduce the world to a film- especially considering the irony of trying to play it off as a love story when the original franchise got backlash for pushing the “love triangle” aspect to the media. Not only that, but there have been debates for years about whether the relationship between Lucy Gray Baird and Coriolanus Snow was even “romance” to begin with. After the mixed feedback of this first look, Lionsgate reconsidered and smartly attacked with the nostalgia angle, aiming to regain appreciation for the original novels and movies. This worked beautifully, seeing as how the first quarter of 2023 had an immense “Hunger Games Renaissance” on social media platforms, mainly TikTok. With the help of Lionsgate boosting people’s For You Pages and the efforts of loyal fan accounts, I had never seen more theory videos, interpretations of symbolism and imagery, and hate videos for Gale Hawthorne. I enjoyed every sweet second of it. With the world back on the Hunger Games train, Lionsgate released their first official trailer for Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in May of this year, successfully sending people into a frenzy. However, things took a turn for the worse once the summer began.

As the historic SAG-AFTRA strike began in June, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes ceased all regular promotion in compliance with the strike rules. The only content they could share was on social media with repetitive teasers that only the pre-established fans were exposed to. This interruption caused the majority of the public to forget about the film quickly, as there was no possible way for them to see content about it unless they truly sought it out. Things got worse when a corner of the internet collectively decided to make Rachel Zegler, the actress cast as Lucy Gray Baird, the most “insufferable,” “bratty,” and “undeserving” actress of all time because of a few viral clips during her press for her movie Snow White (2025) which rubbed some people the wrong way concerning her views on the original story and how it would be revamped to a more modern version. Without getting too into detail about the sheer absurdity of it all, when those hateful accounts learned that she would be starring in the new Hunger Games film, it immediately turned them away from ever wanting to watch the movie.

Fall eventually came, and I was desperate for anything to happen to cause Ballad to go viral before its release because it felt like the world had completely forgotten about it or didn’t care. While this seemed like an irrational thing to dwell on, I didn’t want this film to go unnoticed after I had waited so long for it and had so much faith in it. Then, on October 30th, it was announced that the film had received an interim agreement with SAG-AFTRA to promote the movie, leaving 18 short days to do so. I was overjoyed, especially for the actors who could finally promote the film they had worked so hard on, especially Tom Blyth (Coriolanus Snow) since this was his first lead role in a movie. Those next 18 days were well spent, with trips to Times Square, a viral Olivia Rodrigo single, and a worldwide press tour all before the film’s release. Things were finally looking up, and many of the first reactions to the film were glowing. I had bought tickets for the Thursday night preview before the Friday release, wanting to see it as soon as possible. As I entered the theater with my long, Lucy Gray-esque skirt, snake jewelry, and three re-reads of the book under my belt, I had not felt so excited about something in a long, long time.

To put it shortly, I was not disappointed in the slightest. Across the course of the 2hr 38min runtime, I felt everything from shocked, entertained, heartbroken, and utterly engrossed. This film is compelling for many reasons, even in ways you would never imagine. For starters, the cast was phenomenal. One of the most significant concerns people had when coming into this film was that it would not live up to the incredibly stacked lineup of the original four movies, but Ballad challenged that thought quickly. Blyth and Zegler both deliver their roles beautifully and compellingly, with special props to Blyth for keeping the audience in a consistent moral debate throughout the movie due to his impeccable charm but horrifying actions. To no one’s surprise, Zegler’s musical-theater-trained voice was exceptional and moving, proving herself as one of the most talented voices of our generation. Hunter Schaefer (Tigris Snow), Josh Andrés Rivers (Sejanus Plinth), and Viola Davis (Dr. Volumnia Gaul) all gave incredible performances, captivating the audience at every appearance. Perhaps the most unexpected show-stealer was Jason Schwartzman, who gave a brilliant performance as the film’s comedic relief, Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman. I never expected to laugh as much as I did while watching such a dark story.

The set design and attention to detail were also breathtaking. One of my favorite aspects of the Hunger Games movies is that they heavily rely on elaborate set pieces or locations instead of primarily utilizing green screens. For example, the entire Snow apartment was built by the set, and Heavensbee Hall’s exterior was the Berlin Altes Museum. Director Francis Lawrence stated that “99 percent is real,” adding an intense level of immersion for the audience to experience. Not only that, but the costume design was impeccable. Trish Summerville, who famously worked on Catching Fire, was responsible for each elaborate costume. Some highlights included Lucy Gray’s rainbow dress (which fans and I were anxious about how it would translate from book to screen), the sleek, genderless Academy uniforms, and Tigris’s pink dress. The fashion was all visually enticing, but some costumes even held unique connections to the original series that may not be noticed on your first watch. For example, Lucy Gray’s corset has Katniss plants and Primrose flowers on it, perfectly matching Lucy Gray’s verbal reference to Katniss plants in Act III of the movie. Another interesting detail that fans have pointed out is that as Coriolanus has more blood on his hands, his coats get redder. Each intricate detail makes the film eye-catching from beginning to end, ensuring the audience never gets bored.
Speaking of the lack of boredom in this movie, Ballad is a jam-packed film, which is unsurprising considering the length of the source material. In terms of how the material was changed from page to screen, they did a pretty great job attacking all the main plot points and details, and there is nothing extravagant that the producers left out of the film. While the primary source of reviewers’ complaints has been the quick pacing of the film’s third act (and yes, it is quite speedy), everything vital to the understanding of the movie was touched upon. Not only that, but many small details of the book made their way into the final cut, filling the movie with many memorable moments for the truthers of the novel. It warmed my heart to see so many conversations taken straight off the page on the screen. As an incredibly loyal fan of the series who isn’t afraid to voice her complaints about the misrepresentation in the original Hunger Games films, I was very satisfied with the overall result. While there were a few missing details and slightly off-characterizations that I’ve noticed, such as Clemensia’s story as a whole, Sejanus Plinth’s motives and background, and the gruesome and overly nationalistic funeral scenes, there are always bound to be some disappointments while creating book-to-screen adaptations.

Perhaps the film’s most talked-about and unforgettable moments sprung from the music in many different ways. As I mentioned earlier, Rachel Zegler sounded wonderful, singing folksy, bluegrass-style music, and I’ve been listening to every track non-stop in my free time. The Covey’s music adds a whole new layer of depth to the series and a considerable amount of cultural context, with each tune inspired by Appalachian folk songs. I could talk forever about the significance of music in the series. Still, Twitter user @selahspades summed up all my feelings by saying, “I love the fact that when the original Hunger Games trilogy takes place, Lucy Gray’s name and story have been forgotten, but her music lives on to become the song of the second rebellion. Her impact is felt even if her name has been written out of history. Art is so important.” Besides the immense success of the songs sung in the film, the real gem for me was the film score, composed by James Newton Howard, who worked on the original movies. Several beloved motifs reappear in this film, each with a distinct purpose and impact. While this detail may go unnoticed by the average moviegoer, as someone who has dissected each movie, score, and soundtrack intensely, hearing these repeating themes nearly brought me to tears the first time I watched the film. If you’re as nerdy as I am and want to catch these details, here are a few moments where you can hear these original themes:

Katniss leaving to go to District 8 in Mockingjay Part 1 (“The Arsenal”), and Coriolanus going to the Academy (“Coryo in the Capitol”)
When Lucy Gray mentions Katniss plants by the lake, the “Katniss” theme (as heard in Catching Fire) plays in the background.
“Searching for Peeta” in The Hunger Games, “Victory” in Mockingjay Part 1, “Meet the Mentor” in Ballad, and “Snow Lands on Top” in Ballad all share the same motif, which appears in the middle/end of each track. This is my absolute favorite parallel within the scores, and I could go on about how the musical choices made in each one represent what either Katniss or Coriolanus is going through, but that’s for another time…

While it may not hold the level of action as the original films, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes provides a more complex, compelling experience in which morals and ethicality are questioned, and we reflect upon how the commodification of violence has impacted what we consider to be “entertainment.” The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has been a successful movie in all regards, especially considering that it is currently the #1 movie in the world. While there still seem to be several reviewers and journalists hesitant to embrace the film for a variety of reasons, two of which I’ve concocted to be a consistent grudge against Rachel Zegler and a lack of understanding of the source material, it seems as if the rest of the world has welcomed this film with open arms. More importantly, as someone who has awaited this moment where I can be sitting here and gushing about how much I loved the movie, seeing such a beloved story adapted so beautifully into film has been surreal. Whether it’s from the incredible cast, captivating set design, or the small details for the biggest fans, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has easily won my heart for the movie of the year. Through every trial and tribulation regarding my experience with this film, I hope people will watch it with as much verve and appreciation as I have, appreciating the immense (and sometimes, too close to home) world that Suzanne Collins has built up with the creation of Panem.

Buy tickets for the movie: The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023) | Fandango

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