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Let the Games Begin

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” Movie Review
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“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” movie poster

Snow lands on top.

After almost ten years since the last Hunger Games book released worldwide, Suzanne Collins’ name has returned to the shelves and the movie theaters with her latest installment in the series: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

As a prequel set 64 years before the first Hunger Games book, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes offers a vivid backstory of the tyrannical ruler of Panem; Coriolanus Snow.

Throughout the original trilogy, Snow acts as the main antagonist and cruel overseer of the Hunger Games. While he is, for the most part, a straightforward character, Snow is oddly mesmerized by Katniss’s spirit, strength, and peculiar resemblance to another young girl he once knew. 

The girl in question? Snow’s lost love and the winner of the 10th annual Hunger Games, Lucy Gray Baird.

Plot

Ten years after a horrific war between the twelve districts and the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow, alongside his classmates, are selected to mentor one of the twenty-four tributes for the tenth annual Hunger Games and compete for a hefty monetary prize. Coriolanus is assigned the female District Twelve tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, who makes a dazzling first impression through her singing and witty attitude. Coriolanus meets Lucy Gray at the train station and instantly forms a connection that allows the pair to strategize and amaze the Capitol before the games begin.

However, Lucy Gray is no match for the highly athletic tributes in the arena. How will Coriolanus ensure Lucy Gray’s victory?  Can Lucy Gray truly trust Coriolanus? Is his goal to help her win or to win the prize money? Weeks of starvation, bloodshed, and love will reveal Coriolanus’s motives, Lucy Gray’s backstory, and the future of the Hunger Games.

Cast

Coriolanus Snow, portrayed by Donald Sutherland in the original movie trilogy, is played by Tom Blyth, a reasonably well-known actor popular for Billy the Kid and The Gilded Age. Blyth succeeds at illustrating Snow’s contradicting erratic personality and keen observation of those around him. Blyth is very entertaining to watch and ties this story very tightly to the original trilogy.

Lucy Gray Baird, a cunning and crafty girl with incredible singing abilities, is played by none other than Rachel Zegler. Zegler has been scoring huge roles throughout the past couple of years, such as Maria in the 2021 remake of West Side Story, Snow White in the upcoming live-action remake, and Anthea in Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Lucy Gray’s enchanting personality is perfectly portrayed by Zegler through subtle facial expressions and haunting folk singing. 

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes also includes numerous popular actors such as Hunter Schafer (Tigris Snow), Josh Andres Rivera (Sejanus Plinth), Viola Davis (Dr. Volumnia Gaul), and Peter Dinklage (Casca Highbottom). The cast for this movie is exceptional and truly brings the character of Panem to life.

Score

Music is a crucial part of this movie. Music is truly the language of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. through Lucy Gray and the Covey, Lucy’s musical group in District Twelve. Lucy Gray sets herself apart from the other tributes by singing at the reaping and earning herself the nickname ‘songbird.’ The lyrics in these folk-style ballads are crucial to understanding character development and character backstories. 

For example, the song Lucy Gray dazzles the Capitol in her final interview, ‘The Ballad of Lucy Gray Baird, addresses her history with her past lover Billy Taupe.

The Ballad of Lucy Gray Baird – Verse Six

I am the one who you let see you weeping

I know the soul that you struggle to save

Too bad I’m the bet that you lost in the reaping

Now what will you do when I go to my grave?

Subtle hints in these lyrics uncover hints of bitterness, remorse, and regret. Music is truly the language of The Ballad of Songbirds and SnakesRachel Zegler is exceptional in the numerous songs she performs during this film. Her voice is unique and never fails to mesmerize and dazzle. 

The most iconic song in the entire franchise is done justice by Zegler. The lyrics that became the eventual anthem of the Mockingjay Rebellion are haunting yet compelling, sung in a deep meadow shadowed by a tall willow tree. The Hanging Tree is easily the most memorable song in the score and reveals the deep roots that Lucy Gray planted nearly five decades before the rebellion began.

The Hunger Games is famous for its Grammy-winning artists on the soundtrack, which is not a tradition lost with the release of the fifth movie. Three-time Grammy winner Olivia Rodrigo released a soft folk ballad ‘Can’t Catch Me Now’, which is the end credits song in this movie and absolutely blew her previous music style out of the water. ‘Can’t Catch Me Now’ is a beautiful song that stands as an equal next to Zegler’s multiple folk ballads on the soundtrack.

Overall, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has an exceptional score with clear playlist-worthy tracks.

Characters (Spoiler Warning)

Coriolanus Snow, the future ruler of Panem, is interestingly portrayed on screen. This portrayal is no fault of the actor, Tom Blyth, but rather the fault of the contrasting perspectives of the movie and the book. 

In the book, the story focuses on Snow’s journey through the trials and tribulations of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. This perspective allows the reader to observe Snow’s true villainous nature and snarky comments towards Lucy Gray’s character and songs. 

At the end of the book, after the climax in the forest ceases, Coriolanus is notified that the tenth Hunger Games has been erased, therefore disposing of all memory of Lucy Gray from Panem. Coriolanus states, “In a few years, there would be a vague memory that a girl had once sung in the arena, And then that would be forgotten, too. Good-bye, Lucy Gray, we hardly knew you” (Collins 509).

Snow’s snarky comments are to the highest extent while Lucy Gray is illustrating the mysterious tale of a girl with the same name who disappeared in the woods without a trace. Snow is extremely bored by this story and says, “Oh, a ghost story. Ugh. Boo. So ridiculous” (Collins 427).

 In the movie he is shown as less of a villain and more of an anti-hero. Snow has traces of malicious intent from the very beginning of the book, which is sadly scarcely displayed in the film adaptation.

Lucy Gray Baird, the mesmerizing girl who would go on to haunt Snow for decades of his pitiful life, is captured naturally by Rachel Zegler. Lucy Gray is just as millions of readers, imagined her. From her spunky rainbow dress to her unique Covey accent, she is the pinnacle of book-to-film adapted characters. 

Lucy Gray is most memorable for her musical personality, and Zegler does not disappoint in the performances she gives. Zegler revealed at a press conference that instead of recording her voice and lip-syncing to it, she instead sang live for every take in the movie. This is a huge feat as Zegler was most likely singing for hours at a time with little to no break.

Ending (Spoiler Warning)

The ending of the book, and Lucy Gray’s fate, is by far the most controversial ending in the entire franchise and is cleared of confusion in the movie adaptation.

To summarize, while Coriolanus and Lucy Gray are planning to escape Panem and head north, Lucy Gray quickly realizes that she is the last loose end for Coriolanus to tie up after he disposes of the recovered murder weapons at the lake. She conjures up an excuse quickly to escape the lakeside cottage and evade Coriolanus. Coriolanus heads into the woods to find Lucy Gray and slowly loses his mind as she is nowhere to be found. Mockingjays softly sing ‘The Hanging Tree’ to him as he is bitten by one of her snakes and frantically fires bullets into the woods begging Lucy Gray to reveal if she’s trying to kill him.

To Coriolanus’ dismay, Lucy Gray Baird is never seen again. 

In the movie, Lucy Gray can be seen for a split second rushing through the trees as Coriolanus fires at her. A soft cry is let out, but when Coriolanus approaches the clearing, a single hooped earring is all that is left of the allusive Lucy Gray. 

Unlike most queries in The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins has never mentioned anything about Lucy Gray’s fate. She is the biggest and most debated topic in the Hunger Games franchise.

Conclusion

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes marks a turning point in the Hunger Games franchise and is exceptional at establishing the backstory of Coriolanus Snow, the foundation of the Hunger Games, and the extensive history of Panem. Since The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel, so no prior knowledge of the Hunger Games series is necessary to understand the characters and follow the plot.

Overall, this film is beautifully made, has enticing characters, and an interesting set-up to the famous rebellion that occurred 64 years later. I would recommend this movie to any Hunger Games fan as well as anyone who enjoys an action-packed complex plot with exciting visuals.

                   Collins, Suzanne. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Scholastic, 2020

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About the Contributor
Fia Knipp, Staff Reporter
Fia Knipp is a sophomore at Carroll High School. She is a huge fan of Hello Kitty, Melanie Martinez, and Beabadoobee. In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing, and staring at pictures of Hello Kitty.

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    FnafFan37Dec 7, 2023 at 6:37 am

    I will most definitely check this movie out! I’m pleasantly surprised that another good movie such as FNAF(Five nights at Freddy’s) based off of the FNAF(five nights at Freddy’s) games came out this year

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