President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games franchise, is a fascinating psychopath, smelling of “blood and roses,” according to the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. The blood is from the sores in his mouth from all the poison he imbibes to allay suspicion while getting rid of his rivals. The roses are from the genetically altered roses he carries to mask the smell of the sores.
In Suzanne Collins’ bestselling YA trilogy, set in a post-apocalyptic future where young people fight each other in a televised battle to death, Snow is the autocratic ruler of Panem. The Hunger Games, with its catchphrase of “may the odds be ever in your favour,” are a smoothly oiled machine about blood, competition, and ratings.
Collins’ 2020 novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, goes back 64 years, to the tenth Hunger Games, and while telling the story of 18-year-old Coriolanus, also tells the story of the games and the first winner from District 12, Katniss’ district. There are several callbacks —some patently clumsy — to the later novels and films, including the Hanging Tree song, a tuber called katniss, and a host called Lucretius Flickerman, a probable predecessor to Caesar Flickerman played with such glittering panache by Stanley Tucci.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (English)
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Jason Schwartzman, Viola Davis
Runtime: 157 minutes
Storyline: The journey of Coriolanus Snow, from impoverished student, to mentor, peacekeeper and finally tyrannical future President of Panem
The film, like the book, is divided into three with the callbacks and a possible explanation for Snow’s attitude towards women, his complicated relationship with District 12 and mockingjays. While Tom Blyth makes for an acceptable Coriolanus, his motivations remain as cloudy as in the book. Even more disappointing is Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird, the tribute from District 12 and Coriolanus’ mentee; she is that bizarre combination of pixie and siren that does not quite work.
Peter Dinklage, as Dean Highbottom, who thought up the idea of the Hunger Games, Viola Davis as Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the head gamemaker, and Jason Schwartzman as Flickerman, have fun with their respective roles. Josh Andrés Rivera is Sejanus Plinth, the district boy whose father bought his way into the capitol with the money he made through selling munitions during the war. Hunter Schafer plays Tigris, Coriolanus’ cousin, who believes in him.
The sets are suitably grim and grimy, and the songs annoyingly folksy. The action moves in fits and starts, unlike The Hunger Games movies which were a non-stop adrenaline rush, which is strange considering director Francis Lawrence helmed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015).
Is this the first of a prequel trilogy? One is reminded of that other dismal one which also charted the trajectory of a gifted child who grew into a planet-destroying baddie with breathing trouble in a galaxy far, far away. At least, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, does not have a Jar Jar Binks and we can be thankful for that.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is currently running in theatres