The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

12 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD

You just can’t keep a successful franchise down, that’s what Hollywood would have us believe at any rate.

With the first instalment released in 2012, based on the series of The Hunger Games books for young adults by Suzanne Collins, a further three entries would follow, finishing with the conclusion The Hunger Games: Mockinjay – Part 2 in 2015.

Clearly knowing she was onto a good thing, American writer Collins released a prequel – and why wouldn’t you – in 2020, which swiftly made its way to the screen, starring Tom Blyth as a young Coriolanus Snow.

boom reviews The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
Just wait until I just burst into song for absolutely no reason.

The 10th annual Hunger Games are about to kick off, and Coriolanus Snow (Blyth) is expected to win the Plinth prize of a substantial scholarship for his academic achievements.

However, the 24-strong Academy students, of which he is one, are unaware of major changes this year, that means that no one is just going to be handed the prize. Because of the waning ratings of for the games in recent years, it was felt by the powers that be, that the mechanics of the games needed to change, to spice things up, so therefore the students were made mentors to those tributes chosen to participate in this year’s games.

Coriolanus is charged with looking after Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) from District 12, who is considered far from favourite to win. He, along with all the other students, has to try keeping their charges alive if they’re to have any chance of winning the prize. But as the games featured are to the death in the arena, there is going to be a lot of disappointment, oh yeah, and a fair number of dead tributes too.

boom reviews  The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
there was a bunch, I swear, but some starlings swooped and stole them all.

Considering the gap of nearly ten years between the last instalment and this prequel, you might think that the appetite for this franchise may have diminished, especially with that original young demographic it was aimed at, aren’t as young any more. But the box office success of this one suggests otherwise; despite a budget of $100 million – which to be fair, is the second lowest in the franchise – it made over $335 million worldwide. And it’s easy to see why.

Certainly having Francis Lawrence on board was a huge bonus, considering he’s directed the last four out of the five in the series, including this one, so if anyone has a handle on the franchise, it’s him.

And despite not having Jennifer Lawrence involved, who became synonymous with the role of Katniss, the young cast do brilliantly; young Brit Blyth is superb as the young Snow, who was played originally by Donald Sutherland, in what can best be described as a Jedi to Sith role. Zegler’s part in the film also makes sense, considering how much singing the young breakout star of Spielberg’s 2021 West Side Story has to perform. The only issue with that is that it does alter the tone of the film somewhat, giving it an awkward semi-musical vibe, where you could be mistaken to expect a big song and dance number to rear its ugly head. So don’t be surprised if The Hunger Games – The Musical! does become an actual thing.

There are a couple of bigger names involved too, including Peter Dinklage and a superb baddie turn by Viola Davis, who steals every scene she’s in.

Without doubt the first two parts (of three) are the most rewarding, with Lawrence maintaining a strong sense of intrigue and action throughout. It’s a little disappointing that the games themselves, that all take part in what seemingly looks like an underground car park in Watford, feel insular and underwhelming, but perhaps the director wasn’t keen on tinkering with the source material, considering how well it has done on its own to date.

It’s in the film’s third part however, where it starts to unravel. It feels terribly rushed, and the narrative involving the main lead’s moral code is ambiguous at best.

At present a sequel to this prequel is unlikely, as Collins hasn’t written any further entries – yet – so this film feels a fairly satisfactory full stop to proceedings in the meantime. But you know Hollywood, where there’s success, there’s always a hunger for more.

we give this three out of five