KSL Movie Show review: ‘The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’ feels rushed
Nov 16, 2023, 3:36 PM
SALT LAKE CITY — At over two and a half hours, is “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” enough to revive a franchise over a decade old? This KSL Movie Show review dives into the art of well-paced storytelling.
Since this is a prequel to the earlier “Hunger Games” might it instead be called “The I’m Not Really Hungry, But I Could Eat Games?”
That silly title works in a couple of ways.
It’s been eight years since the last “Hunger Games” installment. So maybe the appetite isn’t as strong or the interest has waned. Either way, the new team on The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes had a lot of pressure to make this as good as the previous films. And to me, it just isn’t.
Who’s the main character in this prequel?
This is basically the story of a young Coriolanus Snow, Tom Blyth, and how he went from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. Oops, sorry wrong franchise – but you get the drift.
In his early days, “Coryo” was a promising student from a once-prominent family that had lost its luster.
He had hopes of winning a monetary prize for his scholastic achievements. But the powers that be have decided to tie that prize, which his family desperately needs, to mentoring tributes to the upcoming Hunger Games. This is in hopes of bolstering weak audience interest.
The story picks up
With his financial future now resting on the efforts of his assigned tribute, he is seriously dismayed when that tribute from District 12 turns out to be sweet, little Lucy Gray Baird (West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler). He feels she has little chance against the wacky, overpowering group of tough kids she will face.
But during the Reaping Ceremony where the tributes are announced, Lucy Gray breaks out into a song of defiance. It captures the attention of the citizens of Panem. Snow now feels that if he can elevate sympathy for his tribute, donations will pour in, helping her chances in the games.
So far so good.
The film is moving at a nice pace and the characters are being developed, including the Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul, Viola Davis, the Academy Dean Casca Highbottom, Peter Dinklage, and the Games’ host Lucky Flickerman, Jason Schwartzman.
And when the Games begin it’s all very exciting and intense and the Panem audience numbers go way up.
Unfortunately, so does the violence in this supposedly PG-13 movie, which freaked out at least one young moviegoer I spoke to about the film.
The trick in PG-13 movies is to show the violence right up to the fatal blow and then cut away. Sadly, the imagination fills in that gap sometimes making it worse for a young mind that’s trying not to be overwhelmed.
Where it goes wrong
The film comes to a satisfying, dramatic conclusion. Close the curtains. Good job, everyone.
But wait … a title card pops up. Part III: The Peacekeepers comes on the screen.
And I’m thinking, surely this is just an epilogue. But no – it feels like we are watching a whole new movie, only it feels choppy, even highlight-y, and then I realize they still need to turn Coriolanus to the dark side.
Now I’ve read that the director Francis Lawrence, who did four of the five “Hunger Games” films, considered dividing this story into two parts, but got so much grief for doing it to “Mockingjay,” that he decided to shove it all into one big film-a-palooza.
For me, that last third felt like a massive trailer for a story that deserved a more fleshed-out treatment.
For those who have read the book it will be easier to fill in those gaps. But for those who haven’t, it’s unfair, since the film, I believe, needs to stand on its own without additional homework or explanation on the side.
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” should have been done in two movies and despite its lengthy title, the full story feels incomplete and hurried, even at two hours and 37 minutes.
THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES (B-) Rated PG-13 for strong violent content and disturbing material. Starring Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage and Jason Schwartzman. Directed by Francis Lawrence (“Constantine” “I Am Legend” and four of five Hunger Games) – filmed in Poland and Germany. 157 minutes.