In 2012, the primary Starvation Video games film sparked a revolution.
Suzanne Collins’ Starvation Video games books have been already bestsellers at that time, however the success of the film adaptation cemented their cultural influence, ushering in an period of female-led motion films — and extra considerably, an enormous wave of younger grownup dystopian tales, in print and on movie and TV. And but, with every imitator, the sheer brilliance of the Starvation Video games was misplaced: its intelligent world-building, its doomed-protagonist narrative, its subverted character tropes. The development ultimately tapered off due to oversaturation and lack of innovation.
In 2020, Collins returned with a brand new e book within the Starvation Video games world — this time a prequel with an origin story for the unique trilogy’s villain, Panem President Coriolanus Snow. The followers initially reacted with skepticism and outrage, with some citing the selection of protagonist as “tone-deaf.” However when the e book lastly got here out, readers remembered why the Starvation Video games trilogy kickstarted a development: Collins is a superb storyteller who manages the themes of oppression and rebel deftly.
Just like the e book it’s primarily based on, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes speaks to the sheer brilliance of Collins’ world-building, and the sharp method she tackles inequality and authoritarianism. It’s a reminder of simply how good YA dystopia tales might be once they’re completed effectively. Pivoting the angle to indicate the facility of propaganda, and the way straightforward it’s to radicalize individuals into viewing others as lower than human, evolves the dialog round YA dystopia to mirror fashionable anxieties. It’s a pointy, thrilling film — one which lastly offers YA dystopias the ending that the style development deserves.
[Ed. note: This review contains some setup spoilers for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, as well as spoilers for the Hunger Games trilogy.]
Picture: Murray Shut/Lionsgate
From director Francis Lawrence (who helmed the final three Starvation Video games films), The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes isn’t simply an origin story for Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), the formidable dictator who serves as the first villain for a lot of the principal Starvation Video games trilogy. It’s additionally an origin for the Video games themselves, displaying how they began as a brutal but easy punishment for insurgent factions in Panem and have become the grand spectacle seen within the mainline Starvation Video games trilogy. On the similar time they’re altering, Snow is altering too — from an formidable, crafty, but principally benign 18-year-old to a hardened, cutthroat politician.
The story takes place greater than 60 years earlier than the unique Starvation Video games books, and the Video games are very completely different. They nonetheless contain forcing the impoverished outlying Districts to ship 24 little one Tributes to the Capitol, the place they’re compelled to kill one another in a public area. However previous to their loss of life match, the youngsters are saved in cages and handled like livestock for the slaughter. Nobody within the Capitol actually cares in regards to the Video games the way in which they do within the authentic films. The Capitol’s denizens are war-weary and within the strategy of rebuilding, so watching kids brutally homicide one another isn’t excessive on their checklist of priorities.
With viewership waning, Snow and the remainder of his graduating class are assigned Tributes and ordered to seek out methods of accelerating the Video games’ reputation. The coed with the profitable tribute will rating a coveted scholarship. And Snow, whose once-wealthy household has fallen into deep and secret poverty, must win. He finally ends up with the District 12 Tribute, a musician named Lucy Grey Baird (Rachel Zegler), whose pure aptitude for showmanship evokes him to make the Tributes right into a spectacle, turning them into larger-than-life icons and letting the Capitol residents get to know them in order that they grow to be hooked and invested of their chosen Tribute’s destiny. Snow and Baird are drawn to one another, although it’s by no means completely clear who’s utilizing who of their twisted sport.
Picture: Murray Shut/Lionsgate
Not like the mainline Starvation Video games films, Songbirds & Snakes options much less motion and fewer of the Video games themselves. No less than, much less of the Video games in the way in which authentic Starvation Video games protagonists Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) skilled them: as a glamorous televised spectacle. Songbirds & Snakes’ early proto model of the Video games doesn’t happen in a high-tech area — it’s in an deserted stadium. There aren’t any Tribute parades, fancy costumes, or coaching workouts.
However that’s the purpose. This opening period exhibits the Video games stripped of the gaudy trimmings: bleak, brutal, uncooked, and unhappy. The Capitol residents, contemporary off their very own wartime traumas, discover it laborious to observe. And that’s precisely why Lucy Grey’s charisma sparks with Snow, inspiring him to attract it out and urge the Gamemakers to focus extra on the Tributes and their tales.
It’s fascinating to see how the Video games as we’re accustomed to them got here to be. The film takes place a long time earlier than the principle trilogy, and it’s particularly compelling to see that conveyed not simply by the much less showy Video games, but additionally by set design. The unique films give the Capitol a modern modernity, however within the prequel, town has a retrofuture vibe, with black-and-white tv screens and chrome accents. There’s additionally a contact of Brutalist structure that helps emphasize the grim postwar nature of the Capitol. As with the books and the unique films, the little touches of world-building strengthen the core story.
As for the story itself, Songbirds & Snakes is an extremely devoted adaptation of the e book, although its ending is streamlined for the display model. Blyth does an admirable job of strolling the road between sympathetic antihero and cold-hearted villain. He’s a captivating liar and an skilled manipulator, to the purpose the place followers simply may wish to root for him — earlier than he exhibits his true colours, his egocentric and Machiavellian nature. Whereas Zegler performs the function of charismatic songstress effectively, she doesn’t promote Lucy Grey’s crafty as a lot as Blyth sells Snow’s. The supporting solid additionally brings their A-game, significantly Viola Davis because the merciless Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul. Davis totally commits to the twisted mastermind who believes that humanity, at its core, is darkish and wicked.
However what actually makes Songbirds & Snakes so sensible is that it’s precisely what the YA dystopia style wanted. It’s a reminder of why it had a lot influence within the first place, however extra importantly, it’s a remaining piece that flips the angle and asks us all — the viewers, the readers, and the writers of the Starvation Video games imitators — why we even appreciated the style within the first place.
Picture: Murray Shut/Lionsgate
Because the YA dystopia craze was petering out, it turned straightforward to snark on the by-product books and films that solely took on the set dressing of the Starvation Video games books — a feminine protagonist good at combating, an evil authorities working some oppressive but cool gimmick, a sizzling love curiosity and a possible love triangle. However The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes emphasizes that the rationale Collins’ authentic trilogy was so compelling was as a result of it went past these easy signifiers. Francis Lawrence and Suzanne Collins strip away the spectacle of the Video games — the set dressing that so many pale imitators relied on — and present us that the Starvation Video games was all the time about how oppressors will use leisure, presentation, and propaganda to implement inequality because the norm.
Collins’ e book and Lawrence’s film don’t redo the motion of the Starvation Video games occasions; they dissect them, then pressure us to take a seat on the Capitol facet of the equation. They demand to know why we have been even drawn to the love triangle, the gorgeous attire, and the themed arenas within the first place. We’ve all the time been the spectators, in any case, watching Katniss’ story from a secure distance. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes exhibits us what occurs if we get too carried away by propaganda, luxurious, and the promise of security. In that method, it’s a becoming finish to the franchise — and a becoming finish to the way in which the style developed right into a beast of its personal.
The Starvation Video games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes will hit theaters on Nov. 17.