When Coriolanus "Corio" Snow (Tom Blyth) was an 18-year-old, top student of the elitist Academy in the Capitol, he and his schoolmates were assigned to be mentors of the tributes from each of the districts competing at the 10th Hunger Games. Snow's tribute was Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), from District 12. She immediately caught attention of everyone watching because she defiantly sang a song of protest on the day of her reaping.
With such a premise begins the prequel of the very popular "The Hunger Games" film franchise which ran from 2012 to 2015 and made Jennifer Lawrence a household name. As a review, the first film was about the 74th Hunger Games, and old Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) was the President of Panem. And just like villains of other popular films, like Darth Vader or Maleficent, it was decided that Snow should also get an origin story.
Tigris, a minor character who helped hide Katniss in "Mockingjay Pt. 2," was revealed to be Corio's cousin (Hunter Schafer). The dean of the Academy and author of the Hunger Games was Cas Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), who had a beef with Corio's father. The sadistic Gamemaker was Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis). Emcee Lucky Flickeman (Jason Schwatzmann) is likely an ancestor of Caesar Flickerman, emcee of Katniss's games.
"The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" is about 2-1/2 hours long. The first two thirds was about how the idealistic Corio began to be exposed to the behind-the-scenes corruption during the 10th Hunger Games, which may lead most to think that it will end with the declaration of a victor. However, there was still a final one-third which would recount Corio's exposure outside the Capitol that led to the cynicism and hard-heartedness that we knew Snow for in the original films.
Tom Blyth gives a strong performance as Snow, especially in the film's last third, when his fancy red uniform was replaced by slate blue military duds and his golden curls shorn very short. Rachel Zegler's Lucy Gray connected emotionally when she was singing her songs, including her own version of "The Hanging Tree" (which Jennifer Lawrence took to #12 in the Hot 100 in 2014). However, Zegler tended to act a bit too earnestly.
The crudeness of the mechanics of the 10th Hunger Games and the speed at which the speed at which the tributes were being whittled down were very far from the elaborate games we knew in the original films, and so were much more brutal to watch.
As with the previous films, the art direction and costume designs were commendable, but the direction was unfocused. Overall, it was still the nostalgia factor of the Katniss films that held its charm.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."