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Francis Lawrence
Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage
Writing Credits:
Michael Lesslie, Michael Arndt

Coriolanus Snow mentors and develops feelings for the female District 12 tribute during the 10th Hunger Games.

Box Office:
$100 million.
Opening Weekend
$44,607,143 on 3776 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Dolby Vision
English Dolby Atmos
English Descriptive Audio
Spanish Dolby 5.1
French Dolby 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $42.99
Release Date: 2/12/2024

• Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson
• “Predator or Prey” Documentary
• “The Hanging Tree” Song
• “A Letter to the Fans”
• Blu-ray Copy


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Dolby Vision Blu-ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwooferfer


The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes [4K UHD] (2023)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 21, 2024)

When the four-film Hunger Games saga concluded with 2015’s Mockingjay Part 2, it wrapped the tale of protagonist Katniss Everdeen with enough of a neat ‘n’ tidy bow to leave the series little logical room for sequels. So where could the franchise go?

Prequels, of course! For the first – and perhaps only – film to look at the Hunger Games universe pre-Katniss, we head to 2023’s The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.

Set about six decades prior to the events of the initial films, we meet 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), the son of a general who died more than a decade earlier during the battle between the Panem Capitol and its 13 districts. With the family name in tatters and shorn of wealth and resources, Coriolanus agrees to mentor a combatant in the 10th Annual Hunger Games, as he hopes this will bring the Snows back to prominence and also earn him a scholarship.

Coriolanus gets assigned to work with Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) of District 12. As Lucy earns audience affection, Coriolanus finds himself torn between his desire to advance the elitist status quo or to embrace the more rebellious flavor Lucy inspires.

Well, we all know how that story ends. The Katniss films make it clear Coriolanus – as played by Donald Sutherland – becomes a malevolent tyrant.

Thus Snakes finds itself stuck with an inherent problem found in prequels: a lack of suspense. Or at least a moderate lack of suspense, as Snakes comes with enough characters unfamiliar to us that we don’t know where their journeys will lead.

However, given that Snakes makes Coriolanus the co-lead, this remains an issue. Just like Anakin Skywalker, we enter Snakes fully aware of where the character will wind up in his older state.

Does this mean Snakes becomes destined to flop as a film? Of course not, but the fact we know where one of its leads will end up reduces a lot of potential drama.

Perhaps ala the Star Wars prequels, those behind Snakes hoped that we’d find the journey compelling enough to overcome its inevitability. Much of the potential appeal from Episodes I through III came from our ability to see what turned Anakin from noble Jedi to Sith monster, even if the actual films didn’t fulfill those hopes tremendously well.

I suppose those involved with Snakes felt that Hunger Games fans also might find themselves fascinated by Snow’s path to evil. And maybe they did, but let’s face it: Coriolanus Snow isn’t exactly a legendary character ala Darth Vader, and I doubt many Games buffs spent a lot of time wondering what made him the nasty piece of work seen in the Katniss films.

I sure didn’t, though I admit I exist as a lukewarm Games fan at best. I thought the first two movies were fairly enjoyable but the two parts of Mockingjay ended the franchise on a less than stellar note.

As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I flocked to the prequels in theaters. As a middling Hunger Games fan, I didn’t even bother with Snakes during its multiplex run.

Did I miss anything special? No, but Snakes manages to become a fairly serviceable expansion of the Hunger Games universe.

Albeit one that doesn’t demonstrate a whole lot of need to exist. Like I mentioned earlier, Coriolanus doesn’t seem like a character whose origin story a huge fanbase craved to comprehend.

And Snakes doesn’t manage to invent a particularly compelling view of young Snow, at least not in terms of actually making us care about him in the greater scheme of things. In the Katniss movies, President Snow existed as little more than a cruel, self-serving plot device, one who didn’t function as much more than the instrument of broader evil.

Whereas the Star Wars Original Trilogy developed some backstory for Darth Vader and made us interested in how Anakin wound up in that state, the Katniss flicks never set up Snow in that manner. He remained a role without a lot to make audiences curious about his past.

That continues to make the fact Snakes focuses on Coriolanus curious, though I admit the film generates a moderately intriguing look at what turned him into the beast we know from the four Katniss movies. If nothing else, I find it semi-interesting to follow a Hunger Games story from a perspective other than that of a District combatant.

Of course, Snakes turns Coriolanus into something of an underdog. Despite his family’s prior prominence, we find them as struggling and needy at this flick’s start.

Even so, Coriolanus still shows a perspective that varies from what we got in the first four films. This allows Snakes a bit of verve.

It also helps that Lucy Gray doesn’t exist as a basic Katniss clone. Indeed, as played by Zegler with an effervescent form of country charm, she comes across as a dark-haired, waif-like Dolly Parton.

Katniss showed a virtually opposite personality, so I appreciate that we get a female protagonist without the same traits. Snakes also doesn’t present Lucy Gray as a skilled killer, so that offers another pleasing alteration.

In addition, Snakes doesn’t conclude with the combat at the Hunger Games themselves as one might expect. To some degree, I assumed Snakes would echo the structure of the first movie in the franchise - and to some degree, it does.

But the final act goes past the results of the 10th Hunger Games, and these offer hints at what turned Coriolanus from a semi-sympathetic young man into the tyrant seen in the Katniss movies. To my surprise, Snakes finishes in a somewhat open-ended way, but it also doesn’t clearly point toward another chapter in a prequel saga.

Perhaps because unlike the Katniss series, Snakes exists in novel form as only one book at this time. Author Suzanne Collins published the third and final Games novel two years before the movies debuted, so as long as that 2012 flick succeeded, the producers enjoyed a clear narrative arc to follow for additional chapters.

On the other hand, Collins published only one prequel novel before Snakes went into production – and as of early 2024, no new books have emerged. This means that any subsequent Coriolanus-based movies currently lack preexisting source material to adapt.

Based on the reception accorded Snakes, it feels wholly unclear whether Lionsgate will want to pursue additional prequels anyway. Given a $100 million budget and a $337 million worldwide gross, Snakes turned a profit.

However, those receipts look less appealing when one realizes that the least successful Katniss movie - Mockingjay 2 - earned nearly twice as much as Snakes. Perhaps the studio never expected the prequel to approach the same sales as the four Katniss movies, but I can’t imagine these results encourage them to push Collins to write a second Snow-based book.

And that would be fine with me, as I don’t see a lot of room for truly compelling material here. On one hand, Snakes works better than I feared, as it offers a moderately interesting look at the Hunger Games universe decades before we meet Katniss Everdeen.

On the other hand, the story involved still seems vaguely irrelevant, as even after I watched Snakes, I didn’t find myself any more invested in Snow’s origin story than I felt before I saw the movie. Again: he’s an important character in the Katniss films but not one whose saga begged for exploration.

Honestly, one film of young Snow feels sufficient. Snakes implies tyranny yet to come well enough that we can use our imaginations to piece together Snow’s path.

Would I roll my eyes at a continued Coriolanus saga? No, as this one does enough right to make the prospect at least moderately intriguing.

Still, I can’t muster more energy than that, and I think a Hunger Games prequel that focuses on the rebellion that killed Snow’s father would’ve been substantially more interesting. In the absence of that property, Snakes becomes a watchable prequel that simply lacks a real reason to exist.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. A native 4K production, this turned into a strong image.

Sharpness consistently looked tight and well-defined. No obvious softness materialized, so the end product maintained a solid level of delineation.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Source flaws remained absent.

Colors leaned toward a modern mix of amber/orange and teal. The disc reproduced the tones as intended, so even though they felt uncreative, they worked fine with the choices, and HDR gave the hues added impact.

Blacks looked deep and dark, while shadows demonstrated appealing clarity outside of a few semi-dense low-light scenes. HDR brought extra power to whites and contrast. This wound up as an appealing visual presentation.

Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, the movie’s Dolby Atmos audio also satisfied. Unsurprisingly, the occasional Big Action Moments fared the best.

Snakes didn’t go with a constant level of mayhem, but it nonetheless jumped to life well during the aforementioned moments of battle and violence. These used the spectrum in a positive way, with music that also spread across the soundfield in a positive manner.

Audio quality worked nicely, with speech that consistently appeared concise and natural. Music seemed warm and full.

Effects displayed excellent reproduction, with accurate, dynamic tones that brought deep bass as necessary. I felt pleased with the movie’s audio.

How did the 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray version? Both came with identical Atmos audio.

As noted, Snakes came from a true 4K source, and that meant improved delineation, colors and blacks. As good as the Blu-ray looked, the 4K topped it.

As we hit extras, we launch with an audio commentary from director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at the source’s adaptation and story/characters, sets and locations, music and costumes, cast and performances, deleted scenes, various effects, stunts and action.

This represents the fourth Lawrence/Jacobson commentary for a Hunger Games movie, as they recorded tracks for all the Katniss flicks except the original since Gary Ross directed it. Two of their three prior tracks worked well, and this one followed that pattern.

Granted, I wouldn’t call this a great commentary, as Lawrence and Jacobson never make it enthralling. Nonetheless, they cover the production well and deliver an informative chat.

An eight-part documentary called Predator or Prey fills a total of two hours, 30 minutes, 43 seconds. We get notes from Lawrence, Jacobson, executive music producer Dave Cobb, production designer Uli Hanisch, supervising location manage Klaus Darrelmann, set decorator Sabine Schaff, prosthetic makeup designers Tamar Aviv and Jorn Seifert, costume designer Trish Summerville, department head hair designer Nikki Gooley, department head makeup designer Sherri Berman Laurence, stunt coordinator Scott Ateah, editor Mark Yoshikawa, visual effects supervisor Adrian de Wet, visual effects producer Eve Fizzinoglia, sound designer Jeremy Peirson, and composer James Newton Howard, and actors Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Jason Schwartzman, Peter Dinklage, Josh Andrés Rivera, Ashley Liao, Max Raphael, Zoe Renee, Lilly Cooper, Hunter Schafer, Burn Gorman, Knox Gibson, Cooper Dillon, Nick Benson, Hiroki Berrecloth, and Irene Bohm.

Across “Prey”, we learn about the source novel and its path to the screen, story/characters, cast and performances, songs and score, sets and locations, props and production design, costumes, makeup and hair, stunts and action, editing, various effects, and sound design.

All four Katniss movies included feature-length documentaries, and “Prey” fits the mold of its predecessors. This means a solid overview of the production, albeit one that comes with more self-praise than I might prefer.

Billed as “A Song By Rachel Zegler”, The Hanging Tree goes for two minutes, 26 seconds and features the actor’s audio-only performance of that song. It seems forgettable.

A Letter to the Fans offers text from author Suzanne Collins. She praises the production in this fluffy note that exists solely to promote the film.

The 4K ends with three trailers for Snakes.

A second disc provides a Blu-ray copy of Snakes. Except for the trailers, it includes the same extras as the 4K.

Perhaps some Hunger Games superfans craved a prequel to the Katniss Everdeen saga that focused on Coriolanus Snow, but I can’t imagine legions of those folks exist. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes becomes a moderately engaging look at Panem two generations prior to the Katniss tale, but its absence of genuine purpose means it never quite connects. The 4K UHD offers very strong picture and audio along with supplements highlighted by a commentary and a long documentary. Snakes works better than I feared but it remains nothing better than average.

To rate this film visit the Blu-Ray review of BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main