On Screen: A “Hunger Games” Prequel

Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

When the original “Hunger Games” devoured the silver screen in 2012, I vividly remember the savage power of its pop culture message about formidable female empowerment, particularly in contrast with its banal, dull, boring prequel “Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

Adapted by Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt from Suzanne Collins’ YA bestsellers and directed by Francis Lawrence, this epic, tri-part dystopian dirge is set 64 years before the original trilogy. Although he doesn’t appear on screen, it’s the origin story of Panem’s tyrannical President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Instead, we’re introduced to a teenage, orphaned Cadet Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), who is determined to rescue his cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafer) and grandma (Fionnula Flanagan) from genteel poverty.

To that end, he’s assigned as Mentor to Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), chosen as a Tribute at the Reaping ceremony to represent District 12 at the barbarous televised survival contest, hosted at the Capitol by smarmy weather forecaster Lucretious ‘Lucky’ Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman).

Part of a traveling band of musicians called the Covey, Lucy warbles rebellious Appalachian-based folksongs, a gimmick designed to endear her to the viewing public and, thus, gain sponsors to benefit not only herself — by acquiring survival provisions — but also sneaky, ambitious Coriolanus.

The grisly, brutal Games are devised by snake-obsessed Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) and administered by creepy, morphine-addicted Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage).

In a pivotal scene in which poisonous snakes are slithering all over her, she bursts into song, making me want to stuff a sock in her mouth!

Eventually, devious Lucy and disgraced Coriolanus wind up in a remote cabin in the woods of District 12, where she may or may not have survived her search for an edible Katniss plant.

Which brings us to the essence of what’s lacking in this franchise film: Katniss Everdeen, the resourceful, heroic character embodied by charismatic Jennifer Lawrence.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” slinks in with a frightful 3, playing in theaters.


Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures. Her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M.

As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O’Brien, and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism.

During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie and drama critic, syndicating her reviews and articles around the world, including Video Librarian. She has appeared on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies. In 2017, her book 150 Timeless Movies was published by Hannacroix Creek Books. Her website is www.susangranger.com.

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