At long last, true cinema returns in the form of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes! I may be a huge Marvel fan, but my love for the MCU is nothing compared to my passion for The Hunger Games. The franchise has come roaring back to life in the last two months, thanks to the well-timed limited Netflix release of the original films coinciding with the beginning of the prequel film’s marketing campaign. So without further ado, let’s break down the teaser trailer that lit the internet on fire yesterday!
Simple beginning for Hunger Games villain Coriolanus Snow
This prequel follows a young Coriolanus Snow (played by Tom Blyth) long before he becomes the tyrannical president of Panem. We first meet him at the Capitol Academy where he’s vying for a university scholarship, where the trailer opens with the televised reaping for the 10th Annual Hunger Games.
Introduced by Viola Davis’s villainous Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the Games are undergoing a few changes this year. Davis cuts a striking figure throughout this trailer, perfectly bringing the kooky yet disturbing Gaul to life.
It’s here that Snow realizes the contentious nature of his relationship with Peter Dinklage’s Dean Casca Highbotom, the forefather of the Hunger Games. Assigned to the female tribute from District 12, Snow is immediately set up for failure. The trailer doesn’t make this point clear, but the Snow family is actually destitute and barely surviving in a Capitol that remains ravaged by war. Coriolanus needs his tribute to win the Games if his family is to survive.
Luckily for him, Rachel Zegler’s Lucy Gray Baird isn’t like other tributes. Part of a nomadic tribe that settled in District 12, Lucy Gray is openly defiant at the reaping. Her mocking curtsy in this trailer mirrors the one Katniss performed in front of the Gamemakers in Catching Fire, but that’s where their similarities end. While Katniss hated the spotlight, Lucy Gray is a performer at heart – and she’s here to revolutionize the Hunger Games as we know it.
The other tributes are briefly glimpsed in the back of a truck, but we quickly move on to Snow and Lucy Gray’s first meeting. His trademark roses make their first appearance, a gift to Lucy Gray from his grandmother’s precious garden. Their connection blossoms as Snow accompanies the tributes from the train to their quarters in the Capitol’s zoo.
Next up we meet Lucky Flickerman, an ancestor to Stanley Tucci’s popular Hunger Games host from the original films. Who knew Caesar Flickerman was a nepo baby? Lucky is the very first host of the Hunger Games, part of an effort by Capitol leadership to raise viewership. After ten years, interest in the Games is declining – at least until the interviews begin turning the massacre into the most macabre reality television show on Earth.
We see a brief shot of Hunter Schafer as Tigris, Snow’s beloved cousin and a key player in his eventual downfall decades later. And as the trailer kicks into gear, the rudimentary nature of these early Hunger Games is revealed. There’s no fancy arena or clever traps. Instead, the tributes are dumped into a derelict stadium with no natural resources to be found. The Cornucopia remains, but it’s a pile of weapon-filled rubble rather than a sleek source of life-saving gifts.
There are some interesting weapons used by the tributes that I don’t remember from the book, flying around in midair like some kind of Iron Man armor. Underneath it all, Dr. Gaul’s threatening speech sets the tone for this entire story, driving home the idea that humanity becomes animalistic in the atmosphere of the arena.
Interesting bits if you’ve read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
If you haven’t read the book, this is where things get interesting. We see Lucy Gray and other tributes running through the tunnels beneath the arena before another tribute pulls a Capitol banner down and drags it across the arena floor.
Then we’re suddenly back in District 12, where Snow has somehow ended up with Lucy Gray. We see Snow in the arena itself, escorted by Peacekeepers before seeing him in his own Peacekeeper uniform.
Snow is then seen shooting a gun wildly through the trees, a moment that I’m surprised to see in the teaser trailer. There are no spoilers here, but I suspect that this moment is straight out of the climax. It’s not something I expected to see in our first trailer, but it may also be a different scene from the one I’m thinking of.
Dean Highbottom threatens Snow, driving home the idea that this tribute assignment was a targeted effort to ruin him. Next, we see Snow and Lucy Gray swimming in the lake that Katniss loved so much. The lake scenes were cut from the Catching Fire film and to me, this is a perfect example of why cutting “frivolous” book scenes can hurt adaptations.
The lake isn’t super important, but its existence as Katniss’s only safe space is marred by her enemy’s own history with it. Those layers don’t hit as hard with the film adaptations as they do in the books since we never saw Katniss’s love for the lake in the original Hunger Games films.
We finally get a glimpse of Lucy Gray’s titular ballads in the next shot as she sings her heart out with Snow in the audience. We see a bit more Lucky although I don’t know if he’s the one throwing the birds into the air. There’s a brief moment between Snow and Tigris before we enter Dr. Gaul’s lab, where she’s working on the very first muttations that are staples of future Games.
Some parting wisdom from President Snow in the trailer
Over two minutes in, we finally see Sejanus Plinth for the first time. A key character in this story, Sejanus is a District 2 boy whose father moved his family to the Capitol after their weapons business made them rich during the rebellion. We see more of Snow’s Peacekeeper training and a shot of him in the Academy, perhaps related to Dr. Gaul since there seem to be creatures in the glass cases.
There’s a beautiful shot of a powerful statue in the middle of the Capitol, and it’s evident how damaged the city still is. This isn’t the gleaming, disgustingly wealthy locale Katniss visits in the original films. It’s a dreary society that nearly crumbled under the weight of its own citizens, and it still has a long way to go before the war’s damage is repaired.
Finally, the trailer ends with one of President Snow’s most memorable quotes, delivered by Donald Sutherland in Mockingjay Part 2. He reminds Katniss that “it’s the things we love most that destroy us”. Originally a reference to her sister, it’s now a reminder that his own love for Lucy Gray led him down a dangerous path.
At long last, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is almost here!
This trailer was a perfect first look at The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I loved the book, although its unusual pacing does make me worry about how the third act of the film will be executed. I think the movie will take fans by surprise, especially if they haven’t read the prequel already. It’s not what you’d expect but I love the little references to the original story, and there’ll be even more to discover once the film finally hits theaters.
I’ve been eagerly anticipating this movie since the day the book was announced in 2019 and remember waiting months on end for the smallest crumb of information. I’m happy to see that the Hunger Games energy has absolutely been captured in these three minutes and I can’t wait for more. It’s like we never left Panem at all!
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is expected in theaters on November 17th, 2023. Are you excited to see it? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of A Sleight of Shadow, a novel about a collapsing society!