Are you, are you comin’ to the tree?
Where they strung up a man, they say, who murdered three
Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be
If we met at midnight in the hanging tree
Wait, isn’t this the song Katniss Everdeen sang in “The Hunger Games”? If you asked this, you are the target of the marketing team for “Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”
It is the song played in the trailer for the upcoming prequel film to the “The Hunger Games” trilogy. Nostalgia is the key to getting people to the box office.
Before addressing my thoughts about the upcoming film and whether it will be successful, let me clarify my definition of a prequel and what a prequel should look like. The purpose of prequels is to help viewers understand or sympathize with a character’s actions or how an event that acts as a foundation for the original film came to pass and impacted the main characters before their introduction. In short, prequels answer questions.
The questions that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes try to answer are why the character, Cornelius Snow, also known as President Snow, is the way he is and what events in his story led to him becoming the antagonist in “The Hunger Games.”
The description below is a brief synopsis of the book “The Ballad of Songbirds and Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins, on which the prequel is based.
18-year-old Cornelius Snow is the last hope at restoring his family’s wealth following the first war against the Capitol. Snow is reluctantly assigned as a mentor to District Twelve’s female tribute, Lucy Gray, for the 10th annual Hunger Games but sees an opportunity to shift his fate when Gray’s charming personality begins to win the audience’s favor. With everything hanging in the balance, Snow must decide how far he is willing to go to turn the odds in his and Gray’s favor. Will he be the songbird, or is he the snake?
The story sounds interesting, but is it necessary?
One thing I don’t like about prequels is that although the work may be entertaining, sometimes they don’t connect with the events or people in the original.
Prequels, if they don’t display this connection or, at the very least, fill in a noticeable gap in the plot of the original film, won’t work and are, by my definition, a cash grab since money is now the only reason for its existence.
The movies “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” are perfect examples of what a good and poorly written prequel looks like.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story,” in my opinion, is the Star Wars prequel that deviates the farthest from the original films, as the only real connection is the characters who appeared in the trilogy.
The movie attempts to expand the backstory of one of the original’s main protagonists, Han Solo.
However, the problem is that he doesn’t receive any development. He is the same person introduced in “Star Wars: A New Hope.”
We don’t care about his old girlfriend or a random heist? We didn’t ask for the meaning behind the dice on the dashboard of his ship in the original films. Why did we need to know he served in the evil Empire when he never mentioned it in the original?
Subplots like these are included for entertainment and drama, not for filling plot holes.
Sure, it was nice to see how he and his best friend Chewbacca met and how he made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs (something he brags about constantly in the original trilogy), but it didn’t add any depth to Han’s character. Frankly, we didn’t need it.
The movie was an attempt at a cash grab but ultimately became a box office bomb, grossing only $393.2 million with a $275 million budget.
On the other hand, the prequels that make the characters relatable and the events impactful while also adding to the original film will be the ones that are most likely to succeed.
Rogue One did exactly that, and the results were the exact opposite.
The movie focuses on the people (and droid) who sacrificed their lives to steal the plans for the Empires’ ultimate weapon, the Death Star, for the Rebellion so that they could destroy it.
Despite not being mentioned in the original, all of the characters within the film contribute to the story.
The main protagonist of A New Hope, Luke Skywalker, character arc revolves around getting the Death Star plans to the Rebellion. Since the movie ends right where A New Hope begins, those watching the saga for the first time (in chronological order) don’t know whether the character’s efforts in Rogue One will be in vain or if Luke will succeed and destroy the Death Star.
It builds a foundation for its predecessor and raises the stakes in the next film. That is what makes it a good prequel and is what the former lacks.
With that, “Rogue One” triumphed at the box office, grossing $1.058 billion with a $200 million budget.
Rogue One shows if you connect the plot and add more depth to it by telling an emotion-driven story with developed and interesting characters and not forsaking it for the sake of entertainment, the prequel will likely be a success.
So, will The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes be successful?
From my perspective, the film shows much promise. It looks very entertaining and may add some much-needed depth to Snow’s character that we didn’t get in The Hunger Games films.
Cornelius Snow is a complex character, and unlike the novel, the film doesn’t display how his threats and actions deeply scar the main characters. Since he is the film’s focus, how he interacts with people and makes his decisions will be more emphasized, henceforth will make a bigger impression on the audience.
But I still doubt whether it will satisfy the requirements of a successful prequel. From what I found out by looking at other synopses, the plot also partially revolves around the romantic relationship between Snow and Gray.
If you’ve read the novels and seen the movies, you know what happens to Gray, so you know that if you include her in a film in which she is the secondary character, she needs to receive development. Enough to make the audience remember who she is and how she connects to the original trilogy (reflected in Snow’s character).
The subplot can exist but shouldn’t overshadow Snow as the film’s focus. If included, it has to contribute to answering the overall question: how does Snow become corrupt and rise to power?
If the film fails to execute this correctly and does not convincingly connect to its predecessor, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” will face the same issue that “Solo” did. Despite drawing in nostalgic viewers, it will likely become a box office bomb.
I still hold hope, though. Stay tuned for a full review of the film once it releases on November 17.
Image Credit: Adobe Stock. Image of “Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” title image on TV screen with popcorn in front of it.