The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes


Anyone assuming that this is a prequel to the four-movie Hunger Games trilogy — all based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling novels — might find themselves bemused. This time we focus on the winning side in Panem’s bloody civil war, with a thoughtful and fascinating character study of the saga’s central antagonist, the future president.

After a brief introduction, we jump 10 years into the annual event that pits pairs of children from each of the losing districts against one another in a fight to the death. But the particulars of the competition are still evolving and, in an effort to keep the sport ongoing, eager students like young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) are each assigned to mentor a sacrificial “tribute” and devise ways to increase viewership.

Snow’s experiences in the privileged capital are only one part of his journey however, and his ensuing stretch in the districts will prove equally formative. This is a big, unapologetically complex tale that still takes time for world-building in this unique cinematic universe, even though no further installments have yet been announced.

These movies have always displayed an intriguing aesthetic across the costumes, production design and visual effects, captured here in pristine, razor-sharp 4K resolution. The richly nuanced color palette veers into warm gold tones in several scenes, imparting an old-world feel. The arena sequences are where the Dolby Vision HDR shines, as the vast space is brightly lit from a variety of angles yet remains full of intimidating, (usually) organic shadows. Lionsgate has thankfully put this lengthy film onto a BD-100 disc to ensure a high bitrate.

What struck me sonically throughout was the overall naturalistic tonal quality and consistent clarity, the aggressive placement of actors in different channels, and the outstanding reproduction of voices, especially Rachel Zegler’s mellifluous pipes when she warbles (purportedly recorded live on-set).

There’s lots of nifty surround usage, with aggressive hacking, slashing, and other weaponizing, and the overhead speakers get a workout — most notably from the arrival of a massive drone. Without giving too much away, the movie also features one of the most magnificent explosions I have ever heard in my home theater. In short, they put a lot of care into this Dolby Atmos presentation.

The set’s extras can all be found on the 4K platter: a director/producer commentary, an eight-part/two-hour-plus documentary, uninterrupted audio for one of Ms. Z’s songs, and more — most of it repeated on the supplied HD Blu-ray. A single-vendor digital copy code is included as well.

STUDIO: Lionsgate, 2023
HDR FORMAT: Dolby Vision, HDR10
AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos with True-HD 7.1 core
LENGTH: 157 mins., PG-13
DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence
STARRING:Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, Josh Andrés Rivera, Hunter Schafer

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