Arriving eight years after the most recent film in the franchise, “The Hunger Games” is back with a new installment: “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.” Adapted from a 2020 novel by Suzanne Collins, the author who created the “Hunger Games,” this film serves as a prequel, taking place 64 years before the events of the first film.
For those who don’t remember the back story all that well or have never seen the original movies, here’s a refresher on everything you need to know before jumping into this new dystopian adventure.
How long has this been in the works?
A film adaptation was planned before Collins’s book was finished. In 2017, Lionsgate, the studio behind the original movies, indicated that it was interested in potential spinoffs, and Collins reached out to Francis Lawrence, who directed the previous three films, about an adaptation while she was still writing the prequel novel.
Do I have to watch the other movies before watching this one?
That’s up for debate. This prequel is self-contained enough that it could make for an entertaining watch even for those who don’t know much about the original story. You wouldn’t feel completely lost, but you might miss out on some Easter eggs. Most of all, the story it tells about its protagonist, Coriolanus Snow, would be less rich an experience.
Where can I watch those movies?
All four of the “Hunger Games” movies are currently streaming on Peacock.
What was the original story about?
In the dystopian world of Panem, 12 districts live under the rule of the Capitol and its president, the ruthless Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). As punishment for a rebellion decades ago that ostensibly destroyed District 13, the Capitol hosts the annual Hunger Games, an elaborate, televised battle royale in which a boy and girl from each of the dozen districts are chosen as “tributes” to fight to the death.
After her younger sister is selected for the 74th Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a teenager from District 12, the poorest among all districts, volunteers in her place. She allies herself with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), District 12’s male tribute, and becomes enveloped in the world of the Capitol and the depraved spectacle that the games represent.
A firebrand in and out of the arena, Katniss, through her participation in the games, becomes a political symbol. Known as the Mockingjay, she is associated with bolstering a simmering revolution, which makes her the primary enemy of President Snow.
What is this prequel about?
The film, and the book it’s based on, follows the rise of Coriolanus Snow, long before he becomes the president of the Capitol. A young student hoping to restore the faded glory of his family, he takes part in a new mentorship program, designed to help inspire a more exciting 10th Hunger Games, and is tasked with guiding Lucy Gray Baird, the female tribute from District 12.
Despite Lucy Gray’s grim chances in the Games, Coriolanus becomes close with her as he commits to helping her survive. But as their relationship threatens to conflict with his own rise to power, he is pulled between good and evil.
Did anyone from the original cast return?
Perhaps a natural result of the 64-year gap between the events in this prequel and the first film, no actors from the original cast are part of this installment. Lawrence, though, has returned to direct the new film.
So who stars in this one?
Tom Blyth, a relative newcomer best known as the lead of the Epix show “Billy the Kid,” stars in the central role as Coriolanus. He is joined by Rachel Zegler (who starred in the Steven Spielberg remake of “West Side Story) as Lucy Gray Baird.
The supporting cast features major names including Peter Dinklage (Dean Highbottom, Coriolanus’s professor), Viola Davis (Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the head gamemaster), Jason Schwartzman (Lucky Flickerman, the host of the Hunger Games), and Hunter Schafer (Tigris, Coriolanus’s cousin).
Were those original movies any good?
The four previous films, which together grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide, were each received positively by critics and audiences alike. “It speaks to its moment in time,” the Times critic Manohla Dargis wrote of the second film, “Catching Fire.” As a defiant heroine, Katniss, Dargis noted, was emblematic of an overdue shift in mainstream storytelling and “the primary reason that both the book and screen versions soar above the usual adventure-fiction slag heap.” The character also made Jennifer Lawrence a global star and a major box office draw.
Are there more films planned after this new one?
Fans might not want to get their hopes up. This adaptation covers the entirety of Collins’s prequel book, meaning there is no official source material left for a potential follow-up. And last month, Lawrence said he regretted having split the final book of the original trilogy into two films. So, don’t count on a second ballad any time soon.