The Book was Better: Slow Down, Part III of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
***WARNING: The blog contains spoilers.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the most recent book-to-film adaptation I’ve seen. I had not yet read Coriolanus Snow’s “origin story” when the film was announced and so I hurried and read it and actually got to THE END twenty minutes before sitting down in the theater to see the film with the book fresh on my mind.
Admittedly, the film is good. It’s very good. I’ve seen it twice. It is that good.
The casting is phenomenal. Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler, bravo! And Rachel Zegler, Whoo! What a singer! This was absolutely vital as Lucy Gray Baird’s identity as a singer is crucial to her character. And listening to Collins’s lyrics jump off the page into real songs was fabulous. “The Hanging Tree” rendition and other songs in the film alone make seeing it worth it.
But this blog is called “The Book was Better,” so let’s get started.
First, some background. The story is split into three parts: The Mentor, The Prize, and The Peacekeeper, which was an excellent choice by Collins as it does read almost as three vignettes. Is this a true origin story? I say, not really, but the novel serves as an excellent insight into Snow’s formative years and adolescence. Seeing the world of The Hunger Games from the Capital perspective is interesting and the reader may understand why Coriolanus hanging onto his family name, pride, and tradition is such a key motivator to his character. One aspect that I did love in this story was the end showdown between Corionalus and Lucy Gray, which links to her namesake song. Brilliant! I knew their love story needed a disastrous ending, but sometimes you wonder if authors might not be able to pull that punch. Hooray for Collins for giving us the ending we deserved. All-in-all The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a much more sophisticated story than its trilogy predecessors.
Anyway, moving on to the film.
I was satisfied with Parts I and II of the film, although the Hunger Games scenes of the film were certainly rushed. Part III: The Peacekeeper is where the film really comes up short in its comparison to the book. Until Part III, the reader/viewer, though obviously aware of Corionalus’s snobbery and self-serving motivations, is rooting for him. He does fall in love with Lucy Gray. Sidenote: I was a little irritated that the film doesn’t have them kiss before the Hunger Games. In the book, we feel the doom of Lucy Gray being forced into the arena leaving Corionalus with only a single kiss and a desperation to save her. But that’s okay. Tom Blyth carries this film so well that you can forgive these details. But then, everything needs to go to pot in Part III.
Part III. I really needed you to slow down and show us movie viewers the breakdown between Coriolanus and Sejanus, the breakdown between Corionalus and his moral compass, and most importantly, the breakdown between Coriolanus and Lucy Gray. But it’s all so rushed. And suddenly, the depth of this story is blurred into skipping stones of plot events that carry the moviegoer from one scene to the next, until suddenly, Lucy Gray is distrustful of Corionalus before he’s actually done anything in the film to warrant suspicion. In the film, her last words to Corionalus in the cabin are dramatic and obvious, whereas in the book, the reader feels that impending dread along with her as she scrutinizes Coriolanus when they discover the guns. Is Corionalus trustworthy? Is he about to do something villainous? Up to that point, the reader doesn’t actually know what path Corionalus will choose (although, of course, we know his true end, so . . .). He wants Lucy Gray and he wants to make his way back to his Capital life. The film leaves no questions for the viewer in Part III. And that’s the greatest reason the book is better. If you rush poignant character-building details, it’s difficult for that character’s arc to have depth. The book was better.