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Ultra HD : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: February 13th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 2023

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Overview -

As a villain origin story, The Hunger Gamers: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a rushed, episodic snoozefest, jumping from one event to the next while failing to explore their deeper impact or significance to Coriolanus Snow. Ultimately, this fifth installment to the franchise is a dull, insignificant and pointless chapter to the overall series. The prequel debuts to the Ultra HD arena with a reference-quality 4K HDR presentation, an outstanding Dolby Atmos track and a healthy collection of supplements to boot. The overall UHD package is a case of "bad flick, good disc" but is reluctantly Recommended for those looking for new demo material.

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Two-Disc UHD Combo Pack
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p HEVC/H.265 - Dolby Vision HDR / HDR10
Length:
157
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.39:1
Audio Formats:
English Dolby Atmos
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date:
February 13th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Set 64 years before the events of The Hunger Games and Katniss Everdeen's journey as the rebellious leader who brings an end to the annual battle royale competition, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a prequel that follows Coriolanus Snow's (Tom Blyth) ascent to becoming the authoritarian president of Panem. Based on the Suzanne Collins book of the same name, the movie is part of the current trend to expound on famous or well-known story villains to reveal them as complex characters. And to some extent, the plot, which focuses on an eighteen-year-old Snow serving as a mentor during the 10th Hunger Games, succeeds in accomplishing that. However, the story ultimately falls flat, feeling like a series of bullet points briefly highlighting various events in his life without exploring their deeper impact or significance. Even at 157 minutes, the fifth entry to the franchise is a bloated, rushed snoozefest.

One scene, in particular, seems emblematic of the larger problems with this production, which is unfortunate since the script was co-adapted by Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) — arguably pointing to Collins' book as the true culprit. At about halfway into the story, while tributes and their mentors visit the arena where the games are about to take place, a massive explosion suddenly and unexpectedly erupts, collapsing a good chunk of the building and killing several people. We are soon told the bombing was an attack by an unnamed rebel group, which would be an acceptable explanation if not for the fact there's never any mention of a resistance faction or that there is some resurgence brewing until this moment. The bombing simply comes out of nowhere. There is no build-up or even indication that terrorist attacks are something to worry about. Worse still, we are never shown the ramifications of the attack, and it doesn't affect the plot in any meaningful way whatsoever. (The entire sequence makes for a good discussion on the difference between suspense vs shock.)

All said and done, the scene only serves as a turning point in the relationship between Snow and Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), or rather, the moment when Lucy's disdain of Snow miraculously shifts to pity — as he was also injured in the attack — and eventually, a passionate love affair. Their romance sadly injects a whole other heap of problems into a story that is already hurried, like a cursory glance into the life of a lifeless character who hasn't gained the audience's sympathies yet grows more unlikeable from here. Their fling not only feels shallow and lacks any chemistry, but it, too, brings into question Lucy's attraction to him, sadly making her frustratingly unappealing as the story progresses as well. When everything predictably goes sour — all due to Snow's own doing, scheming and manipulation, we should add — it is as unsurprising as it is simultaneously bewildering trying to figure out how this failed romance is central to his rise as the future dictator of Panem, his antipathy for District 12 and his animosity towards Katniss.

This is not to suggest that Snow should have been given a traditional character arc of change nor are the filmmakers required to. From the very start, he is understood as a singular-minded person with the sole intent of only returning his family's name to its former glory and advancing himself within in this dystopian social hierarchy at any cost. As a villain origin story, this flat arc works fine for the plot, and the overall production is first-rate with gorgeous photography by Jo Willems. However, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is terribly boring and episodic because Snow is mind-numbingly bland and basic, failing at every turn to arouse our curiosity or interest, yet director Francis Lawrence rushes through one event after another with such melodramatic pomp that they only succeed at feigning even the most surface-level importance while still making some rather odd camera choices. (The snorricam with what appears to be the fish-eye lens during the start of the Hunger Games is more distracting than it was thrilling.) In the end, the latest installment to the franchise is a dull, insignificant, and pointless chapter to the overall series. 

Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings The Hunger Gamers: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital Copy, giving owners access to the 4K UHD version with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio. The triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably on the panel opposite a Region A locked, BD50 copy of the movie. The two discs are housed inside a black, eco-elite case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to an animated screen with music playing in the background and the usual options along the bottom.

Video Review

Ranking:

The prequel debuts in the Ultra HD arena with a spectacularly gorgeous, reference-quality HEVC H.265 encode, which was struck from a 4K digital intermediate. Shot entirely on the Arri Alexa camera system, the freshly-minted, native 4K transfer is razor sharp from start to finish, showing clean, distinct lines along the various buildings and the furniture. The fabric and stitching of the costumes are plain to see, and the individual leaves and blades of grass are striking, especially when Coriolanus and Lucy are walking through the forest in the final quarter of the movie. Thanks to a spot-on contrast and brightness balance, the photography in those scenes is stunning and eye-catching with the rays of sun beautifully beaming through the branches while the darkest areas are a pitch, midnight black without engulfing the finer details. Crisp, radiant specular highlights add a brilliant glow and luster with several looking-through-the-window moments. The Dolby Vision HDR presentation also boasts a spirited, sumptuous array of colors, showering every scene in rich, energetic blues and a vibrant, dynamic selection of secondary hues. Overall, the 4K video is simply stunning and surprisingly more memorable than the movie. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 96/100)

Audio Review

Ranking:

The games begin with an outstanding and highly satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack, plunging viewers into the world of Panem from the start. Granted, the design feels somewhat restrained and front-heavy, placing more attention on the dialogue and the intimate conversations, but the surrounds are nonetheless employed for a majority of the runtime, albeit subtly. The sides and reads understatedly fill the room with various noises of the Capitol and the local wildlife of District 12. Occasionally, they spread into the height channels and convincingly move overhead, generating a strong hemispheric soundfield with action sequences naturally making the best use of the entire sound system — although still not the most immersive experience. The most effective aspect of this object-based codec is definitely in the front soundstage where those same discrete effects are better spread out, creating an awesome half-dome wall of sound. With excellent directionality and placement, imaging continuously feels spacious and expansive, exhibiting a dynamic and extensive mid-range. The low-end, however, could be stronger and provide more weight to certain visuals, but as it stands, bass is nonetheless punchy and powerful with an appreciable sense of presence, sure to make owner plenty happy with the end result. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 92/100)

Special Features

Ranking:

The UHD edition arrives with a healthy collection of supplements, which can also be enjoyed on the accompanying Blu-ray disc. However, when redeeming the Digital Copy, owners are also granted more bonus features. 

Disc Bonus Features

  • Audio Commentary features a conversation between director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson.
  • Predator or Prey (HD, 150 min) is an exhaustive eight-part documentary that looks closer at nearly every aspect of the production with BTS footage and cast & crew interviews.
  • "The Hanging Tree" (HD, 3 min) is an audio recording of Rachel Zegler singing the song while the film's logo sits in the middle of the screen. 
  • A Letter to the Fans (HD) from author Suzanne Collins.
  • Trailers (HD, 8 min) is a trio of theatrical previews only available on the 4K UHD disc.

Digital Bonus Features

  • Welcome Back to Panem
  • The Music of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
  • The Costumes of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
  • The Casting of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
  • The Hanging Tree by Rachel Zegler

Meant to give fans some insight into Panem's authoritarian president's life, The Hunger Gamers: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a poor uninteresting prequel attempt that fails to explore the deeper impact or significance of Coriolanus Snow. Although well-made with high production value the prequel debuts to the 4K Ultra HD arena with a reference-quality Dolby Vision HDR presentation and an outstanding Dolby Atmos soundtrack. With a healthy collection of supplements to boot, the overall UHD package is a case of "bad flick, good disc" and is reluctantly Recommended for those looking for new demo material.

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about the gear used for this review.