By Dave B.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (Netflix) takes place in 1984 London, a young man named Stefan is attempting to design a revolutionary video game: one that plays as a Choose Your Own Adventure story where players determine the outcome. Stefan models his game on the fictional Choose Your Own Adventure novel, Bandersnatch, whose author was driven insane by realizations he made while writing the book. Will Stefan be able to avoid the same fate, while gaining fame and fortune as the world’s most ground-breaking new game designer?
Well, that largely depends upon you, the viewer. Bandersnatch is an interactive movie where the audience decides what the protagonist will do at several key decision points. Netflix has demonstrated this technology before in the animated “Puss in Book”, which I wasn’t exactly awed by. In Bandersnatch, Netflix has somewhat fixed my biggest issues with their Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) format, which were limited replayability and fundamentally subpar endings. As a movie, Bandersnatch isn’t very impressive and would be a fairly poor episode of Black Mirror. However, as an experience Bandersnatch is…interesting.
To some extent, the film’s plot is irrelevant or at least it isn’t engaging enough to spend many words on. But Bandersnatch is an engrossing experience, nonetheless, because it shows how adding audience choice to movies will and won’t work. On the positive side of the technology, I think the prospect of being able to choose a soundtrack for a movie, or specific songs for specific scenes will be hugely popular. I also think that Bandersnatch does a good job of quickly getting viewers back to critical decision points without having to replay everything in “realtime” speed from the beginning of the movie. Plus, the “Netflix” path (you’ll see what I mean when you watch it) was very unexpected and pretty cool. The potential fun from Easter eggs and secret/unexpected/fun endings in CYOA films is high.
On the negative side, Bandersnatch becomes annoying as hell, especially when you go back to a pivotal decision point to try another branch of the story, but your options have changed. The “last third” of the movie quickly got on my nerves because I couldn’t escape a certain branch of the story that I didn’t want to be on. More control over what decision points viewers can go back to will be a welcome addition to this technology. Lastly, Bandersnatch causes a disturbing sense of time dislocation, primarily because there is no way to tell how far along in the story you are. The movie is supposed to have a 90 minute runtime, but I’m pretty sure that I was involved in it for an additional 30-60 minutes, just trying different choices. That can fun, but I want the option to know how much longer a have until the end of an given path.
Overall, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch isn’t a great movie and is a pedestrian offering by the standards of the Black Mirror franchise. But as a technology demonstration, the movie isn’t half bad and for that reason, I recommend it. The CYOA technology still isn’t close to perfect, but it’s easy to see how it can and likely will (eventually) fundamentally change the streaming movie viewing experience. I look forward to Netflix’s next foray into this area and if you give Bandersnatch a chance, I think you’ll come away from the experience more excited than disappointed.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.