I just finished watching the groundbreaking Netflix’ Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch. Bandersnatch is an interactive film to be watched on a device (ala iPhone), and it enables you to make click certain choices throughout watching, and changes the storyline based on your decision. If you grew up in the early 80’s, this is like the high tech version of The Abominable Snowman and The Forbidden Castle “Choose Your Own Adventure” paperback books. The average viewing is 90 minutes, but it can range from 40 to 150 minutes. So while I say I finished watching it, what does that even mean?
Bandersnatch re-invented storytelling as we know it. Sure, I suppose it’s a bit gimmick’y, but if the technology is developed thoughtfully, I think it can truly create an entirely new experience. The risk is to fall into the trap of the recent iterations of 3D and Virtual Reality, which were the latest shiny objects that haven’t substantively enhanced the storytelling experience. But what I feel to be different about this interactive approach is how much more engaging and immersive it is. Not just the way it ‘looks’, but the way the story unfolds. It felt personal. As I made the choices, I felt like I was making ‘my story’, not the one that the writer or director were forcing on me. As I made my choices, I even found myself self-reflecting a bit (“wait, am I a bad person to choose the red pill???”). The only concern here is a potential privacy issue, where Netflix may be gathering quite a bit of data on my decision making. But that’s a whole different story.
In addition to this fascinating new TV tech, I love that it was the Black Mirror series pioneering the possibilities of interactive film. I am a huge fan of Black Mirror. It is undoubtedly the heir to the Twilight Zone throne for the current era. It continues to push the boundaries of the possible, in a very dark and creepy manner. It explores just a smidge past the boundaries of today’s technology, and poses brilliantly freaky ‘what if’ scenarios. All with top notch writing, directing and acting. The cinemography is a rare gem where you could take a snapshot from just about any scene- and frame it on the wall as art. The scores and soundtracks are timely, lush and eery at all the right moments. The Thompson Twins, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Kajagoogoo all setting the scene for Bandersnatch’s 1984 era storyline. Brilliant.
I thought it would be worth mentioning that I just finished watching most of this year’s Best Picture contenders for this year’s Oscars, and while a few of them had some merit, I have to say that TV series’ like this Black Mirror episode take the cake. Look at some of the current TV and streaming series, and they’re clearly doing a much finer job than today’s movies. It’s often said that the smaller budget, art house movies of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are a thing of the past. The movie studios are no longer financing what were great movies, and from what I can see- it looks like TV has taken over where they left off. And when you add this kind of groundbreaking technology to superior writing and directing- movies are sadly getting left in the dust.
So I certainly recommend the latest Black Mirror interactive film, Bandersnatch. And I look forward to seeing how Black Mirror, Netflix and the future TV and movie industries take full advantage of this fascinating new way of telling an old fashioned, good story.