Netflix has changed the way many of us watch films and series in ways that would seem very alien to people from perhaps the 80’s and coupled with Black Mirror they’re both looking to change the way we watch things once again, this time it’s through the interactive film Bandersnatch.
Bandersnatch is similar to the Choose your own Path books which I vividly remember reading as a child, specifically those that formed part of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. As such it was a film I was excited to watch once I’d heard the concept, a film with which you decide what happens.
The film initially was set to be shelved before it had even begun as Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones initial instinct was to reject Netflix’s proposal to make an interactive film and instead focus on series five of Black Mirror until a script meeting made them realise that what they were looking to work on would be best in an interactive format. The work that subsequently went into this film meant that series five was pushed back to this year (2019).
One of the main concerns was the seamless transition that would be expected from a film, something that has restricted how the film would be distributed to ensure there is a flawless move from the current scene to one of two options that follows suit. It’s really clever I think and ultimately it’s iconically Black Mirror, it’s something you’d expect to see on the show but it’s instead brought to your living room now!
Set in 1984, the film itself follows computer programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) as he looks to develop a game based on a choose your own adventure book Bandersnatch. Your first choice is what cereal will Stefan eat and from there there are more and more decisions to be made, the film pans out differently depending on the route you select but the main theme is that Stefan is a troubled child, not in the fact that he acts out but in that he is a bit of a recluse. He lives alone with his father (Craig Parkinson) who is concerned by his sons behaviour and mental state.
Stefan takes his idea to leading computer company Tuckersoft where the owner (Asim Chaudhry) is excited and gives Stefan a deadline as well as the opportunity to work in the Tuckersoft offices alongside legendary game developer Colin Ritman (Will Poulter). As the film progresses however it becomes clear to Stefan that he isn’t in control of his decision making process, he begins to suffer as he looks for answers and still you can choose your path, you can decide what happens but you start to realise as Stefan does that it doesn’t matter, you are not in control.
There are many different paths but all lead to relatively the same destinations, Program And Control. It depends on what route you take but the game is released no matter what you do and your choices then determine what the game is rated out of 5 stars, although I have seen there is a path which ends with another programmer in the present day suffering the same issues as Stefan while she tries to create an interactive Netflix film.
For me I found the constant need to choose the actions tedious, I was excited at first but as it progressed I just started feeling that I couldn’t be arsed and I don’t know if that’s down to the paths I chose on the film, or if it’s down to my attention span or what but I was left fed up with it. I enjoyed the concept as I say and I definitely thought there was a great deal of potential but I just think it’s not something I’d be that interested in seeing repeated too much or becoming mainstream.
That said I do think I’ll have another run through of the film because I do think choosing the different options could see you basically create another film, it would be the same as watching a film that’s had the extended directors cut with additional scenes as the story itself doesn’t change but I’d like to see how I can make it different and I guess this is the point. Overall though it feels far too much like a gimmick.