Black Mirror: Bandersnatch - A Netflix First

10 Jan 2019

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Netflix has been the word on social media's lips these past few months. There was a great big wave of excitement over Making A Murderer 2, thousands of tweets and memes surround Birdbox, but for me, it's all about Bandersnatch. As with the past couple of years, Netflix announced that they had new Black Mirror being added to the website 'soon' and it's become a little bit expected that new episodes will appear on the streaming site towards the end of the year or beginning of the new year. However, in 2018, Charlie Brooker had a little bit of a twist up his sleeve...

If you haven't seen Bandersnatch, you're probably reading this and thinking "what the heck are you babbling on about, Olivia?" Let me give you the run down! In the run up to the release, Netflix and the Black Mirror Twitter accounts were giving little sneak peeks and saying "Relax" a lot. From all of the clips that were posted, it was pretty obvious that this episode (or whatever they had planned) was going to be set in the 80s. As I'm a bit of a Black Mirror mega fan, I was deeply into looking at all the rumours that were going around about the new instalment. There were some people who insisted there was just going to be a new season and others who thought that it was going to be an interactive episode, following on from a hint that Charlie Brooker gave in an interview.

The latter group were completely correct. Bandersnatch was released as Netflix's first interactive movie that followed the format of a choose your own adventure game. As always, I won't be giving any spoilers away, but I'm going to be talking about my thoughts on the film and the reaction it received as a whole.
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As soon as it was revealed that this wasn't a new season of Black Mirror at all and was actually an interactive film, I was buzzing. Like I said, I'm a Black Mirror mega fan, so no matter what was being released, I think I would've been excited. I was looking forward to it so much and all the hype surrounding it just built the tension up for me even more. So imagine my dismay when it comes to release day and everyone's talking about it on Twitter, and I'm having to wait to watch/play it because Alex was still sound asleep. With a bit of a gentle nudge and a "please can we watch Black Mirror?", he woke himself up and we spent a good couple of hours really sinking our teeth into it.

If you aren't familiar with the choose your own adventure format, you can get the jist of it from the image above. At certain points throughout the film, there'll be decisions to make, such as which cereal to have for breakfast. These choices affect the storyline, can result in major twists and leave you with an ending that you might not have anticipated. My earliest memory of something like this was the Goosebumps books. I used to love flicking between the pages to follow the story and Bandersnatch is exactly like that.

So how exactly does it work? I have absolutely no idea, but I can imagine that it took a whole lot of time and effort to string it all together. I know that the playable aspect of it doesn't work on all devices, but I can tell you that it 100% does on laptops and TVs, so if you haven't checked it out yet, I highly recommend it! There's over 300 hours of content within the film, however, Netflix predicts that most people will spend 1.5-2 hours on it, and there are multiple endings. In fact, it seems like every other day, a new secret ending is discovered (just today, as I'm typing this, Netflix has teased another ending if you pick the family photo up twice. Who else is about to head off to the Bandersnatch world again to find out what it is?).

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I want to start off by saying that the casting for Bandersnatch was great. Will Poulter (I always forget his name, so he becomes 'the guy with the eyebrows') was absolutely brilliant and plays a crazy game nerd pretty well. He just seemed to fit the character so well and make him his own, so he was a real pleasure to watch. I also loved Craig Parkinson as the dad, who I swore had been in Black Mirror before - turns out I was thinking of Misfits. He did a fab job of playing the bumbling, almost over-caring figure, but also playing his darker side, which you get to see in some of the pathways. As for our main character, I didn't really know what to think. He was a little bit bland and I can kind of understand why, given his past trauma, but it didn't feel like there was much to him. I didn't feel a great connection to him and while I tried to give him an easy life in my choices, I wasn't too hurt if things went a big wrong for him.

One thing that really stood out overall was just how clever the whole movie was. It was pretty easy to see that a lot of time had gone into the scripting for each variation of each scene. There was plenty of meta moments where the characters alluded to themselves being a part of the programme and lots of talk about 'control' and 'starting again'. It's quite difficult to talk about these sorts of things without giving any spoilers away, but one of the stand out examples of this meta dialogue was when we saw Colin again after he'd "disappeared". It was just completely genius! All the way through, I kept saying "that's so clever" or "Charlie Brooker is amazing" and I still stand by both sentiments!
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While we're on the meta topic, let's talk about all those references to past episodes of Black Mirror, shall we? As most of you will know, Black Mirror is an anthology series, which means that none of the episodes follow on from each other and they're basically all like mini movies in their own right. We started to see the edges of episodes being blurred a little bit in season 4 with Black Museum and all the artefacts that had been taken from episodes prior. Bandersnatch was similar in that it had little nods to other episodes, like the "Metl Hedd" game poster, the 'Nohzdyve' game, the White Bear symbol, the news headlines in the Netflix-themed ending that featured references from episodes like USS Callister and so much more! In fact, I've just read that there's another ending that features a ton of Easter eggs, so I'm going to have to go back and try to find it. For Black Mirror nerds like me, it was an absolute goldmine and I feel like I was a nightmare to watch it with because I was constantly pointing the references out.

While there is all of this great stuff to talk about with Bandersnatch, there is also one negative thing that really stood out to me as I watched it. In comparison to all the other episodes, the storyline was pretty weak. Yes, there were clever twists and a really sad backstory, but the story itself didn't completely floor me. We were just watching someone try to make a game and while there was the horror story element of technology biting you in the bum like in other episodes, it just wasn't as prominent or clever as stories like Playtest, Shut Up and Dance, or Hated In The Nation. It was just a bit meh. Yes, the choose your own adventure element was amazing and groundbreaking, but the story it followed was a little bland. Please don't come for me for saying that!

So, my overall feeling towards Bandersnatch is that it was really great. We had no issues with the functionality of the choose your own adventure element and we certainly had no issues with how cleverly done the whole thing was. The casting was good and the 80s soundtrack was amazing, but the story could have done with a little more work. That being said, I still think that Charlie Brooker is a genius and I'd be completely starstruck and unable to speak if I ever met him.
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It was clear to see that the movie was well enjoyed by everyone else and was a trending topic on Twitter for a couple of days surrounding its release. My timeline was filled with memes and people talking about which ending they got, and like I said, people are still talking about it now, with Netflix alluding to hidden content that people are unlikely to find without a hint. This just shows that this really was groundbreaking for Netflix. I'll be interested to see if they release some figures about it because I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't one of the most watched things on there in 218, but I'd also love to see the total number of hours that have been watched across the world. Now that Netflix has the capability to do the choose your own adventure format, I'm really looking forward to finding out what they do with it next, and who's to say they won't develop another way of interacting with their content?

If you've made it to the end of this post, well done! It was quite a meaty one and I've been sitting on it for quite a while, so I figured it was time to get all my thoughts out there. If you've watched Bandersnatch, let me know what you think of it. And if you haven't seen it, go check it out. It really is worth it just for the experience! Who else is mega excited for season 5 now?

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