Would you like to read this article? Yes/no.
YES: thank you for choosing ‘yes.’ This would’ve been a very short experience otherwise. Bandersnatched you right up with that opening didn’t I. Just getting us all in the mood for some interactive entertainment, Netflix’s latest method of antagonising its viewers since the release of Riverdale season 3. Bandersnatch is the most recent instalment in the Black Mirror universe, a series that dares to ask the question, “what if technology, but more?” and imagines the potential of humanity’s relationship with tech (e.g. shagging a pig). Bandersnatch departs from the linear formula of other Black Mirror episodes – and nearly every piece of television and film in history – by including a branching narrative in which the viewer dictates what the protagonist, Stefan, gets up to. For example, will Stefan choose Frosties or Cornflakes? Go to therapy or follow Will Poulter? Cave his dad’s head in with an ashtray, or not do that? The possibilities are numerous.
Despite its scope, Bandersnatch comes across as a frustrating gimmick rather than a dynamic way of telling stories. Narrative and character are sacrificed for the sake of novelty and you’re left with a feeling of incompleteness. Often you’re taken back to an earlier event you’ve already watched (played?) and it’s unclear whether this is because you’ve done something wrong, or if it’s another example of Bandersnatch [Alan Partridge voice] turning the idea of a movie on its bloody head. Something else that puts me off it is that it feels made for viral advertising. It’s not that I don’t trust the artistic integrity of Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror’s creator and Bandersnatch’s writer, because I do, but when Netflix UK are tweeting things like “think you’ve seen everything there is to see in bandersnatch? try picking up the family photo, ~twice~” I can’t help but be immediately turned off by the concept. Netflix’s increasingly cringey faux-millennial online persona, complete with lower case tweets and being horny on main, thrives on this sort of content. In marketing their programmes as endless wells of memeable content, Netflix attempts to create a culture of rewatchability, which may or may not be a reflection of reality as the only viewing figures coming out of Netflix are provided by the streaming service themselves and are somewhat dubious. Bandersnatch plays into this tactic perfectly, with its multiple pathways being presented as collectables that you MUST watch to ‘complete’ the episode.
‘interactivity will probably drift into irrelevance just like various cinematic novelties of history like the 3D of the late noughties and the Smell-O-Vision of that one film in 1960’
This isn’t Netflix’s first foray into interactive storytelling. They experimented with it in 2017 with Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale and Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile, in which kids could choose what Puss in Boots and Buddy Thunderstruck (???) get up to, for example whether or not they cave their dads’ head in with an ashtray. It’s not the first time in film history that something like this has been attempted either. Cast your minds back to 1985, when Clue was released, a film based on the boardgame of the same name (Cluedo for us Limeys) that had three alternate endings, each one being played to different cinema audiences. Obviously, Clue didn’t spawn a trend of alternate-ending cinema, nor did it spawn a trend of boardgame-based cinema, and it’s more or less lost to film history. Now Bandersnatch has the pleasure of joining Clue, Puss in Book, and Buddy Thunderstruck in the prestigious pantheon of interactive movies. And will it spawn a whole new era in moviemaking with an explosion of interactivity? Probably not. I certainly hope not. There will be a few imitators, but interactivity will probably drift into irrelevance just like various cinematic novelties of history like the 3D of the late noughties and the Smell-O-Vision of that one film in 1960.
It’s not that Bandersnatch is void of merit. It looks fantastic and the interactive nature of it attempts to get into notions of free will and determinism, but these explorations are executed clumsily and it made me wonder why it wasn’t just a video game. In fact, 2013’s The Stanley Parable did similar things with character control and narrative determinism, and it did it in a much more engaging way than Bandersnatch.
Personally, I wouldn’t watch another interactive programme, in the same way I don’t want to go to a 4DX screening of a movie just to get a jet of steam in my eyes while I’m trying to enjoy the story. Interactivity is an interesting interrogation of the medium, but ultimately it’s a gimmick that could make kids’ shows more fun, but just makes Black Mirror more dull.
NO: thank you for choosing ‘no,’ you must now cave your dad’s head in with an ashtray.