Thursday, January 10, 2019

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

It’s strange to think of how inventions can change things.  Movies by mail or kiosk wouldn’t be possible without the invention of the DVD.  (When I was your age, we had these things called VHS tapes…)   Then, Internet speeds became fast enough to allow for streaming.  Not only were we able to watch movies on a whim, it allowed for a different kind of movie.  The concept of choose your own adventure isn’t new.  It was a popular line of books back when I was in elementary school.

I keep meaning to watch Black Mirror.  That’s why when Netflix released a stand-alone movie called Bandersnatch, I thought I’d take a look.  It was basically a Choose Your Own Adventure movie.  I was a little nervous because Choose Your Own Adventure books had multiple endings.  Paths didn’t cross back on themselves, so this meant that I might be watching the movie several times.  The movie is actually closer to the Time Machine books.  There’s only one true ending.  If you make the wrong choice, you have to go back and make the correct one.

The story follows Stefan Butler, a 19-year old in 1984.  He wants to program a game based on his favorite book, called Bandersnatch.  You start off with two basic choices, neither of which seem to affect the game.  (You have to choose your breakfast cereal and which tape to listen to on the way to a meeting.)  Then comes an important choice.  Mohan Thakur offers to produce and distribute the game through his company.  Do you accept?

To give away the plot would be pointless for two reasons.  First, there’s so much of it, it would be impossible.  It also wouldn’t be fair, as that’s the whole point.  To give you an idea, I’ve read that not making a choice (or making all the right choices) will make for a 40-minute run time.  Given a moderate number of ‘wrong’ choices, you could expect somewhere around two hours.  Supposedly, over five hours of footage were recorded for the title, so you could be there for a while, depending on how you decide.

If you don’t have NetFlix and are think of signing up because of this, I should warn you that you may not be able to watch this on your laptop.  I have an ancient desktop and was told that I’d need to use another device.  Fortunately, my iPhone was up to the task.  I’m not sure about devices like Roku, but Bandersnatch will display a special icon if the device can play it.

I would imagine that this has to do with the technology that allows you to make a choice.  You are given two choices at the bottom of the screen.  On the iPhone, I tapped my selection.  You’re supposed to use the remote if your device has that for input.

Despite Choose Your Own Adventure books being marketed towards children, Bandersnatch is much darker.  It involves things like drug use and murder.  Even the book Bandersnatch has a morbid origin story.  Also, Stefan slowly descends into madness.  He begins to question what reality is.  He has a very nominal awareness of the fourth wall in that it exists.  He just doesn’t know where it is.  (This leads to a nice bit of self-referential humor if you don’t go straight to the credits.)

This movie isn’t going to be for everyone.  I can see a lot of people my age going in for the nostalgia.  We grew up on those books and on the video games of that era.  We remember titles like Zork.   This is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book written for adults.  In that regard, I would suggest watching it alone the first time.  As I mentioned, the fun is in making the choices.  Each choice has to be made in ten seconds, so it’s not the kind of thing you can discuss.  Given the amount of footage, I would say that it’s possible to watch again, so watching it with a group might be fun the second time around.

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