I’m a big Black Mirror fan, that sophisticated dystopian British/Netflix series that explores the darker side of technology. So when I heard less than a week ago that Netflix was releasing a new full-length movie installment into the Black Mirror universe on December 28th, I gasped, “It’s a Christmas miracle!”
And when I learned that this new movie, set in 1984 and centered on a young video game designer writing the code for a new video game called Bandersnatch, would immerse the audience in the story by allowing each viewer to choose how the story unfolds for them, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, The Cave of Time was one of my favorite books as a child. Indeed, for a couple of years in the early 1980s I lived on a steady literary diet of Choose Your Own Adventure books (here is a great boxed set for your favorite 9-12 year olds … or nostalgic forty-somethings).
So last night, I sat down to watch (is that the right word?) Bandersnatch.
The choices begin early on when we are asked to choose which cereal our hero, Stefan, will have for breakfast. Fortunately, from there the choices increase in gravitas as the program unfolds.
One thing is clear: Bandersnatch is essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in Black Mirror … or anyone with a Netflix account and an hour or two to spare. (Depending on your choices the program varies significantly in length.)
But here’s my major frustration: if the show doesn’t like your choice, it eventually steers you back to the main storyline. Personally, it felt a bit like getting your knuckles rapped and as the story begins to unfold again, you realize that you have rather less control than you’d been led to believe. After about 1 1/2 hours, I found myself growing increasingly impatient. Along the way, I’d been offered a couple of opportunities to bow out to the end credits, but I wanted to persist to the real end. However, eventually, I realized that my interest in completing this dark story had been outweighed by my desire to do something else, and so finally I bowed out.
It was at that point that I thought back to the video game Dragon’s Lair. When it came to the arcade in 1983, we were dazzled by the animation:
But soon, the novelty wore off as we, or at least I, realized the playability was low. Put simply, there wasn’t much fun in learning how to link a series of animation sequences and calling it a game.
For all its innovation, I have the same feeling about Bandersnatch. There simply isn’t much fun in learning how to link a series of dramatic sequences and calling it a movie.