While Netflix’s latest movie (or TV entry, depending on how you look it), gives viewers a truly unique experience, should this really be the future in film making? Netflix’s Twilight Zone-type anthology TV series Black Mirror returned with a single episode for its fifth season yesterday.
The premise of this movie revolves around the fact that you and I, the user, can actually make the decisions for main character Stefan (Fionn Whitehead). The idea is based on one that existed in books from decades ago. Selling more than 250 million copies between 1979 & 1998, Choose Your Own Adventure, published by Bantam Books, was one of the most popular children’s series during the 1980s & 1990s.
These stories allowed the readers to choose what the characters featured in the stories would do and thus, how the story would progress throughout the narrative. You could begin the books by making just one wrong decision, and the story would be over. Pending on what your choices were, the story could be over in the first choice, but evolve the narrative many decisions in if you don’t.
Depending on said option, the books would instruct you to turn to certain pages within the novel, to take you to where that choice led that character. Sometimes you go on, sometimes you don’t, but it was an interesting way in which to experience a story, maybe ahead of its time, before the introductions of video gaming systems, years later.
DC Comics actually licensed their own version of the book entertainment arena, titled “Which Way” in the 80’s.
But the ultimate question here is: How does it work in a movie/TV episode? I guess it depends on the way in which you view it. Going into the experience with no knowledge of how it would work preceding, I began my viewing simply letting the story play out with Netflix choosing which way it would go. You have 10 seconds to choose, but Netflix picks the way it goes if you don’t.
The story begins with a seemingly “innocent” choice you make for Stefon… which cereal he chooses for breakfast. But that simple choice can take you down a different pathway in which the narrative plays out.
While this originally began as a review, it’s sort of hard to write one as a standalone piece of material with a beginning, middle and end because you never know which one you’re going to get. To let you in on the story itself, here is Netflix’s official brief synopsis of it:
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. In 1984, a young programmer begins to question reality as he adapts a sprawling fantasy novel into a video game and soon faces a mind-mangling challenge.
In the end, I don’t think that this should be in any way perceived as a new inventive way of movie making. While this is an experiment, and a damn good one at that, I don’t believe audiences are going to be looking for more of it. How satisfying is going to a movie where there is no definitive start, narrative and end points?
Don’t get me wrong, Netflix accomplishes something somewhat groundbreaking here. But the issue, I believe lies within the presentation itself. At some point during the 45-minute mark, I got to what appeared to be the end of the story I’d chosen. But, there was an option to either go to the credits of the episode or continue on with a different decision option from the past.
Then, you choose the alternate option presented and it brings you right back into the different path of the story. This version, I carried on into the 55-minute marker, where another previous option was available. Essentially, I think that Netflix should have ended your version of the story without any other past options and instead ran the credits as though that’s the definitive version of it and it’s over, period.
In any event, your experience with this unique vision all lies within the way in which you view it. I feel like I saw all of the possible outcomes, which was sort of entertaining in itself, if only to appreciate what the writers and film makers truly put into this.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is now streaming on Netflix.