Netflix just introduced a whole new way to consume its content. After plenty of hints and rumors, the streaming service released the first standalone movie version of Black Mirror, which also happens to be its first interactive piece of fiction. Released at midnight PT/3 a.m. ET on Dec. 28, Bandersnatch, with a feature-length runtime for all its various iterations, includes hours of footage that users can explore while they personalize their dystopian experience.
Director David Slade’s latest entry in the series works just a little bit differently than his previous work... and all traditional TV in general. To experience the film, viewers begin watching it like any other program or movie. But as Bandersnatch moves along, a series of choices appear on the screen, roughly every few minutes or so. Using a remote control, console controller, or keyboard, viewers make the decisions for the story's protagonist, sending the narrative off in any number of new directions.
Approximately 312 minutes (5 hours) of footage was shot, with an average version of the movie taking about 90 minutes for the viewer to work through (although you can do it in as little as 40). The early choices are easy, such as which cereal the main character should have for breakfast. There are five main endings, although there are multiple variations on each. The branching narratives have been developed through a new Netflix software called Branch Manager, which can also allow viewers to exit and start all over again if they choose.
The project is supported on most TVs, game consoles and either Android or iOS devices as long as they're running the latest version of Netflix, although it is not available for Chromecast, Apple TV, or a small handful of others.
The story is set in 1984 and follows a programmer named Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), who is inspired to create a computer game based on a dark fantasy book he read as a child, which also featured multiple, choose-your-own-adventure endings. As he descends deeper into the project, the same madness begins to overtake him that allegedly destroyed the author of the book. The title of the film is derived from both a real-life game that was never completely developed or released and a vicious creature from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass.
There were reports that Netflix was looking to pursue interactive fiction as a new form of original content, and the service has already branched into these sorts of narrative experiments with its children’s programming (like with Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale and Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile). These allowed viewers to make a selection from one of two options, then go back and watch the other choice if they so desired.
Black Mirror, on the other hand, has created in Bandersnatch a whole new way of telling a story -- one in which the viewer manipulates the narrative so that reportedly a trillion permutations of the tale are possible, according to the whims of each individual. Just as we are said to be the sum total of all the choices we make in our lives, each version of Bandersnatch you watch might, to some degree, reflect your personality in subtle and variable ways -- and be completely different from any other.
Now that a more high-profile property is tackling the approach, fans can probably expect more content to be tailored to their choices — though with such an investment going into the undertaking, they may see quite a gap between the releases.
Have you tried out Netflix’s interactive new movie yet? What did you think about it? Is Black Mirror boldly going where no entertainment has gone before?