Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a 2018 interactive film in the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by series creator Charlie Brooker and directed by David Slade. Netflix released the standalone film on 28 December 2018.
|Directed by||David Slade|
|Produced by||Russell McLean|
|Written by||Charlie Brooker|
|Music by||Brian Reitzell|
|Edited by||Tony Kearns|
|Variable; 90 minutes for default path|
In Bandersnatch, viewers make decisions for the main character, the young programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), who is adapting a fantasy choose-your-own-adventure novel into a video game in 1984. Other characters include Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry) and Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), both of whom work at a video game company, Butler's father, Peter (Craig Parkinson), and Butler's therapist, Dr. Haynes (Alice Lowe). The film is based on a planned Imagine Software video game of the same name which went unreleased after the company filed for bankruptcy. It also alludes to Lewis Carroll's own works that feature the bandersnatch creature. A piece of science fiction and horror, Bandersnatch incorporates meta-commentary and rumination on free will.
Brooker and executive producer Annabel Jones were approached by Netflix about making an interactive film in May 2017, during which time Netflix had several interactive projects for children underway. Difficulty in writing the highly non-linear script led to the creation of a bespoke program called Branch Manager for Netflix; the unique nature of the content required adaptations in the platform's use of cache memory. Filming and production took longer than for typical Black Mirror episodes, resulting in the show's fifth series being delayed. A quickly-deleted tweet from a Netflix account about the release of Bandersnatch led to widespread media speculation throughout December which Netflix declined to comment on. The trailer for Bandersnatch was released on 27 December 2018, a day before the film was released. Critical reception for the film was generally positive, though some found the interactive nature to be too gimmicky for a proper Black Mirror narrative. In 2019, the episode won two Emmy Awards, including the Outstanding Television Movie award.
Bandersnatch is presented as an interactive film. A brief tutorial, specific to the device being streamed on, explains to the viewer how to make choices. They have ten seconds to make choices, or a default decision is made. Once a playthrough ends, the viewer is given an option of going back and making a different choice. The average viewing is 90 minutes, though the quickest path ends after 40 minutes. There are 150 minutes of unique footage divided into 250 segments. IGN reports that according to Netflix, there are five "main" endings, with variants within each ending; such endings may be intercut with credits, similar to other Black Mirror episodes. Producer Russell McLean said there are between ten and twelve endings, some of which are more vague as endings compared to others, and according to director David Slade, there are a few "golden eggs" endings that may take a long time before viewers figure out how to achieve them. No ending is considered "prescribed" over any other, according to executive producers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, particularly as they felt some endings were not truly endings in the traditional sense.
In most cases, when the viewer reaches an ending, the interactive film gives the player the option to redo a last critical choice as to be able to explore these endings, or they can alternatively view the film's credits. In some cases, the same segment is reachable in multiple different ways, but will present the viewer with different choices based on the way they reached the segment. In other cases, certain loops guide viewers to a specific narrative regardless of the choices they make. Some endings may become impossible to reach based on choices made by the viewer, unless they opt to restart the film. This action will erase all stored information about which options they had selected while watching the episode on that device.
In England in July 1984, a young programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) dreams of adapting a "choose your own adventure" book called Bandersnatch by tragic writer Jerome F. Davies (Jeff Minter) into what he hopes will be a revolutionary adventure video game. The game involves traversing a graphical maze of corridors while avoiding a creature called Pax, and at times making choices by an on-screen instruction. Butler produces the game for video game company Tuckersoft, which is run by Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry) and employs the famous game creator Colin Ritman (Will Poulter). Butler is given the choice of accepting or rejecting help from the company in developing the game. If Butler accepts the offer, Ritman says he chose the "wrong path". The game is released months later and critically panned as "designed by committee". Butler considers trying again, and the film returns to the day of the offer, the viewer being given the same choice.
Otherwise, Butler begins to work on the game on his own from his bedroom, given a September deadline by Thakur so Tuckersoft can publish it for Christmas sales. Fighting through the game's software bugs, Butler gets increasingly stressed out and hostile to his father Peter (Craig Parkinson). Throughout this period, Butler visits Dr. R. Haynes' (Alice Lowe) clinic for therapy. The viewer may have Butler explain to Dr. Haynes about his mother's death when he was five; Peter had taken his stuffed rabbit toy, believing boys his age should not be playing with dolls, and Butler's stubbornness to refuse to leave without it forced his mother to take a later train, which derailed and killed several passengers including her. Butler since feels responsible for her death, and sees completing the adaption of Bandersnatch, one of the books she owned, as a means to atone for her death. Dr. Haynes prescribes Butler medicine, which the viewer can choose to either have Butler take or flush down the toilet.
The viewer may have the option to have Butler take an invitation to visit Ritman's flat, where he lives with his girlfriend Kitty (Tallulah Haddon) and infant daughter Pearl. There, the pair take hallucinogens, and Ritman then talks about secret government mind-control programs, alternate timelines, and different paths. To demonstrate his theories on alternate realities, Ritman demands Butler, via the viewer, determine which one of them should jump off the balcony. If Butler jumps, he dies and the game is finished by Tuckersoft and poorly reviewed. If Ritman jumps, the whole encounter is revealed to be a dream but Ritman will be mysteriously absent in future scenes.
As the deadline to deliver the game to Thakur looms, with strange errors still present in the game, Butler begins to feel he is being controlled by outside forces, putting into question how much he trusts his father and Dr. Haynes. Butler finds his life mirroring that of Davies, seeing recurring imagery of a "branching pathway" symbol, which seemingly led to Davies beheading his own wife. As he begins to mentally break down and tries to fight against an unseen agent controlling his actions, the viewer has multiple options to explain to Butler, from his 1984 computer screen, who has been controlling him, one of which being that they are making these decisions for him via Netflix service in the 21st century. The viewer may discover a locked safe that either contains Butler's old toy rabbit, or documents about him being monitored as part of an experiment.
There are numerous possible endings, of which the following is only a partial list. One path leads to Butler fighting his therapist during a session, after which it is revealed that he is in a movie set and that his "dad" is a fellow actor. One set of choices leads to Butler following Ritman's advice, seemingly crossing through a mirror to his five-year-old self (A.J. Houghton) to go along with his mother to "die" in the derailment, causing Butler's body to suddenly die in the present. In other paths, the viewer has the option to make Butler kill his father, then bury or chop up his father's body and, when given the option, to kill Ritman or Thakur. Burying the body leads to Butler being jailed before release of the game; chopping up and not letting his therapist know about the murder leads to the successful release of the game, but Butler goes to prison shortly afterwards leading to all copies of the game being pulled from shelves and pulped.
In some endings, the viewer is shown the critical reaction to the Bandersnatch game and the fate of Tuckersoft. Other endings conclude in the present day with a grown-up Pearl (Laura Evelyn), now a programmer for Netflix, attempting to adapt it into an interactive film, which leads her to start experiencing the same "branching path" imagery seen by both Davies and Butler.
Bandersnatch is an interactive film, in which viewers are asked at various points to make a choice which affects the storyline. It was released on Netflix on 28 December 2018 and is available in 28 languages. Netflix had previously released some interactive programmes for children, starting in 2017 with Puss in Book. Netflix also released the 2015 Telltale Games interactive series Minecraft: Story Mode on their website in November 2018. Bandersnatch was their first release targeted at adults. Due to the complexity of Bandersnatch and the effort required to make it, the fifth season of Black Mirror was delayed, though it was still broadcast on Netflix on 5 June 2019; Brooker compared the effort they had to make for Bandersnatch equivalent to four regular Black Mirror episodes.
Conception and writingEdit
The film was written by series creator Charlie Brooker. He and executive producer Annabel Jones were approached by Netflix in May 2017 about making an interactive episode; their initial instinct was to reject the offer, particularly over concerns over the lack of seamless transitions from earlier interactive movies. However, during a script meeting a few weeks later to review potential ideas for the upcoming fifth series of Black Mirror, they conceived a plot that only worked as an interactive film, based on a programmer making a video game out of a choose-your-own-adventure book. This concept, alongside the interactive nature of the work, served to amplify the effects of interactivity rather than just make it a gimmick. Brooker later said that they had already shot one of the episodes for series five, and envisioned Bandersnatch to be another episode for that series before it was pulled out as its own special movie. Brooker had previously conceived of multiple endings for the third series episode "Playtest": a "nightmare mode" version of the episode, played when the viewer had seen the episode once before, would have ended with a much darker resolution.
Brooker initially envisaged the film as having one clear story, with a few different scenes at the end, until he had the idea of the film remembering earlier choices and incorporating them. To keep the narrative focused with the numerous divergent endings, Brooker kept the story's core concept around the freedom of choice or the illusion of that freedom. Jones worked to develop characters that were believable and would fit with any of the film's possible endings. Discussions were had over the number of choices the viewer should make and how the film should be paced. The storylines and branches continued expanding into pre-production.
The flash-forward ending involving Pearl Ritman was considered to be the one most commonly reached by viewers of Bandersnatch, according to Netflix. The scene itself is meta to the work, but it was also a rather personal scene for Brooker, who found himself in a similar position as Pearl in trying to work himself through pages of complex decision trees while writing the script. Several of the paths put the viewer towards the choice of having Butler kill his father, though the viewer is given the option to avoid this. However, not all endings can be reached without Butler killing his father. McLean stated that this was done to give the viewer the sense of having their own control over the narrative, when in reality they were being funnelled towards making this choice. Endings in which a reviewer gives a star rating to Bandersnatch were designed to encourage users to go back, though Brooker says there is no ending in which the game gets a good review and Stefan has a happy life.
Some of Brooker's ideas for the film went unused. At one point, trophies for unlocking scenes were considered, similar to Xbox achievements. Instead of a documentary on Jerome F Davies, it was conceived that Stefan could choose to watch an entire film that viewers could interact with. Brooker also wanted Stefan's father's blood to splatter across the viewer's cereal choice. Originally, a segment where the viewer enters the therapist's phone number was intended to be a more difficult riddle and the Netflix meta-endings could only be unlocked after the first playthrough.
At Netflix's suggestion, Brooker wrote the 170-page script in Twine, a tool for writing interactive fiction, also utilising Scrivener, Final Draft and multiple versions of Microsoft Notepad. The basic structure of the film took the most time to write, and the script underwent seven different versions. As the first Netflix interactive content for adults, Bandersnatch required more complex choices than previous interactive works, leading Netflix staff to create a bespoke tool which they named Branch Manager, but this only became available to Brooker a few months into the episode's development. The learning curve on the Branch Manager and other software pieces took considerable effort for Brooker.
Brooker and the production also considered how to present the choices to the player, initially considering GIF animation loops of the possible actions. Their initial designs baffled test viewers, and instead used text options, temporarily letterboxing the frame to make the choices clear. The lighting, sound design and aspect ratio of the film change while this takes place, designed to make the viewer feel pressure. There are over one trillion possible paths the viewer can take. There is at least one segment made for the work that became inaccessible due to last-minute editing and scene ordering choices, according to Brooker, and he considered this the show's ultimate Easter egg.
Streaming with seamless transitions from one scene to either of two choices requires the two subsequent scenes to be pre-cached, which meant that Bandersnatch could not be made available on some older devices, or Chromecast or Apple TV.[a] To help viewers who may not be familiar with how adventure games work, the film includes an early, seemingly trivial choice of which breakfast cereal Stefan has. This not only shows the viewer how choices are presented during the film, but how their state is recalled by the Netflix app later in their viewing. In this case, the cereal selection informs a television advert in-movie. The film will progress with a predetermined default choice if the user does not respond in the short window given. If no choices are selected, the viewer will get the most basic version of the story, as determined by Brooker.
Casting and filmingEdit
Bandersnatch stars Fionn Whitehead, Will Poulter, and Asim Chaudhry. Whitehead was only informed of the film's interactive nature after being offered the part. Due to unpleasant comments following the release of Bandersnatch, Poulter announced that he would reduce his Twitter activity "in the interest of my mental health". Davies is played by independent game developer Jeff Minter who has developed several psychedelic video games including Polybius inspired by a video game urban legend of the same name. Some of Ritman's character was informed by Minter's own background. Writer Warren Ellis reported that he had been asked to portray Davies but could not commit to the open shooting schedule and travel that the show required.
The film was directed by David Slade, who previously directed series four episode "Metalhead". The score was composed by Brian Reitzell, with a soundtrack featuring songs such as "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Hold Me Now" by Thompson Twins, "Here Comes the Rain Again" by Eurythmics, "Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo, "Making Plans for Nigel" by XTC and "Love On a Real Train", "Phaedra" and "Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares" by Tangerine Dream.
Production took eight months. The actors had two weeks to prep, while filming lasted around 35 days, which was considerably longer than the average for a Black Mirror episode. A flowchart was initially used on set but actors found it overcomplicated the situation. Whitehead and Poulter both compared the experience to theatre acting. Slade highlighted Colin as the hardest character to understand, as one scene needed to be shot three times, with Colin having different levels of knowledge at each stage. Slade told Poulter to focus not on how his character knew information, but simply that his character did know. Whitehead found it difficult to maintain his character's constant anxiety and tension. Some exterior filming took place in Croydon during April 2018. Among locations used included St George's Walk, with storefronts redressed to appear as stores from the 1980s, and No. 1 Croydon, the apparent headquarters for Tuckersoft. Assets were required to be locked in for Netflix by the end of November 2018.
Whitehead reports that much more footage was shot than was used in the final version. The film features some scenes which viewers cannot access, as a result of late changes made after some segments were shot. This is similar to video games, which often have unused content still stored in their files. One such scene was a third encounter between Stefan and Colin at the offices, in which Colin would start finishing Stefan's sentences; Brooker had known the scene was locked out of the paths, but found that at least one person had obtained the footage through questionable means to share it on the Internet. Some violent material was cut from Bandersnatch, deemed to be violent enough already, such as Stefan killing Colin with a knife.
Marketing and releaseEdit
|"Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (Trailer)"|
|"Bandersnatch Consumer Featurette"|
|"Bandersnatch | Featurette: Tech"|
On 27 December 2018, Netflix released a 90-second trailer for Bandersnatch, establishing the release on the following day, 28 December. On 3 January 2019, Netflix released two "featurettes" which look behind the scenes at the film.
While the film was officially announced on 27 December 2018, there had been much media speculation as to the nature of the work much earlier that year, spurred by news that Black Mirror had been renewed for a fifth series by March 2018. Early reports in April 2018, including the Digital Spy and through social media, reported on Black Mirror filming in Croydon, asserting it was for an episode titled Bandersnatch. In late November and early December, it was widely reported that Twitter users had spotted a since-deleted tweet from an official Netflix account, with a list of premiere dates including 28 December 2018 for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. The film was certified by the Korean and Dutch ratings board prior to its release, with the former reporting that it was 5 hours and 12 minutes in length, leading to further media speculation. On 19 December 2018, Netflix added the title Black Mirror: Bandersnatch as an upcoming film, with the tagline "Be right back." This references the series two episode of the same name. Various runtimes including 2 minutes, 36 minutes and 90 minutes were listed in different territories. In late December, media reported on an image of the cast and a claim that Slade would direct the episode.
The interactive nature of Bandersnatch was first suggested by Bloomberg News in October 2018, which cited an unnamed sources that Netflix was developing an interactive episode of Black Mirror alongside several other interactive specials for release in 2018. A Netflix spokesperson, when asked about this by The Verge, responded with: "Thanks for reaching out! You have the ability to choose your own response from Netflix: this or this." The first "this" contained a link to a GIF from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt of a character saying "razzmatazz", and the second linked to a YouTube video of crickets chirping. Only upon the film's release on 28 December did Netflix publicly confirm the film's interactive nature. Carla Engelbrecht, Netflix's director of product innovation, told The Hollywood Reporter that they did not officially announce that Bandersnatch would be an interactive episode so that viewers would not have "preconceived notions", such as an overestimation of the level of interactivity. No screeners were sent to critics in advance of the film's release, though Netflix had invited select media writers to their headquarters about a month prior to release and give them an opportunity to try the interactive film.
A week following the film's premiere, Netflix sent out a hint on its social media pages directing users on how to come across an obscure scene. A week later, Netflix tweeted pieces of data about viewer choices in the episode. For instance, 60% of viewers choose Frosties over Sugar Puffs, 73% of viewers made Stefan initially accept the job at Tuckersoft and of the endings deemed the five main ones, the least viewed was the one where Stefan boards the train with his mother as a child. Later, Netflix reported that 94% of the viewers of the film were actively making choices, proving out that people were taking to the interactive medium and supporting the go-ahead for other projects.
Following the release of Bandersnatch to Netflix, a live website for the fictional company Tuckersoft was made available. The site documents some of the fictional games discussed in the film, but includes a playable version of Nohzdyve that requires the use of a ZX Spectrum computer or an emulator. The site also includes a recruitment ad for Tuckersoft, but in actuality links to open job positions at Netflix. Within a week of the film's release, a number of mock "Tucker's Newsagent and Games" storefronts appeared in London and Birmingham, styled as a 1980s store with the various Tuckersoft games, and VHS tapes of other Black Mirror episodes.
The term "bandersnatch" originates from a fictional creature created by Lewis Carroll, which appears in his 1870s poems "Jabberwocky" and "The Hunting of the Snark". The film makes several allusions to Carroll's works. Part of Butler's motivation is to find his stuffed rabbit toy which leads him to discover deeper secrets, comparable to Alice's quest to find the White Rabbit in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Ritman and his girlfriend Kitty lead Butler into a psychedelic experience in their flat, correlating to the Mad Hatter's tea party from the same story, with Kitty's appearance even similar to that of the Hatter. At one point, Butler travels through a mirror, or literally following the action suggested by the title of Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. The design of the Pax is similar to the original Peter Newell drawing of the Bandersnatch.
The "bandersnatch" term also relates to Bandersnatch, a planned video game by Imagine Software. One of several expensive "megagames" which Imagine Software worked on, Bandersnatch was never released as the company went bankrupt in 1984. Imagine's closure was widely publicised as the events leading to it occurred at the time the BBC were featuring the company in its 1984 "Commercial Breaks" documentary series, and had cascading effects on the video game development industry in the United Kingdom. As an allusion, the film opens on 9 July 1984, the day Imagine was closed, and the cover of Crash with this news is featured in the film. The video game was mentioned in an Easter egg in series three episode "Playtest", on the front cover of a magazine which is briefly shown onscreen.
Additionally, the story shares elements of the works of Philip K. Dick, who frequently wrote on alternate realities and timelines. The Davies character is an allusion to Dick, who had frequently used recreational drugs throughout his life, and at one point attempted to kill his wife. Dick's work Ubik is visually referenced in the film. Brooker also compares the story to the 1993 comedy fantasy Groundhog Day, about a character who re-lives the same day repeatedly. Some have also compared Davies to writer William S. Burroughs, a similar tortured artist who did kill his second wife.
The film is a work of postmodernism, containing meta-commentary and utilising free will as a central theme. Ed Cumming of The Independent commented that it contains themes of "authorial control, free will and fate". Beth Elderkin of io9 wrote that Bandersnatch is about the absence of choice, and Stefan's life being outside of his control. Elderkin highlighted the "White Rabbit" ending, in which Stefan finds his rabbit under his bed as a child and joins his mother in dying on the train, as the one point where "free will is celebrated instead of derided". These themes of lack of free will, monitoring, and control, as well as the 1984 setting, led to comparisons to George Orwell's novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Bandersnatch has elements of comedy, horror, pathos, science fiction and a 1980s period piece. David Griffin of IGN compares it to the adventure video game series The Walking Dead, whose first installment was released in 2012, and the 2018 adventure game Detroit: Become Human. Karl Quinn of The Sydney Morning Herald compares the work to Mosaic, a 2017 murder mystery released by HBO as an interactive app. Keith Spencer of Salon noted that Bandersnatch uses self-reference, metatext and an unreliable narrator in the same way as postmodernist literature and works of the 1960s and beyond. Spencer also makes comparisons to early internet-era hypertext fiction and the previous Netflix interactive work Puss In Book, which has a broadly similar plot of a character being driven mad by the knowledge that they are controlled by an external force. Stuart Heritage of The Guardian wrote that "Brooker has popularised a new form of storytelling, then identified its tropes and dismantled them one by one." At one point, Thakur mentions that Butler's game has no need to type in "get lamp", which is the first necessary command that the player must use in the first text adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure, and the title of a documentary about the onset of interactive fiction.
The film has no ending in which the game gets a good review and Stefan is happy. One critic wrote that this implied "a link between mental illness, violence, and creativity". Brooker responded that the game itself could be "a force of evil" and said that "the less friction there is in Stefan's life, the more boring the story for an onlooker becomes".
Like previous episodes, Bandersnatch makes several allusions to previous Black Mirror episodes. The "branching path" symbol which Davis and later Butler experience is equivalent in a digital version to the symbol used in "White Bear". One of Tuckersoft's successful games is Metl Hedd, a reference to "Metalhead", also directed by Slade, while Ritman is shown to be working on a game called Nohzdyve, referencing the episode "Nosedive". Butler attends counselling at the Saint Juniper clinic, named for "San Junipero", while Tuckersoft alludes to the "San Junipero" company TCKR. References to events associated with other Black Mirror episodes can be seen in news stories shown in brief shots of the pages of The Sun newspaper and on a television news crawl; such episodes include "The National Anthem", "Be Right Back", "15 Million Merits", "The Waldo Moment", "Hated in the Nation", "USS Callister", "Crocodile", and "Hang the DJ". Some journalists noted that "R. Haynes" may allude to Rolo Haynes, the proprietor of the titular showcase in "Black Museum". There are also Easter eggs to upcoming series five episodes.
Brooker, Slade and producer Russell McLean discussed whether there was deeper meaning in the Easter eggs. Slade was reluctant to include the Metl Hedd game, saying "I didn't really see the need for it, but that's just me". Slade commented that Tuckersoft could later have become TCKR, a company in "San Junipero" and thought that "Metalhead" was an event in the future rather than a simulation. McLean said that stories are developed in isolation, rather than by asking "how do we fit the story into this universe?" Brooker saw the Easter eggs as "a nice nod to superfans" which should not affect the creative process or force viewers to watch the stories in a particular order. Brooker has suggested that the character of Colin Ritman could potentially show up in future Black Mirror stories, given that the character, in certain paths, seems to just disappear but has awareness of alternate timelines and realities.
In one ending, the sound of a computer data tape recording is heard; loading the sound into a ZX Spectrum provides the viewer with a QR code with the White Bear glyph in the middle that leads to the fictional Tuckersoft website, where a playable copy of the ZX Spectrum game Nohzdyve can be downloaded. This ending was at one point intended to be a clue to a real life treasure hunt in which people could find Bandersnatch cassettes, inspired by the 1979 picture book Masquerade that gave hints as to the location of a buried bejeweled golden hare.
The film received generally favourable reviews from critics, but some felt the interactivity was too much of a gimmick to support a proper Black Mirror episode. It received an average of 7.44 out of 10 on Rotten Tomatoes, with an overall 72% approval based on 68 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "While Bandersnatch marks an innovative step forward for interactive content, its meta narrative can't quite sustain interest over multiple viewings — though it provides enough trademark Black Mirror tech horror to warrant at least one watch." Metacritic gave the film a weighted average score of 61 out of 100 based on 16 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
David Griffin from IGN gave Bandersnatch a rating of 8.0. He praised the technical aspect of the film, calling the decision points "smooth and unobtrusive" and commenting that they add tension. Griffin praised performances by Whitehead and Poulter and wrote that the film "takes the best aspects of video games and movies". Ed Cumming of The Independent gave the episode four stars out of five, believing the best aspects to be unrelated to the interactive format. Cumming praised Poulter's acting, the "ominous and claustrophobic" set design and the "knowing and smart" dialogue. In an A– review, Liz Shannon Miller of IndieWire lauded the usability of the film, as well as the meta-commentary and ideas about free will. Miller called Whitehead "capable" and noted "one genuinely creepy moment" bolstered by Slade's directing. Heritage praised the user experience, as well as the film's "ambition". Praising the storyline as "incredibly funny at times", Heritage reported being left with a "profound feeling of satisfaction" after he had finished exploring.
Some critics expressed concern on impact of the interactive nature of the work on Black Mirror's typical themes. Roisin O'Connor of The Independent criticises that after a while of navigating choices, this feature becomes "wearisome" and "pulls you out of the story". Rolling Stone's David Fear rated Bandersnatch three of five stars, stating that while most other Black Mirror left an impression about the potential dark future of technology, Bandersnatch had little that served as a similar caution, and instead was something to experience for the interactive technology before moving onto something else to watch. Brian Lowry of CNN said "give everyone associated with the stunt – including 'Black Mirror' creator Charlie Brooker – an 'A' for effort, but maybe a 'C+' for the execution", praising the ability of Netflix to take experimental risks. However, Lowry found the repetition in trying out the other choices in Bandersnatch to be dull and numbing. Linda Holmes for NPR similarly commented that the interactivity function was novel, but the complexity of Bandersnatch's plot made it tedious to seek out all the possible endings that the narrative offered, often having to watch the same scenes repeatedly. Holmes suggested that the interactivity would work better in a more directed narrative.
Giving the film four out of five stars, The Guardian's Lucy Mangan said that Bandersnatch was successful as an interactive work, paving the way for future attempts that can only get better as directors, actors, and producers learn how to better create for the format. Quinn praised the story's interactive nature, calling it more "fully realised" and "enjoyable" than other recent visual storytelling works. Spencer criticised the film for utilising postmodernist cliches and containing a storyline which is not "particularly memorable". Spencer opined that Bandersnatch is the only Black Mirror work to omit "any profound commentary on technology or the human condition", criticising its use of brands as a deviation from the programme's anti-consumerist message. Austen Goslin of Polygon critiqued that the film "abandons all concept of narrative" in its second half. Describing the storyline as "a cleverly disguised straight line" with only a few forks, Goslin found that the choices lead to "staccato pacing". Goslin wrote that the interactive nature prevented Bandersnatch from being a "much more enjoyable film", commenting that there are a "few genuinely fun scenes" near the end of the story.
Netflix considered the film a successful display of its interactivity, and went on to produce additional shows using the new Branch Manager tool, including You vs. Wild, fashioned after Bear Grylls' Man vs. Wild series, and an interactive special for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
The Verge's Jesse Damiani states that the successful approach to interactivity in Bandersnatch could potentially be a valuable user-preference data and marketing tool for Netflix and other services. Netflix can collect data not only on which decisions users take but how long it takes them to select those decisions can be used to suggests personal preferences for certain types of content. Further, elements like the choice of cereals or music to play on the bus can also be used to determine personal tastes and aesthetics, which could further then be used by other interactive films to deliver non-essential marketing placement.
In February, technology policy researcher Michael Veale requested the data that Netflix stored about his viewings of Bandersnatch under the General Data Protection Regulation. He criticised that the data, detailing every choice he had made, was not anonymised and taken without explicit consent from the user. A 2019 paper by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras demonstrated how to infer viewers' choices in Bandersnatch through network packet analysis with 96% accuracy. The paper noted that this could be used to reveal viewer preferences "from benign (e.g., their food and music preferences) to sensitive (e.g., their affinity to violence and political inclination)", and noted a technical solution Netflix could implement.
Among its nominations, Bandersnatch won two Emmy Awards and a Broadcasting Press Guild TV and Radio Award in the Innovation category. Bandersnatch won the Best Game Writing category at the 2019 Nebula Awards, rather than a storytelling category.
|2019||Broadcasting Press Guild TV and Radio Awards||Innovation Award||Black Mirror: Bandersnatch||Won|||
|Fangoria Chainsaw Awards||Best Streaming Premiere Film||David Slade||Nominated|||
|Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards||Best Television Presentation||Black Mirror: Bandersnatch||Nominated|||
|Nebula Awards||Best Game Writing||Charlie Brooker||Won|||
|Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Television Movie||Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker, executive producers; Russell McLean, producer||Won|||
|Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media Within a Scripted Program||Black Mirror: Bandersnatch||Won|||
Chooseco, the company founded by R. A. Montgomery to republish the Choose Your Own Adventure book series, filed a lawsuit against Netflix for trademark infringement by use of the phrase "choose your own adventure" in Bandersnatch, seeking upwards of US$25 million in damages. Chooseco claims it has trademarked the phrase in association with movies, books, and other forms of media, and that Netflix had started negotiations with Chooseco in 2016 to license the phrase for films and animated series, but these did not pan out. Netflix has sought to have the suit summarily dismissed on a number of grounds related to trademark law and fair use allowances.
- Attempting to watch the film on an unsupported platform will result in a short video message using clips from earlier episodes of Black Mirror informing the viewer that their platform does not currently support interactive content on Netflix.
- Roettgers, Janko (28 December 2018). "Netflix Takes Interactive Storytelling to the Next Level With 'Black Mirror: Bandersnatch'". Variety. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
- Rubin, Peter (28 December 2018). "How The Surprise New Interactive Black Mirror Came Together". Wired. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
- Griffin, David (28 December 2018). "Netflix's Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Review". IGN. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
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