Black Mirror: Bandersnatch does justice to the creative writing genre it pays homage to, despite an obvious storytelling limitation.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Synopsis
In 1984, young game programmer Stefan Butler successfully pitches the idea for a complex, multiple-ending interactive video game to an up-and-coming developer. In the months that follow, he descends into madness, violence, or achieves redemption. Everything depends on how you, the Netflix viewer, manipulates his miserable life.
(Yes, yes, I know this isn’t exactly a movie. It’s an episode of the series. But hey, if you wanna watch all the endings, you need hours)
First snappy movie review for 2019! And so I’d go longer for this one.
Also, I feel obliged to write more for this review because Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is CYOA i.e. Choose Your Own Adventure, one of the most unique writing formats created in the last century. While the original CYOA books were never my favourite gamebook series, I did still obsess over them for a year or so. All else aside, reading the CYOA books of the early 80s set me on the path to being a video gamer for life. Hmm, actually, the very first piece of extended creative writing I attempted was CYOA in nature. Never did finish that, incidentally. But, you know, the attempt became a permanent part of me and all that, etc.
But I deviate. Let me get back to the review.
As far as the story for Bandersnatch is concerned, or should I say stories, I think what’s most worthy of mention is how abrupt and macabre some of the endings are. In a nutshell, this captures what I feel to be the best flavour of the original CYOA books.
If you’ve ever read any of them, I think you’d be familiar with the sheer unpredictability of the endings. How a story could instantly spin insanely out of control, and end, following a choice that seems correct no matter how you look at it. Exasperating as it was for 10-year-old me back then, this aspect ultimately became what I remember most fondly about those books. To put it in another way, for Bandersnatch to successfully replicate this flavour, intentionally or not, I feel it did proper justice to the genre. More so than anything else, this fulfilled my personal requirements for a CYOA adventure.
On the flipside, entertaining and eye-raising as most of the endings were, I thought all were rather restricted in nature. Not going to dump spoilers by explaining what I mean by that, I’d just put it as, all endings and variations ultimately fall under the same category. Perhaps this was a creative decision to keep Bandersnatch in line with the feel of the Black Mirror series. Still, isn’t it the current standard for interactive stories to offer endings from both (extreme) ends of the spectrum? I don’t think I’m being demanding by subscribing to this standard.
Technical Note: I’m a little embarrassed to highlight this. The viewing experience was initially confusing for me. As a classic gamer and CYOA reader, I was constantly looking for the “correct” path to take, or the “desired” path to go down. The whole one ending triggering another ending mechanic just wasn’t obvious to me till I read some walkthroughs. Admittedly, this mechanic isn’t entirely new in games; New Game++ nowadays always contain additional endings and features. That said, it might have been better had the system been better presented/explained. I was seriously befuddled for a while when different choices in the same scene appeared.
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