Interactive Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is here to cap a twisted 2018

Black Mirror makes an interactive Netflix movie before interactive movies become real-life Black Mirror episodes.

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Joan E. Solsman
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Fionn Whitehead plays Bandersnatch's protagonist Stefan, the main character whose actions you, the viewer, choose. 


Don't misunderstand Netflix's latest stab at interactive TV based on the ones that came before: this one definitely isn't for kids. 

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, streaming Friday, is Netflix's latest take on interactive video. But where Netflix's previous efforts were animated tales aimed at children, Black Mirror takes the new format in a darker, more mind-warping direction. 


Netflix's first interactive movie uses a choose-your-own-adventure model for video based on the twisted backstory to a fictional choose-your-own-adventure novel. 

Netflix/Black Mirror

Interactive video often feels like a gimmick, a digitization of the choose-your-own-adventure books of old. But rapid advancement in the technology is expected to pave the way for the format to develop in its own sci-fi-like directions. The coming rollout of 5G -- ultra-fast, high-bandwidth mobile connections -- is one example of technology that also opens up possibilities for reinventing interactive video (along with a mess of privacy uncertainties).

That interactive video's future already has the tinge of Black Mirror to it makes Bandersnatch a fitting turn for Netflix. 

Netflix is calling Bandersnatch its first "interactive film," which seems like an aptly subversive way to further twist the literal meaning of the word "film." (Once upon a time, it was something actually screened by projecting celluloid film.) The movie typically runs for about 90 minutes, depending on the choices you make at the plot's branching points. Bandersnatch has more than 1 trillion possible permutations of its story, but the piece has "five main endings" that viewers can eventually end up with, according to Netflix. 


Bandersnatch follows a programmer in the 1980s, bent on re-creating a choose-your-own-adventure novel (written by an author who went insane) as a text-based computer game. 


The planned interactive episode was first reported by Bloomberg in October. 

It's Netflix's first interactive program that isn't a cartoon for kids. The company introduced simple interactive episodes last year with children's specials, like a story based on Dreamworks' version of Puss in Boots. The title lets a kid pick whether Puss, for example, fights against a god or a tree by choosing with a TV remote control or by tapping on a device's screen.

Bandersnatch preserves that A-or-B plot choice format, but the movie gives it a self-referential spin by building the story around a literal choose-your-own-adventure novel. The story is built around a 1980s video game programmer named Stefan. He's attempting to create a blockbuster text-based computer game inspired by that kind of branching novel given to him as a child. In Black Mirror fashion, the author of this novel went insane and decapitated his wife. So, yeah, not for kids. 

There are Easter eggs sprinkled outside the video as well. A website for Tuckersoft, the gaming company in the movie, has a landing page that looks like something you'd load with an AOL dial-up connection. Its job recruitment page is styled like an 1980s magazine ad, with actor Asim Chaudhry's Mohan Tucker pictured next to a boxy Commodore 64-era computer. Clicking on the ad takes you to Netflix's own online job listings for engineers. 

Bandersnatch is available to experience on "most newer devices," according to Netflix, including TVs, game consoles, web browsers, and Android and iOS devices running the latest version of the Netflix app. But you can't watch on Chromecast, Apple TV and some legacy devices, Netflix said. 

Watch this: Netflix launches 'choose your own adventure' video

First published Dec. 28, 5:27 a.m. PT. 
Update, 10:03 a.m. PT: Adds online Easter egg. 

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