‘Bandersnatch’ fails to snatch viewers for the right reasons

‘Bandersnatch’ fails to snatch viewers for the right reasons

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January 18, 2019

WARNING: This review contains spoilers. A lot of them. If you think it wouldn’t matter because it’s a choose-your-own-adventure—you’d be wrong.

“Choose your own adventure” is a style of literature, and now film, that allows the reader, or the viewer, to choose which paths they want to go down, thereby changing the plot and the timeline of the story.

So in honor of the creation of a film that allows the viewer to forge their own path, we have also decided to introduce this one-of-a-kind “choose your own adventure” review of this “choose your own adventure” film. Original, right?

Following the completion of this paragraph, all the sections will be labeled with numbers. You will be given choices at the end of each section on where you would like to proceed to next. Good luck—we hope it isn’t as confusing to read as it was for us to write.

Choice 1:
Do you care about who the director and actors are? Go to Section 1
Not particularly, what did Celia really think? Go to Section 2
I don’t care about Celia’s opinion, what did Sabrina really think? Go to Section 3
So should I actually go watch it? Go to Section 4

Actors Section 1:
Director David Slade, probably more famous as the director of the third installment of the Twilight saga, “Eclipse,” is back once again as director of his second “Black Mirror” piece. His first piece, “Metalhead,” was the only completely black and white episode in the “Black Mirror” series.

Very similar to “Metalhead,” common themes that appear in Bandersnatch include those of helplessness, especially as the viewer moves through the film.

Much like most of the other “Black Mirror” episodes, we knew practically none of the actors that were in the film. Stefan Butler, portrayed by Fionn Whitehead, is a young, brilliant video game developer in the early 1980s who is given the opportunity to publish his own video game, Bandersnatch, which is based off of a book that he read when he was younger.

Tuckersoft, the company that offers Butler the job is led by Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry), and grants him the opportunity to work with his hero, Colin Ritman (Will Poulter).

Here in the film is the first big decision that the viewer is faced with: Do they want Stefan to work at Tuckersoft with a team, or to work on his own at home? These two options create the biggest decision that the viewer wants to make. Or so it seems.

If Stefan chooses to work at Tuckersoft the game is deemed too rushed and given 0 out 5 stars and called terrible. If Stefan refuses…well you just have to figure that out for yourself. A questionable feature of the film is some of the “forced endings.” Even though you are given a decision in a lot of places, a lot of times, the decisions that you make lead nowhere.

Having Stefan working at Tuckersoft on Bandersnatch could have evolved into a whole new storyline, however, it automatically jumps to the end where the game is being reviewed. This basically proves that the creators of the film have a specific path they want you to take, and are pushing you toward it.

Working at Tuckersoft could have created a whole other storyline for Stefan and his father, but the directors want you to work on the completion of Bandersnatch, and everything that comes with it.

Bandersnatch has been called revolutionary by some, as it presents the possibility of a whole new genre of interactive television. But Bandersnatch isn’t the first interactive film; in fact, it’s not even Netflix’s first interactive film. Movies like “Puss in Book,” a Dreamworks animated flick starring everyone’s favorite character from the Shrek series, Puss in Boots, is also interactive and was released in 2017. Netflix also has other interactive films such as “Minecraft Story Mode.”

Though clearly aimed at children (sorry, but anyone reading a college newspaper is too old to be playing Minecraft), these movies demonstrate that the idea of interactive film existed before Bandersnatch.

But that doesn’t necessarily stop Bandersnatch from being, at least on some level, revolutionary. The film is able to execute plot changes based on the viewer’s decisions so seamlessly that Bandersnatch, when watched for the first time, appears as one coherent movie. Though Bandersnatch may not be the first of its kind, it does set a higher standard for films of the interactive genre.

Celia’s Review Section 2:
If you’re a fan of the complexity characteristic of choose your own adventures, then this film is not for you. Watching the film for the first time, I was interested by the ability to make different choices for the character and the film that thereby ensued. But once I watched it more than once, the scenes, even the new ones that were introduced, quickly became repetitive.

Bandersnatch failed simply because there wasn’t enough choice. The film tries to make a larger argument about the non-existence of free will—but this plot point is simply an excuse, an attempt to disguise a lack of ingenuity on the creators’ behalf as a complex thought rather than an inability to create an interesting film and a diverse set of paths for the viewer.

The film essentially describes its ideal self, the game, Bandersnatch—a complex adventure game with multiple possible versions of reality. But it fails utterly at living up to this grand promise. Instead it gives the reader one bland path with a few interesting, albeit unoriginal, endings. I mean, the one where it was all a Netflix show in the end? Seriously?

The film tries to involve substantially different scenes that the viewer chooses, through a dream sequence that is triggered by picking up a certain object. But this is quite literally one of the laziest devices in literary history. It was all a dream? Really? I still have nightmares of my high school English teacher telling me that if I used the “It was all a dream” ending he’d drop a house on me.

If these scenes had been integrated into the movie as real events and not sloppily tacked on as dreams the plot could’ve been considerably different. Instead, the dream sequences don’t matter all that much, sending you to the same next choice, with a few varying answers, rather than taking you on an entirely different route.

Those who unfortunately choose to watch the film more than once are instantly disappointed by the near utter lack of divergence in the plot, and are forced to follow roughly the same path over and over again, hoping futilely for a different ending (I would know). And once you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole more than once, you quickly realize the inconsistencies in the stories. If you refuse to exit to the credits, you eventually run into continuity errors, more specifically one big error: Colin.

In some versions, Colin is dead or mysteriously disappeared. In others, he lives once again. If you follow the film multiple times you eventually realize that, for anything to make a modicum of sense he has to be Schrodinger’s Cat: alive and dead at the same time. Sadly the film lacks this substantially more interesting metaphor, and relies on the tired refrain of no free will.

And hey, maybe I didn’t find all of the endings. Maybe I am missing some realities in this review. But for a choose-your-own-adventure to be interesting the alternate endings should be substantially different and available to a viewer. If all the interesting endings are secret, the movie most people see is pretty bad.

And if you didn’t like this review? You disagree with me, you thought Bandersnatch was revolutionary, a cinematic masterpiece? Then I guess you made the wrong decision at the start of this choose your own adventure review. Sorry, wrong path.

Try section 3.

Sabrina’s Review Section 3:
Bandersnatch in a nutshell is a choose-your-own-adventure film about a choose-your-own-adventure book. I had such high hopes for the film before it came out. When I first saw the headline that Netflix was planning to release a choose-your-own-adventure film, I immediately told our Arts editor that I wanted the story for myself.

Get to the first choice in the show, cereal. Seriously. Cereal. I don’t care about cereal, I just want to do something interesting. And much to my dismay, it didn’t get much better than that. I spent at least 10 hours watching, and re-watching, the show attempting to get as complete of a map as I possibly could. Yes, I have it. And yes, I’m willing to share if you’re actually too lazy to watch it. But the biggest thing that bothered me about the show had nothing to do with the show at all. It was the inability for the viewer to jump to different parts of the show. While attempting to complete my tree, I had to stop, and restart, so many times just to follow another path.

And much like many of the endings, the decision making didn’t get much better than that. As the viewer gets further and further into the film, it is very apparent that the director is leading you in the direction of specific endings.

Just looking at my chart, I could pretty easily figure out how Netflix really wanted the show to play out if we just let it run through. I tried to do it but if Netflix checked how long I had watched the show, they would be extremely concerned for my well-being.

While the themes and basis of idea of Bandersnatch are extremely interesting, the lack in diversity in the endings and the paths the viewer could take is ultimately what draws me away from the film, and causes me to give a more negative review.

Much like many of the endings that I saw, I give Bandersnatch 2.5 out of 5 stars. The directors were extremely ambitious in what they were trying to accomplish, and while I applaud them for what they were able to do, some of the endings seemed extremely rushed and unfinished. If there had been more variation in the paths that the viewer was able to take, making all the endings vastly different from one another, it would have been so much better and added much more depth to the film.

Sans the extremely Netflix ending, all of the endings stem from one key action, Stefan killing his dad. But why does it have to be this way? Why does Stefan’s disposal of the body ultimately determine what ending you are brought to? Not all of us are Dexter.

What the film does for me, though, is give me hope for the future. I read around that there were around five hours of footage in the entirety of the episode. While I’m pretty certain I didn’t see five hours of footage while I was watching, I commend them for filming and editing that much footage. That sounds like a lot of work.

So kudos to you, Netflix.

Ending Section 4:

All in all, Netflix should be praised for attempting to bring the audience more into the film, making it as interactive as possible for a reader without actually casting them in the show. We extremely appreciated this. Both of us spent way too much time going through the film, dying and reviving ourselves magically to get all the different possible endings.

And contrary to a lot of the news outlets that give the “true endings,” we’ve shown that this isn’t really the case. Most of the endings are true but went through the iterations at least five times each and never got to some of the endings, even by the directions given on these sites. And if the director of the film doesn’t even know all of the endings, how can anyone be so sure?

The future of Bandersnatch, and choose-your-own-adventure anything, is extremely questionable now. Following the release of the show, Chooseco, the publisher of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” Books from the 1980s and 90s, and the trademark owner of “Choose Your Own Adventure” is suing Netflix for trademark infringement.

In the report, Chooseco says Netflix “used the mark willfully and intentionally to capitalize on viewers’ nostalgia for the original book series from the 1980s and 1990s. The film’s dark and, at times, disturbing content dilutes the goodwill for and positive associations with Chooseco’s mark and tarnishes its products,” according to an article published by The Hollywood Reporter.

So while us viewers will always dream of having a more interactive choose-your-own-adventure film, we don’t think it’s worth a $25 million lawsuit or the delay on Season 5 of “Black Mirror.”

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