Bandersnatch: The critics’ verdicts on Black Mirror’s interactive adventure

Fionn Whitehead in Black Mirror: BandersnatchImage copyright

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Dunkirk star Fionn Whitehead plays lead character Stefan

The interactive episode of Black Mirror that dropped on Netflix on Friday has been judged a success by many of the critics who have tried it out.

Set in 1984, Bandersnatch tells of a computer programmer trying to adapt a fantasy novel into a video game.

Viewers must make the lead character’s choices for him – decisions that send the plot in different directions.

The Guardian declared it “a masterpiece of sophistication” – but Variety said the show had taken “the wrong path”.

Viewers also gave their verdicts on social media.

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The Telegraph – Ed Power

“What it adds up to is truly remarkable – a synapse-flensing caper that queries the nature of reality, the existence of free will and whether video games have got any better since the glory days of Lord of Midnight and Knight Lore…

“In giving the viewer a smattering of choice, Black Mirror’s most disturbing episode yet argues forcefully that none of us are really in control of anything.”

iNews – Mark Butler

“Through its cocktail of delirious outcomes, Bandersnatch blends darkness and light, humour and shock-value, and ultimately gives the Black Mirror audience far more than it bargained for.

“[Charlie] Brooker and Netflix have somehow managed to sell the viewer on the potential for interactive TV and movies here, while simultaneously commenting on and subverting the entire concept itself.”

The Guardian – Stuart Heritage

“Fortunately, it works. Bandersnatch is a masterpiece of sophistication. From a user viewpoint, it is seamless… As an experience, it’s remarkable. Even more remarkable, though, is the ambition of storytelling on display.

“By the time I’d finished exploring I was left with a profound feeling of satisfaction, as if Black Mirror had prodded me towards the ending it felt was best. Which makes sense because, after all, free will is an illusion.”

Variety – Daniel D’Addario

“Bandersnatch, as creative work and not as experiment, falls so short of the standard Black Mirror has set that to put it forward is to risk the credibility the series’s first four seasons have earned…

“Of all the things Black Mirror could be doing, this seems, sadly, to have been the wrong path, one the show would be well served by ditching and starting its story as close to completely anew as it can.” – Brian Tallerico

“I like the idea that Netflix is pushing the boundaries of what we should expect when we turn on their service. I also want to see a traditional season of Black Mirror more than I do another one of these.”

Bandersnatch took 35 days to film and takes around 90 minutes to watch, according to the Global News website.

Yet that time can be reduced to around 40 minutes if viewers avoid “do-overs” – narrative loops that steer them back to the main story.

The episode is said to have more than a trillion unique permutations due to all the potential variants involved.

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Will Poulter (centre) and Asim Chaudhry also appear in the episode

“It was difficult all the way through,” series creator Charlie Brooker was quoted as saying.

Co-creator Annabel Jones said: “One of the most challenging things about making this has been the crafting of the world and the various branches, and also limiting the endless, infinite potential offshoots and different stories you can make.”

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Carla Engelbrecht, Netflix’s director of product innovation, added: “There are literally millions of permutations of the story, and your decisions matter.”

As the film begins, viewers are invited to make seemingly trivial choices that determine which breakfast cereal lead character Stefan eats or what music he listens to on the bus.

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Jones and Brooker won Emmys in 2017 and 2018 for Black Mirror

The “choice points” then become more significant, and potentially more life-changing for Stefan as the story progresses towards one of five possible endings.

“It’s a bit like making a giant patchwork quilt,” Brooker told Wired magazine. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever worked on where the story treatment crashed.”

Netflix previously experimented with multiple narratives in children’s shows Puss in Books and Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile.

According to Variety, Bandersnatch cannot be viewed on Apple TV, Chromecast and “some older smart TVs”.

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