Bandersnatch is the latest addition to Charlie Brooker‘s Black Mirror stable, and with the trailer being released just yesterday, and with the end of the year approaching and time being limited, I was really hoping this would be pushed into early 2019, but no, it’s out now! So I need to get straight on it.
And with a running time of just 90 minutes, that should be easy enough to fit into my schedule, right? Well… no, because it’s NOT 90 minutes. Prior to checking it out, I read it can run for up to five hours. In fact, checking on the BBFC site, a total of 312 minutes and 13 seconds were rated, so there’s a whole series’ worth in one film!
Confused? I certainly was, but then I read that it’s actually an interactive movie and based on the Bandersnatch hashtag which was immediately trending on Twitter, if you take the wrong choices… the film starts again. What if it’s a film that sucks? Would you want to keep watching the same scenes over and over? Let’s give it a try…
I saw someone tweet the apparent solution to this film, but they only gave two answers, and the intro tells you that you’ll get several multiple choice questions. I worked out I took 32 choices, but when it came to the two in the tweet, I deliberately took the opposite choice just to see what would happen. After finishing it, I went back and tried other choices. Some actually don’t make any difference whatsoever – but then the film does take in the concept how we sometimes only have the *illusion* of free will, and that the actual outcome won’t change, so that’s art imitating life, or life imitating art… now I’m definitely confused!
Controlling with your mouse or trackpad, what this rather reminded me of – as I started watching it – is those Fighting Fantasy books in the ’80s, which I’d read while in class and getting bored of listening to the teacher. Of course, with those, you’d choose an option and then just choose again if you took the wrong one and died. You can’t do that here…
Also, of course, these are clearly the books Charlie Brooker read, and is from where he draws his inspiration.
About the plot, it’s July 9th 1984 and Stefan (Fionn Whitehead – Dunkirk) creates a videogame based on a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, entitled Bandersnatch, which was owned by his late mother, but no time to grieve for him, as you’re presented with your first choice – what to have for breakfast? The second choice was more difficult though: Now That’s What I Call Music Vol.2 or Thompson Twins – Into The Gap? It’s GOT to be Thompson Twins!
Okay, nothing life-changing so far, but they’re to get you into how his works.
He meets his favourite big-name games programmer Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), who’s just made his latest ZX Spectrum game, Nohzdyve (pronounced ‘Nosedive’ – referencing the Black Mirror episode with Bryce Dallas Howard, Nosedive) – and being a lover of retro games, even with new ZX Spectrum games being made today, I’ve got to play that! Stefan is offered the chance to work at the same company to produce the game, but can you imagine if he didn’t finish the game by the time it’s due? It wasn’t uncommon in the ’80s for games to be advertised with a release date and then slip back, or even never come out. Still happens today!
As an ‘adventure’, it won’t be the most complex one you’ll ever see, but as a start for this version of interactive TV, it’s quite incredible, and I could see this really taking off.
If you do take the wrong choice, then yes, elements of the film do replay, but not completely so you’re not forced to watch the entire thing again, nor replay any right or unnecessary choices. It can also act like Groundhog Day, so some elements are seen with some characters having prior knowledge of what went before.
Also, when you do take a choice, there’s no lag before the outcome is revealed. Okay, so the scenes just before the reveal last an extra second or two, presumably so it can branch into the outcome without lag, but at least it’s not like a ’90s FMV (full motion video) arcade game where it would all go black for a while as it loaded it in.
What happens if you don’t take a choice? It will choose the right option for you… maybe?
NOTE: Don’t think that you HAVE to watch this all in one go, since you can pause and rewind/fast-forward like a normal film, in case the phone goes or a call of nature… er… calls.
In Bandersnatch, there’s a W.H.Smiths shops decked out just as it was in the early ’80s, where the company’s Metl Hedd game is beating Chuckie Egg to No.1 in the charts!
Naturally, this often gets as weird as you’d expect from a Black Mirror episode, as Stefan gets stuck while making the game and finds himself “in the hole”. Can Colin help? I like his line about how the government pay people to act as your relatives.
Even if you take the wrong path, and then are forced onto the right path later, it reminds me of Next, with Nicolas Cage, where you may see more than one outome, but that doesn’t stop it being entertaining having been given the chance to make the choice in the first place. Plus, it allows you to see more of the film.
It also has knowing ‘looks’ to the audience where the game references the fact you’re watching a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’. Sure, that aspect couldn’t work every time, but it’s worth including this first time.
The cast also includes Craig Parkinson (Line of Duty) as his father, and Alice Lowe (Prevenge) as his psychotherapist, Dr Haynes, as well as a Crash magazine, which I used to read back in the day. Here, Colin is seen reading one…
There’s also a brief cameo from Llamasoft videogame supremo Jeff Minter as the mysterious author, Jerome F Davies.
You can obviously see a reference to Alice in Wonderland, while there’s another nod to an earlier Black Mirror episode, Metalhead, with the aforementioned Metl Hedd computer game, other elements I came across reminded me of the Tim Robbins movie Jacob’s Ladder.
In the end, I spent almost FOUR HOURS checking out as many options as I could with this, and even then, I still made wrong choices, as it twists you in knots. Well, for another ’80s reference, as Roy Castle would alight to, sometimes things require a little dedication!
Additionally, I reckon the name Colin Ritman refers to Jon Ritman, who made the superb Match Day and Match Day II, as well as the 3D isometric classics Batman and Head Over Heels. Also, as for a programmer working on their own? That could well be Matthew Smith, creator of two of my favourite games of all time, Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, although as we saw in Memoirs of a Spectrum Addict, while the games were initially for the ZX Spectrum, he didn’t write them on there like Stefan does, he wrote them on a Tandy TRS-80 Model III and then ported them across… but how? I had a Tandy TRS-80 Model III and I never knew it could to that!!!
As others have said, this episode could well be inspired by the videogame company Imagine, who were to produce Psyclapse (for the Commodore 64) and Bandersnatch for the ZX Spectrum, the latter having been due to be a very in-depth title… Hmm… and after an extensive advertising campaign, neither appeared in that form, although later, a version of the latter did come out, as Brattacus.
As a closing bit, am I the only one who found the end credits truncated or did I click on something I shouldn’t? As the end credits began, it started trying to force the Metalhead episode on me, starting in five seconds with a countdown. That was in one shrunk window, while the end credits were in another. Not wanting to move away from this programme, I clicked on the box where the end credits were playing and… it jumped to the start of the episode USS Callister. This is why I actually replayed the episode because I wanted to check out the credits properly, and not have them behave like the way the BBC deal with a programme…
…Oh, hang on, just checked the settings and saw the option for it NOT to autoplay the next episode. Looks like I’ll be going through it another time…
Now, what’s up next for Black Mirror? I bet no-one expected an interactive episode, so all bets are off. Either way, I think I need a lie down, now…
But before that, there’s a post-credits scene:
We hear a ZX Spectrum game loading as Stefan puts the Bandersnatch demo tape in his walkman, on the way to his initial meeting. Is this the code for the actual game? Or even the Nohzdyve game? I thought that at first, but the audio we hear is way too short. I wonder if anyone’s converted it to a .tap file and tried loading it in? I bet there’s something there!
Below, you can see my gameplay video, as well as the QR Code program, as uploaded by Josh Korwin.
And then, below that, Mr Tom FTW goes into more detail about this program, and shows images from the Tuckersoft site, including the Bandersnatch page which was there on December 28th, but gone on December 29th! Now, over the packshot of that game, it just has the word “Cancelled” and the link is no more.
But doesn’t just stop there, since as I update this on December 29th, Roger Kean was allowed to announce the Crash magazine covers which were made by Oliver Frey for this episode, and these come from the Crash Annual 2019 Facebook group.
You can see them below, along with the trailer and Laurie Anderson’s O Superman video, which has a key role to play in this episode.
Below the images is another one for a poster of Tuckersoft, from 1984… And then, a flow chart for Bandersnatch, itself! Not sure who made those, but for the latter, you’ll really need to zoom in on it, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to read it clearly on a phone.
Click on each of the following for the full-size version.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is available on Netflix now.
I’m not sure if this will be turned into an interactive Blu-ray or DVD, but you can still buy the following:
- Series 1 & 2 DVD inc. White Christmas
Series 3 on Blu-ray
Series 3 on DVD
Series 4 on Blu-ray
Series 4 on DVD
Running time: 90 minutes to 312 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1, 1.33:1
Director: David Slade
Producer: Russell McLean
Executive Producers: Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Stefan: Fionn Whitehead
Colin Ritman: Will Poulter
Dad: Craig Parkinson
Dr Haynes: Alice Lowe
Mohan Thukar: Asim Chaudhry
Kitty: Tallulah Haddon
Leslie: Catriona Knox
Robin: Paul Bradley
Crispin: Jonathan Aris
Young Stefan: AJ Houghton
Mum: Fleur Keith
Pearl Ritman: Laura Evelyn
Satpal: Alan Assad
Judith Mulligan: Suzanne Barden
Jerome F Davies: Jeff Minter
Previously on DVDfever:
Bandersnatch is a new Black Mirror movie – or ‘event’ as they call it in the trailer, which has caught me by surprise, being released at the tail end of 2018, even to the point where the trailer has only just been unveiled the very day before – at the same time when the PR company are off for Christmas 🙁
Set in 1984, Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk, above-left) is a young programmer who makes a sprawling fantasy novel into a video game and soon faces a mind-mangling challenge. Soon, reality and virtual world are mixed and start to create confusion…
I can’t wait to see this, although Black Mirror episodes can be hit or miss.
Bandersnatch is released tomorrow, December 28th.
Check out the trailer below:
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.