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TECHNOLOGY

I Spent 125 Minutes Watching Netflix Last Night and the Insights Were Truly Astounding. (It Has Nothing to Do With ‘Bird Box’)

It’s all about your choices.

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BY Bill Murphy Jr. - 05 Jan 2019

watching netflix

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I watched Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on Netflix last night. Then my wife and I talked about it. Then, I watched the "making of" Bandersnatch featurette.

And I feel like I was watching the future--which is ironic since Bandersnatch is largely a movie about the past.

If you haven't seen Bandersnatch or heard about it (maybe you've spent your Netflix time lately watching Bird Box), then here's the deal. It's an interactive movie, which means that you follow the protagonist but choose the actions he should take by clicking your choices on the screen.

I'll give away the first choice as an example, as it's not very consequential: The protagonist's father holds up two cereal boxes in an early scene, and you choose between Kellogg's Frosties (what they call Frosted Flakes in the U.K.) and Sugar Puffs.

They filmed two scenes, so you're choosing which one gets played next.

Choice after choice after choice unfolds. You get sucked in, much like the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books that a lot of us read as kids. The movie has five potential endings based on your choices, and reportedly over 1 trillion total potential combinations.

I found it entertaining and mostly absorbing - although not perfect. But this isn't a movie review, it's more about the technological leap. And I walked away from Bandersnatch thinking about why it was a brilliant idea for Netflix.

1. Whoa, the interactivity.

Yes, the interactivity is the entire point of the movie, but it was only while I was watching it that I began to understand the possibilities. Because the choices you make tells Netflix a lot about you.

Frosties or Sugar Puffs? I'm sure there's a cereal company out there that would like to know which one you picked. And don't even get me started on whether you choose to have the protagonist commit a murder.

2. Super-meta-ness

There's a danger with building a movie around a technology like this. The whole thing can quickly seem like a gimmick. Bandersnatch mostly gets around that by being very meta.

For example, at certain points in the movie, the protagnoist becomes aware of the fact that somebody is controlling his actions.There's even a part where a visitor from the future tries to explain Netflix (the movie takes place in 1984).

But it made me realize that cultural acceptance sometimes takes longer than technology to catch on.

3. It's kind of primitive.

I know I've just gone on about how cool and interesting I found this, but there's also a sense that you're watching Version 1.0 of a new art form. Bandersnatch is going to wind up ultimately being something like the 1920s version of King Kong.

People will know about it, they'll say it was groundbreaking, but they won't really go back and watch it.

Also worth pointing out: You can't just watch this on you regular HDTV, which isn't equipped apparently to enable you to use the interactive features.

4. Much harder to pirate.

A post on Reddit just laid out a key question without any subtlety: "Soo.... How the hell am I going to pirate Netflix' Bandersnatch?"

Google at your discretion. But the fact that the question is even being asked points out that it's an issue--which is a good defense for Netflix and any other content creator.

In fact, Mashable went searching on Pirate Bay and elsewhere, and found a few people trying to figure it out--but mostly they ran into problems with the interactive part.

The total running time is more than five hours. It took me about 125 minutes to watch it from start to "finish," and that was enough. I didn't need to see ever permutation, like where the protagonist chooses Sugar Puffs and wears a green shirt, and walks down the street at the 93 minute mark.

Watching the whole five hours linearly would sort of destroy the whole experience. Lack of functionality turns out to be a really interesting defense against piracy.

 

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