A few months ago, before people started running each other over doing the Bird Box Challenge, the Black Mirror special Bandersnatch was the talk of Netflix. The meta choose-your-own-adventure story about someone making a choose-your-own-adventure story had viewers delight in the novelty of getting to pick a protagonist's breakfast or choosing whether or not he kick someone right in the coin purse. In fact, the movie did so well that Netflix has decided to choose the option where they're going to make a lot more of these. And that's exciting, because the interactive story might be the first-ever movie fad gimmick to stick since the introduction of sound.
This week, Variety reports that Netflix has decided to "double down" on interactive movies, pioneered by Charlie Brooker's Dragon's Lair homage. During a keynote speech in Mumbai, production VP Todd Yellin announced that the company will produce a wide variety of such flicks over the next few years -- and not just for sci-fi nerds, either. "It could be a wacky comedy," he added, or "a romance, where the audience gets to choose -- should she go out with him or him." This could pave the way for a weird future in which speedrunners figure out how to end rom-coms in four minutes by avoiding all the wacky misunderstandings.
And despite many, many reviewers deriding interactive movies like Bandersnatch being mere short-term gimmicks, this could indeed be the future. Cinematic history is rife with fads, from hypnotism to smell-o-vision to even a previous brief go at interactive storytelling with the 1995 short Mr. Payback. Like Bandersnatch, all of these were experiments to promote audience engagement (two words that count as foreplay to marketers), but were just too fiddly, flashy, or expensive to be worth the hassle after the novelty wore off.
But a Bandersnatch doesn't need a modified theater or awkward 3D glasses to work; just a trackpad or a remote. This oozes that Netflix chill that makes it so easy for people to slump back and decide the fate of movie heroes like couch potato Roman emperors.
More importantly, it's likely that Netflix itself can make quite a bit of money out of interactive movies. After all, the service thrives on user engagement and rewatchability -- two things a movie with more twists than the makers can remember offers in spades. And while Netflix doesn't reveal how much a Bandersnatch costs (aside from the human cost, of course), it's likely the movie was a gold mine. Or data mine, to be exact, since the platform has logged every choice that every viewer has ever made, creating what has to be an unprecedented wealth of metrics on viewers and their preferred cereals.
And if this is really that easy and lucrative, expect every streaming site to drown us in so many interactive movies that the only choice you'll want to make is to go back to the days when every other movie was just straightforward "superheroes."
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