Black Mirror

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Lost Highway
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Re: Black Mirror

#51 Post by Lost Highway » Sat Dec 30, 2017 4:52 am

Watched the first four episodes of season 4 last night and had to force myself to stop at 2am so I can function today. USS Callister is as good as anything in the series and overall I find this the most consistent season. The increased budget since the move to Netflix gives every installment scope and a cinematic feel, every episode has a solid idea at its core and is far better science fiction than what we got at the cinemas this year. When this started out on Channel 4 in the UK I couldn’t get into it due to sometimes flimsy charactertisation, but that has also improved. I cared about the fate of every protagonist here, one way or another.

The USS Callister episode may look like just another Star Trek parody from the trailers but it’s in turn hilarious, chilling and moving. Watch out for
SpoilerShow
”Gillian from marketing” ! By the end I found myself cheering the unexpectedly happy conclusion.


In Archangel surveillance technology turns relatable parental anxieties into something monstrous. I did something similar once, but at least it was only to my cat.

Crocodile is my least favourite episode so far due to somewhat far fetched character progression but is still impressive as a chilly mood piece. The final reveal is brilliant.

Hang the DJ is the romantic episode, maybe not quite as heart-wrenching as Be Right Back and San Junipero but still great with genuine chemistry between the two leads which made me root for them. The one thing I miss about the UK since I left, is the type of self-deprecating humor over which the couple bond here.

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domino harvey
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Re: Black Mirror

#52 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 31, 2017 12:06 pm

Image

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colinr0380
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Re: Black Mirror

#53 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 2:55 pm


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Lost Highway
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Re: Black Mirror

#54 Post by Lost Highway » Sun Dec 31, 2017 3:07 pm

Not sure The Twilight Zone ever featured anything like an episode of a prime minister getting blackmailed into having sex with a pig on live TV.

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Lost Highway
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Re: Black Mirror

#55 Post by Lost Highway » Sun Dec 31, 2017 6:14 pm

Metalhead is the most minimalist episode, it’s basically one long chase sequence, beautifully shot in widescreen b&w. It has less of a big idea behind it than most Black Mirror episodes, but I like how ones understanding of the world it takes place in changes as the episode goes on.
SpoilerShow
Initially this appears to be a heist foiled by a “judge and jury security guard robot”, but eventually it transpires that the episode takes place in a post robo-apocalypse akin to The Terminator.
This appears to be the least liked episode of the season but I thought it was still ahead of lesser episodes in previous seasons.

The Black Museum is an anthology within an anthology series like the Christmas special. It’s three tales and a framing story initially struck me like this were several ideas that could have been individual episodes. The end connects all of the stories very satisfyingly though. It’s also the only episode which has callbacks to previous Black Mirror episodes and I wonder whether this is a sort of farewell. I hope not but I can also see Charlie Brooker as being someone keen to move on to new things and leaving this on a high.

In any case, a great season. Unlike with previous seasons there wasn’t a single episode I outright disliked. USS Callister and Hang the DJ were the high points for me.

Looking through rankings and comments of the entire show, I was struck how much disagreement there is on which are the best and worst episodes. There are a couple of firm favorites like San Junipero and Be Right Back, but the rest are up and down on different lists with maybe only The Waldo Moment fron season 2 as the most disliked.

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Murdoch
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Re: Black Mirror

#56 Post by Murdoch » Mon Jan 01, 2018 12:14 am

domino harvey wrote:Image
This is pretty accurate.

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swo17
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Re: Black Mirror

#57 Post by swo17 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 12:22 am

No way the show can live up to this comic though

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Boosmahn
Joined: Mon Sep 04, 2017 10:08 pm

Re: Black Mirror

#58 Post by Boosmahn » Wed Jan 03, 2018 8:57 pm

What are everybody's favorite episodes? For me, probably in this order...

1. Fifteen Million Merits
2. Shut Up and Dance / White Christmas
3. White Bear

Merits is fantastic... I feel that its themes are some of the show's finest, and the ending near perfect; great performance from Daniel Kaluuya as well.

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Murdoch
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Re: Black Mirror

#59 Post by Murdoch » Mon Jan 08, 2018 1:28 pm

I ended up liking Callister the best of this season, with Black Museum or Hang the DJ taking the second slot. Callister had enough time to build up its premise and work through it, even if the apartment break-in was a rushed resolution to things. Metalhead, on the other hand, felt like most of the robots-are-evil apocalypse stories I've seen before. I still have Arkangel to go but I've heard mixed reactions.

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Re: Black Mirror

#60 Post by dda1996a » Tue Jan 09, 2018 11:21 am

Consider me an outlier then... I've only seen the last two episodes of season 1, but both were actually really good and used their technological world to interesting effect.
Having now sat down with friends to see season four, I must say I'm deeply disappointed. I've only seen episode 1 & 6 so far, but both are incredibly underwhelming.
USS Callister is the length of a shorter feature film yet we barely dig deep into what the episode is trying to say. Don Hertzfeldt and Chris Marker managed to create brilliant sci-fi worlds in less than an hour yet the world created here is just a typical futuristic world that has been done to death.
And the dramaturgy itself is completely wasted. Why should I care about the lives of fake online characters, even if they have so called feelings? Every story point is completely easy to forsee while the episode at best comments on a gamergate esque world.
Black Museum is slightly better, with actual inventiveness in its three story lines (even if each one reminded me of far better films, Crash and Being John Malkovich) but again ends up saying absolutely nothing in the end, except maybe sort of blaming us for watching this show in the first place (but guess what, Haneke did this twice before, and way better).
Can't comment on this season as compared to the former ones, but I found this incredibly disappointing.

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Boosmahn
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Re: Black Mirror

#61 Post by Boosmahn » Tue Jan 09, 2018 11:51 am

dda1996a wrote:Consider me an outlier then... I've only seen the last two episodes of season 1, but both were actually really good and used their technological world to interesting effect. ...
Can't comment on this season as compared to the former ones, but I found this incredibly disappointing.
I'd say to give others a shot, especially if you enjoyed Fifteen Million Merits and The Entire History of You. I found USS Callister to be enjoyable, but ultimately too similar to other (more interesting) episodes of the show. White Christmas is close to Black Museum in its three-part anthology structure, but it's a general strong episode among fans, so it's worth a go-around at least once.

The National Anthem and Shut Up and Dance have the least science fiction in them, but still use the featured technology (Anthem in particular) to convey an interesting, grounded message.

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Murdoch
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Re: Black Mirror

#62 Post by Murdoch » Tue Jan 09, 2018 1:53 pm

dda1996a wrote:Can't comment on this season as compared to the former ones, but I found this incredibly disappointing.
I'm not the biggest fan of the show, although I do enjoy it when it succeeds. I've heard a few friends and critics declare this latest season a disappointment but for me it's largely on par with the seasons that came before - a series of entertaining if shallow stories about a fictional technology's impact on a microcosm of people. While the budget has certainly increased with the show's move to Netflix, Brooker hasn't done much with the increased funds except recruit bigger names. Despite the many raves the show's enjoyed since its inception, I can only enjoy it as a series of morality tales sprinkled with often trite insights into the digital age.

I liked McCallister largely because it wrestles with the concept of virtual beings as independent and cognizant, a philosophical concept that's become rather popular with the rise of video games and one that I find fascinating. It also eschewed the glum tone that nearly every Black Mirror episode dwells in, an aspect of the show that's always felt needlessly forced and at times self-parodying. Black Museum I found mostly forgettable until the final story, which offered a disturbing spin on the commoditization of the US criminal justice system, where a black death row inmate's pain is distilled into a tourist's trinket and exploited for financial gain. But this is a show where YMMV definitely applies and enjoyment varies wildly from one viewer to another (I actually thought 15 Million Merits was the worst episode of the show's run).

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Re: Black Mirror

#63 Post by dda1996a » Tue Jan 09, 2018 3:55 pm

Just to be clear, it's not having Scifi elements that bothered me, it's using what could amount to interesting technological inventions in the least probing way. The idea is interesting but the show does nothing with it.
I also find those two episodes to fail cinematically as well, but that was the least of my issues with it.

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Sloper
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Re: Black Mirror

#64 Post by Sloper » Tue Jan 09, 2018 6:47 pm

I'm a big fan of the show but didn't much like Callister or Black Museum. Metalhead was easily the best episode of this season, I think, and Hang the DJ is far more interesting than it seems at first glance. Crocodile was superb until the very end.

I'd recommend Be Right Back (from Season 2) and San Junipero (from Season 3) as the best episodes so far. They both benefit from Owen Harris' direction, and feel like very fully realised stories. Same goes for the harrowing White Bear (also Season 2). I agree that some episodes come across as having been rushed and under-cooked at the writing stage, and Arkangel is an unfortunate example of this in the latest season.

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StevenJ0001
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Re: Black Mirror

#65 Post by StevenJ0001 » Mon Jan 15, 2018 2:20 am

I just started watching Season 4 and I certainly hope the rest of the season is better than USS Callister. What I love about Black Mirror is that the futuristic science and tech is just credible enough to be frightening (or sometimes, as in Season 1 Ep 1, the tech is essentially what we already have now). In this episode, however, the fact that the writers seemed not to care if anything made sense really irritated me. Memories aren’t stored in DNA, for one thing, and the tech of the game was about as realistic as anything in Tron. And yet this episode is getting so many raves—I’m a little befuddled. It was a fun idea, I guess, but... ](*,)

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Quot
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Re: Black Mirror

#66 Post by Quot » Tue Jan 16, 2018 11:44 pm

Sloper wrote:Metalhead was easily the best episode of this season
Yeah, I'm close to agreeing with this, and I just don't get the hate that I've seen for this particular episode. Those Boston Dynamic creatures are just nightmare fuel for me. What it really reminds me of is Spielberg's Duel; both are relatively narrative-free white-knuckled affairs that focus on the tension of the chase. The lack of exposition only lends to the overall terrifying mood. Well, that and the terrific b&w cinematography. The reveal at the end, I thought, was fine given the information we had been provided. I think this one was a real classic, in the same vein as the Twilight Zone episode, The Invaders.

And I really liked everything this season, with the exception of Arkangel, which had a cloudy denouement that sabotaged the ending.
Sloper wrote: I think Hang the DJ is far more interesting than it seems at first glance.
Completely agree, especially when you realize
SpoilerShow
that, out of 1000 "dates" for the couple, we were only shown the 1st, 2nd, and final (1000th) ones.
Typical Black Mirror brilliance.

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Sloper
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Re: Black Mirror

#67 Post by Sloper » Wed Jan 17, 2018 5:05 am

StevenJ0001 wrote:I just started watching Season 4 and I certainly hope the rest of the season is better than USS Callister. What I love about Black Mirror is that the futuristic science and tech is just credible enough to be frightening (or sometimes, as in Season 1 Ep 1, the tech is essentially what we already have now). In this episode, however, the fact that the writers seemed not to care if anything made sense really irritated me. Memories aren’t stored in DNA, for one thing, and the tech of the game was about as realistic as anything in Tron. And yet this episode is getting so many raves—I’m a little befuddled. It was a fun idea, I guess, but... ](*,)
I agree. Another good thing about the show is the way it keeps experimenting with different genres. So, for instance, I didn't have a problem with some of the implausibilities in Hated in the Nation, because they made sense within the conventions of a detective show (which Charlie Brooker has parodied brilliantly in A Touch of Cloth). With USS Callister, they were consciously trying to do a Black Mirror version of the 'summer blockbuster', and some of the stuff in this episode is so outlandishly stupid that it must be a self-conscious 'aping' of blockbuster stupidity.

That said, it seems like it would have been pretty easy to invent something more plausible than the DNA gizmo you mention, like a wireless version of the little flashing dots they put on people's temples, tapping into the Z-eyes that everyone in this world has evidently had installed. It would make sense that you could play Infinity wirelessly, without having to fish around for your own personalised flashing dot... And many of the plot turns are clearly dictated by what the writers want to happen, or what they assume the audience will want to happen, rather than what would actually make sense - the internal logic of the whole thing is extremely shaky. So I enjoyed the episode, and can see why so many people like it, but I wish they could have toned down the dumbness a little bit - perhaps made it Jurassic Park-level silly, rather than Transformers-level... I had a few other problems with this one, especially with the ending, but I need to watch it again before getting into that.

Back to Metalhead:
Quot wrote:Those Boston Dynamic creatures are just nightmare fuel for me. What it really reminds me of is Spielberg's Duel; both are relatively narrative-free white-knuckled affairs that focus on the tension of the chase. The lack of exposition only lends to the overall terrifying mood. Well, that and the terrific b&w cinematography.
Absolutely. It's also heavily reminiscent of Westworld (the film; I haven't seen the TV series yet), with the lone hero stalked through a blasted wilderness by a relentless killing machine - and the climax of course owes a lot to that film.

With regard to the ending:
SpoilerShow
I had read a comment in a review saying that the final shot was so saccharine that it spoilt the whole episode, so I was braced to be very disappointed - but I actually found it really moving, and not at all overplayed. It makes you suddenly realise just how low these people had sunk. When they said the boiled sweets were all they had left, they really meant it; they were hoping to find batteries in the warehouse, but not food, so it seems like they'd pretty much resigned themselves to not surviving, and were only trying to make their last few days a little more bearable. You can see it as sentimental that the whole mission was dedicated to finding a replacement teddy bear for a mortally wounded child, and some reviewers seem to read this as an indication of the human irrationality that will cause us to be wiped out by the robots when the time comes. But I liked that, for once, this show plumped for human kindness and empathy at the end of an episode: although Metalhead is phenomenally bleak, and seems to picture the end of the world (because the silent radio at the end presumably indicates that the dogs have killed everyone back at the home base), it's actually the most straightforwardly life-affirming, pro-humanity episode of Black Mirror so far, even more so than the ambiguous San Junipero.
Interesting comment about Hang the DJ. I like that idea, and I've seen someone else suggest it online, but I'm not sure it's right:
SpoilerShow
In an interview, Charlie Brooker said that in the two non-rebellious simulations, Frank and Amy would just stop existing and the simulation would end. However, Brooker isn't always the most reliable commentator on his own work, and we don't have to let him tell us how to read the episode - for example, I don't think the ending is nearly as happy or hopeful as he suggests in that interview, and there are lots of dark implications behind it. But I guess it might be expecting a bit much from the simulated Amys and Franks to think that they might rebel against the System in order to be together after their first date, having only been hooked up for 12 hours. So I do think it must be 1000 simulations of the whole years-long dating process, rather than 1000 dates. Still, I love how many un-answered questions the episode leaves you with - you could speculate endlessly about what's really going on here, which I think is a hallmark of good 'speculative' fiction.
I'll also take this opportunity to re-post a link to Mallory Ortberg's very funny parody from a couple of years ago, and this one from the New Yorker. One highlight from the latter:
PATRICK: Empathy.

ED: Handheld devices.

PATRICK: Empathy.

ED: Handheld devices.

PATRICK: Handheld devices?

ED: Handheld devices.

PATRICK: Handheld devices.

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Mr Sausage
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Re: Black Mirror

#68 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Jan 19, 2018 2:34 pm

I've finally decided to get into Black Mirror, and these are my thoughts on what I've watched so far. Spoilers Abound


The National Anthem: Harrowing, yes; its triumph lies in taking a crude, jokey premise and not only wringing horror from it, but making the reality of it persuasive. The minor idea behind the premise, that the immediacy of public consumption and reaction in the age of social media could conceivably result in the prime minister being intimidated into fucking a pig on live television is persuasive and riveting. The major idea behind the episode is, by contrast, a let-down for its banality and unimaginativeness. That the desire of the public to experience another's humiliation on a screen is so compelling that they'll fail to notice the original situation (the kidnapping) that had outraged them into demanding the humiliation had been resolved well before hand--well, I don't doubt the truth behind this critique of media culture, but it's almost as old as television itself. It's a predictable and old fashioned critique, the narrative equivalent of calling your tv the 'boob-tube'. That this is what's meant to justify the provocations of the ugly scenario is disappointing and gives the impression that the provocations are the point, with the message there to deflect from that.

Fifteen Million Merits: A boring, overlong episode whose critiques and conclusions are precisely what you'd expect given the targets. I found it hard to believe in its world, too: the government has enough power to track everyone digitally and enforce a lot of restrictions, but nevertheless has to resort to fostering shame and hatred, rather than restricted diets, to keep people fit and cycling. If your world depends on the populace being fit enough to produce electricity manually, it makes more sense to monitor daily calorie intakes than turn fat people into the villains in the hopes that it'll motive the populace (with the overeating cycle being common enough for a character to recommend CBT for overcoming it). But then I'm only talking about this minor, inconsequential bit because I'm too bored to talk about the rest. Thus far in my viewings I did not have much faith in Black Mirror. Its media critiques have been largely uninteresting bromides.

The Entire History of You: Here, finally, the show comes to life, and the major reason for that is the decision not to allow its futuristic premise to be a thudding critique, but rather a narrative device to open up and explore common emotional situations, here the intersection of jealousy and memory. Using implant technology to dramatize the obsessive, paranoid focus of the jealous person on tiny details that may mean nothing or everything is brilliant in how it evokes so vividly the pure experience of jealousy. Generally, film and tv suggests the internal state of jealousy through external displays; here, technology renders the internal external, so we get complete access to a purely emotional state without needing, say, experimental visual techniques. We can watch someone in the process of remembering, interpreting, focusing, reconfiguring, over and over. And the episode plays subtly with its irony, too. It's only in a throw-away line within a dramatic scene of far more charged exchanges that you realize that, while the husband was right to've suspected his wife, his jealousy earlier in their marriage had created the conditions that allowed for the cheating to take place--jealousy as self-fulfilling prophecy, especially in a society that can scrutinize everything. There are many insidious little things to this one that are hinted at, but I'm glad they remained hints in favour of a story focused on character and emotion. Finally, I'm excited for more Black Mirror




Be Right Back: The predictability of this episode allows it to be tragic rather than underwhelming. We know what's going to happen when the technology is introduced to the narrative (and if we've been paying close attention, know what its final manifestation will be), and we can only watch in helpless concern as our lead is pulled into an emotional trap we all see coming. The narrative hinges, eventually, on the uncanny valley; but as with the previous episode, this is an avenue into character and emotion rather than something more conceptual. There are plenty of themes about technology and modernity to be drawn out of this one, many of them no doubt quite complex; but what lingers is the sheer torment of grief and how people caught within it can so willingly mistake crutches for a cure.

White Bear: Successfully conjures the atmosphere of a nightmare, replete with unmoved bystanders and frightening, motiveless threats materializing out of nowhere. Its satire, tho', has almost nothing to do with modernity or technology. True, the public desire to participate in retribution is melded to its desire to be a spectator to it, and this results in everyone holding a camera and in that old sci-fi stand-by, the futuristic theme park that ends up revealing contemporary ills. But the presence of recording devices and tvs is the result of incidental narrative beats. That the killer videotaped the little girl's torments and now, in Twilight Zone-style irony, has her own torment endlessly filmed could easily have been anything else. There's nothing essential to the use of technology here, because what's critiqued is something that predates the industrial revolution. It's the old phenomenon of public executions, replete with the prisoner being driven through town in an open wagon for everyone to jeer at. And as far as judicial public humiliations represented on dramatic tv go, Game of Thrones bests this one easily, and with a more vividly horrible character at its pitiful centre. But that's not to take away from the effectiveness of this episode, which, before the reveal, was propulsive and horrifying, and after it makes you feel pity for its criminal (even if it does stack the deck in her favour).

The Waldo Moment: The weakest episode of season 2, mainly for how it just kind of ends right as it's getting interesting. An unhappy mediocrity gets caught up in something far beyond him, but opts out just as all the horrifying stuff seems about to happen. I was hoping to see our protagonist strong-armed by American organizations looking to use his destabilizing alter-ego to manipulate the democratic process, or at least for him to become caught up in his own sudden power and the thrill of a demagoguery he didn't know was in him. The episode suggested all sorts of truly concerning and relevant political nightmares, and yet failed to deliver on them. Unlike the best of the previous episodes, which used their conceits to study character and emotion, this one ought to've been more conceptual.


So, yeah, I enjoyed these first two seasons very much, despite the occasional lull. I'll write up my thoughts on the Christmas special and the Netflix seasons when I get around to seeing them.

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Boosmahn
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Re: Black Mirror

#69 Post by Boosmahn » Mon Dec 24, 2018 2:02 pm

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is set to be released on December 28th. Things we can speculate about it so far:

- Set in the '80s
- Interactive episode
- Related to video games

The runtime is still up in the air. Netflix initially listed it as 1 hour, 30 minutes, but then changed it to 2 minutes (the mobile app still says the former). The Korean Media Rating Board posted a 312-minute runtime, which could be factoring in all of the possible "routes" the viewer can take in the episode. Many assume this is meant to tide people over until the full release of the fifth season in 2019.

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Persona
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Re: Black Mirror

#70 Post by Persona » Thu Dec 27, 2018 12:28 pm


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Persona
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Re: Black Mirror

#71 Post by Persona » Fri Dec 28, 2018 12:23 pm

I've done the Tangerine Dream vs. Tomita choice, like, 8 times. The greatest moral quandary of all.

Had to stick with Tangerine Dream because then at least he says "thank you" to the store clerk.

Edit:

The permutations are pretty crazy. Even the cereal choice comes back!

Sugar Puffs has the better ad.

My overall impressions of Bandersnatch is that this is a really cool experiment that actually works pretty well. And the execution and the details of the interlocking paths and the major and subtle changes between them are great, it's a really impressive exercise, makes me wonder if Brooker and Slade have some decapitated heads lying on their desks. The moments of meta humor are also quite fun.

I've already burned quite a lot of time on it and it still feels like I haven't found the path that pushes through to a third act. If I've pretty much exhausted the forward possibilities of the story then I guess I'm a little disappointed in that aspect because it does feel cut short (something said on more than one occasion about the game within the movie)--and yet it also feels like the movie/game keeps hinting that there's more and to "try again," so I imagine I will be giving this another run-through very soon from the beginning. Whatever path I was on last time had me in loops. Each with interesting details and endings but yeah, I think doing a new run through might help me avoid whatever knot I tied at the end there. There were a couple options from my first run through that I never got back to on the second go, so I have to wonder if there isn't a longer path in there somewhere.

Very addictive but at a certain point you do weary of watching the same scenes over again, even in there truncated versions. The interface works great but it is hard to skip around too much without losing yourself. Now excuse me while I dump some tea on my TV.

P.S. Not entirely satisfying but the "O Superman" ending is quite beautiful. You'll know it when you see it.

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Sloper
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Re: Black Mirror

#72 Post by Sloper » Sat Dec 29, 2018 6:02 pm

I sort of agree that Bandersnatch is impressive in some ways – it must have been difficult to figure out on a technical level. But I also agree that it has no third (or even second) act. Major spoilers in this link, obviously, but if you look at this flowchart from Reddit you can see that there really aren’t that many variations or endings. I’ve seen pretty much all of the major ones just from doing one-and-a-half play-throughs, and they’re not worth the effort.

Like Nosedive, this is an idea that Community already did much more succinctly and incisively – in the ‘six different timelines’ episode. Everything that worked there is absent in Bandersnatch. Every detail in the set-up led to some kind of pay-off later on, every narrative strand was entertaining in its own right, the variations between the strands were significant and interesting, and not only did each timeline reach a natural conclusion (that is, a point where you understood the consequences of that character collecting the pizza), but there was also an overall conclusion that tied things together. With a limited budget and time-frame, the action was restricted to a small set of characters, in one small location, engaged in a communal activity and a subset of individual activities that were easy to understand and relate to.

More obvious comparisons could be made with films like Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow, and Triangle, none of which are perfect, but all of which understand some basic storytelling rules that are largely ignored in Bandersnatch: namely that we need to care about the protagonist, we need to understand what they’re trying to do (and it needs to be something relatively straightforward, however many complex choices they may have to make), and the stakes need to be high enough for us to want to know what happens next, and for us to feel okay about watching the same thing happen over and over again.

Ideally, the story also needs to be ‘about’ something. So what is Bandersnatch about?
SpoilerShow
Is it about how we’re inescapably defined by our past traumas, and is that why all the endings are so fucking bleak – and why the closest thing to a happy ending is the one where Stefan destroys the computer and is hugged by his dad, implying that by committing to the healing process he will escape the PACS/Netflix-trap? And is all the self-referential stuff (which was irritating in Season 3 and is getting unbearable now, even if it does have a point) therefore suggesting that we watch shows like Black Mirror out of a fundamentally unhealthy desire to wallow in our own dysfunctionality and pretend it’s someone else’s problem? Or that we watch them because we're cruel and sadistic, which was (maybe?) the point of the easter eggs in Black Museum as well? It seems to be groping around the edges of these ideas, but the whole thing is so vague and messy that trying to make sense of it is like sculpting with whipped cream. And if that’s the point – if we’re supposed to feel like we’re losing our grip on reality, like JFD and Stefan – then we need to go through the looking glass early on in the story, and the descent needs to be more drastic and violent, as it was in Playtest for example. There is something inherently chilling in the core premise of Bandersnatch, and in the process of making decisions for Stefan; the first time through, I felt a mounting sense of dread that lasted for quite a while. But it fizzles out because there is no story, there are no characters, and the ideas, such as they are, are not even half-baked.
I spent my teenage years (in the 90s) obsessively playing computer games, and tended to like the ones that gave me the greatest sense of creativity and agency – mostly ‘god sims’, but also the occasional RPG. When I played Fallout 2, I was fascinated by the amount of choice I had in the direction of the story and the development of my character. At one point, I found myself in a cemetery, armed with a shovel, and found that I could dig up all the graves and that they were full of useful things. Only after I’d saved the game did I find out that I now had the reputation of a grave-robber. People regarded me with suspicion everywhere I went – except the bad guys, who now started befriending me. It was frustrating, but in a good way. Even though I hadn’t realised I was making a moral decision, the consequences of that decision made sense to me in retrospect, and the experience made me feel more invested in the actions I was telling my character to perform. The same cannot be said of Bandersnatch. You never really understand the moral or emotional weight of the decisions you're making, even after you've made them, and you never feel like 'your character' (whether that's Stefan or you, the viewer) develops in any meaningful ways.

I also have very fond memories of the Blade Runner game, in which you could decide to be sympathetic to the replicants (and in love with one of them) or hell-bent on their destruction. It was a genuine pleasure to re-play the game and explore all the different branches, and all the different permutations within those branches, because the gameplay itself was fun and the world of the game was fun to inhabit. And then there was the first Grand Theft Auto, which you could play properly by completing the missions, but which I generally used as an outlet for my misanthropic rage, which (at the age of 15) I was only just starting to come to terms with. As well as enjoying these games, you also couldn’t help thinking about how you were playing them, and asking difficult questions about yourself in the process (at least if you were as self-absorbed as I was). That was why it felt like a really exciting time to be following the development of video games.

One of the weirdest things about Bandersnatch is that, despite ostensibly being about video games, and despite having been written by an obsessive video game fan, it quickly loses interest in the game that’s meant to be at the centre of the whole story, and shows no real awareness of what makes multi-stranded games so compelling and addictive. I only ever read a couple of ‘choose your own adventure’ books, but I do remember how easy it was to get lost in them, and how good they were at bringing the settings and situations to life (using only words) so that I felt genuine excitement and fear, even though I could just hold an earlier page open with my finger and go back to it if a troll bludgeoned me to death. As I said above, Bandersnatch did induce a certain amount of horror, given the things I had to tell Stefan to do, but at no point did I feel truly invested in his journey or the action of the story, nor did I learn anything about myself or my dodgy proclivities.

Think about how well this format might have worked in the context of episodes like USS Callister or Metalhead (spoilers for these and Bandersnatch below):
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You are a digital replica (a 'cookie') of yourself, trapped in a video game being played by a psychopath. You have to make decisions about when you play along with the game, when you resist, whether you sacrifice your fellow players in an attempt to escape, and so on. There would be variant endings, ranging from the bleak (you float in darkness forever with no face, unable to see or breathe, accompanied only by the sounds of your own muffled screams) to the hopeful (you outwit your captor and escape to freedom) to the compromised (you and your fellow players successfully commit suicide and crash the game). This scenario would also have allowed for the paranoid free-will discussions of Bandersnatch, because the ultimate twist could be that the major decisions made by this digital replica are actually 'induced' by an external player (us), meaning that the protagonist has to suffer whatever fate we make her choose, so to speak, and that all the variant endings are experienced simultaneously by multiple sentient cookies. Perhaps they didn't go for something like this because they feel they've already done the 'digital replica' idea to death...

Or: you are being pursued by a homicidal robot dog. Do you try to escape in the car or take your chances on foot? Do you try to save your friends or make a run for it? Do you hide from the dog or throw the can of paint at it? Do you kill yourself or wait for the dogs to break in and finish you off? You’d inevitably die in the end, of course, but as in Tetris the challenge would be to see how long you could survive. If you survive long enough, there could be a poignant moment at the end where the protagonist becomes too exhausted to perform any of the actions you choose, and just collapses and waits for death.

Stories like that would fit the ‘choose your own adventure’ format because they are adventures. Instead, Brooker has come up with a story that resembles White Bear and Shut Up and Dance, because the protagonist is fundamentally powerless throughout, but that (unlike those episodes) has no sense of narrative momentum, and no harrowing, revelatory payoff. It’s really kind of brave and ambitious to do a CYOA about a teenage coder having a breakdown and questioning the nature of free will in a stagnant, depressing 1980s setting, and the effective moments in this episode come from our being made to feel that we are trying to help and/or victimising the troubled protagonist, and that whether we want to or not we can't help making things worse for him. But when the episode itself acknowledges that it doesn’t contain much action, is not entertaining in a conventional sense, and feels creepy and pointless and depressing, we need to feel that these are unfair self-criticisms, and that the episode has provided something deeper and more satisfying than cheap thrills. But I just thought, ‘yes, this has been mindlessly bleak and boring, I wish they'd tried harder’.

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Cameron Swift
Joined: Sun Oct 28, 2012 3:52 pm
Location: Calgary, Alberta

Re: Black Mirror

#73 Post by Cameron Swift » Sun Dec 30, 2018 12:26 am

I was initially impressed with the experience of getting to choose what the character does (and the ensuing comedy of him stating that he didn't feel in control of his choices at times; the Netflix meta joke was fun too) however it felt really, really short. Afterwards, I figured I just must have chosen a couple of dead end paths and would come back to it later to fully explore it, but now looking at the above linked flowchart, I realise that I pretty much experienced the bulk of the story already. Quite disappointing to see that most of the choices just loop you back to choose the path the show wants you to go on.

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Persona
Joined: Wed Mar 07, 2018 1:16 pm

Re: Black Mirror

#74 Post by Persona » Sun Dec 30, 2018 5:40 pm

Well, apparently there are 5 hours of footage contained with this thing, millions of possible path permutations, 5 main endings but 13 different variations depending on which paths you took, and Netflix had to develop a couple new programs just in order to make the thing work the way it does. I mean, it sounds like a logistical nightmare that might have threatened to drive its creators as mad as Stefan in his darkest timeline, ha. Thinking about what every stage of production must have been like--to plan this, and to make sure you got all the necessary footage, and then the editing, dear Lord...

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live- ... ie-1171496

It's certainly true that--despite the ways in which it tries to tie its own unsatisfying nature into a sort of meta commentary on the illusion of free will--it does feel a tad disappointing and abrupt in terms of the sort of massive wall of choice loops you hit at about 30 minutes in with about 3 of the main 5 endings essentially just being variations on each other. I did really appreciate the "O Superman" ending and the Pearl ending, though, and I'm glad I spent enough time with it to find those (and the Netflix endings, while atom-bombing the 4th wall, are fun). However, yeah, it would have been great if they could have given you at least one path through that wall to have another 10 minutes or so of forward narrative, even if they could only give you a couple closed loop choices and maybe, like, one split ending in that final thread. Just feels like there was some build up to a last act that never comes, no matter how you try to get to it--and the script built in a thematic excuse for that but it doesn't change that it feels like there's a good bit of unrealized potential here.

But now that Netflix/Brooker have the foundation in place, maybe they'll do a "patch" version or a Bandersnatch 2 sometime in the future that can kind of go those lengths to give a more fleshed-out and complete narrative. That Hollywood Reporter article states that Netflix has already started talking to some other creators about whether they'd be interested in doing this sort of interactive film thing. Feels like something where you're almost going to need a creator like Brooker to even half pull it off, but who knows, maybe Brooker's pioneering of some of this stuff with Netflix will help ease other creators into the process and start them with some of the tools necessary to make it work.

I had a lot of fun with it so I hope we get more content that builds on this foundation. There were moments where I was truly entranced by this intersection of film with algorithm (my goodness, the path-specific "return to movie" montages) and I probably watched the aftermath of Tangerine Dream vs. Tomita eight times just to pick up on the very subtle differences in the following scenes (I mentioned this earlier but pick Tangerine Dream and he says "thank you" to the store clerk in a shot that looks virtually identical to the shot in the Tomita path). When you realize how these changes continue and coalesce as you loop your paths in different ways, man, yeah. I'd love to see more like this.

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pianocrash
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 11:02 am
Location: Over & Out

Re: Black Mirror

#75 Post by pianocrash » Mon Dec 31, 2018 1:44 am

Since I live in a place with limited wireless capabilities (and even navigating the normal Netflix menu can be a chore sometimes), I spent about four hours letting the program run itself, which was satisfying enough. Black Mirror episodes are kind of like that though - the worst ones drag on forever, while the better ones flip by, no matter what the running time. While what's been already said about the third act problems in Bandersnatch is true, I should also preface any enthusiasm for this sort of endeavor to those who are familiar with the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which I always felt were slightly interesting, but always a letdown overall. The act of choosing the fate of any character or storyline in this type of situation will always suffer, which is also why a majority of the characters are fairly transparent from the get-go, as to enable their slight malleability later on (or not, depending on your choosing). Anyway, when I think about all of the movies or books or records I've ever liked, the ones I always go back to are the ones I was inherently wrong about, because they were challenging my expectations to the point that I had to try and understand someone else's choices for myself, and that in that form, they were cast in stone for all of history. Likewise, we all have a tendency to spin any events of any situation (real or otherwise) to our choosing, or at least say, "I always thought that guy was living in a simulation anyway", because that's how we digest information/etc., so this type of storytelling suffers from that lack of decision making from the get-go.

However, along with all of the slight Xmas cheer hinted at in the episode, as well as the overall theme of choice therein (and the paths we choose to take between cereals) fit in with the end-of-year taking of stock that everyone goes through toward the end of the year: was it a good year or a bad year? Why isn't my cat still alive? What if I had bought those shoes instead of the other ones? Also, I did enjoy all of the callbacks to previous episodes, which may grate to some, but in the Black Mirror world, they can be like roman columns for chrissakes! And the idea that the Metal Head episode (also directed by David Slade) was maybe just what you probably already thought it was:
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a daggum vidja game where you keep dying over and over.

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