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A Dream: The Future of Cinematic Storytelling?

Last night, I had a dream. A dream in which I slipped into a dark, quiet theater to watch Rian Johnson’s Looper for the third time. But this wasn’t the same film I saw just one week ago–no, this was a special screening of some top secret alternate cut of the movie. This version featured a hover car chase through the abandoned slums, ending with Old Joe wounded and cornered; Young Joe leveled his pistol, pulled back the hammer… and chose not to close his loop. I awoke soon after that–but imagine the exciting new path the story might have followed due to that single altered plot point.

And that got me thinking…

Cinematic storytelling is so fixed. The adaptation of Clue experimented with multiple endings, but that falls far short of the strides video games have made in recent years–Mass Effect, Heavy Rain, and Telltale’s The Walking Dead, for example, allow players to make key choices that shape the overall narrative experience. What if motion pictures took a similar approach? What if, every time you popped in your favorite DVD/Blu-Ray, minor variations in the first act pushed the familiar old story in a dramatically different direction? What if, every time you purchased a ticket, you knew that you’d be following a brand new protagonist–or that your favorite character might not survive until the end this time?

I don’t have any answers (yet); this is little more than a broad, half-formed, overly-ambitious idea tumbling around in my brain. But when we’re discussing a storytelling medium that all-too-frequently resists change and shuns risk takers, I think these are questions worth asking.

[Originally written October 6, 2012, predating Black Mirror: Bandersnatch by six years.]

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