YouTube film critics juggle personal brand-building with quality critiques

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Jay Bauman (left) and Mike Stoklasa (right) debate the merits of a couple of summer blockbusters in an episode of “Half in the Bag.” The show is one of many featured on Red Letter Media.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Red Letter Media | Daily Texan Staff

For years, newspaper columns and the icons who wrote them were the go-to source for traditional film critiques. These historic mediums are important in the history of movie criticism, but a new generation of critics have emerged. They utilize video websites such as YouTube to share their love of films. Although these new critics offer big personalities and excellent comedy, it’s questionable whether their views on cinema count as authentic criticism in the style of major players such as the late Roger Ebert. 

Although they attract their fair share of dismissive critics, internet movie reviewers have the numbers to prove their content impacts the film community. Doug Walker’s YouTube channel, “League of Super Critics,” has over half a million subscribers. Red Letter Media, a film production company that reviews films and creates original content, has nearly a quarter million. 

Walker, better known as “The Nostalgia Critic,” is popular for his half-hour “reviews” of bad films, such as 2008’s “Mamma Mia” or the reviled 2010 adaptation “The Last Airbender.” Each of his biweekly reviews, posted on both Blip and YouTube, is peppered with insightful analyses, comedic skits and occasional special guests.

 Red Letter Media, meanwhile, hosts two separate web shows on YouTube dedicated to critiquing films. 

These new critics use their outgoing personalities to find a niche with internet audiences. Radio-television-film sophomore Brandt Taylor said that the reviewers’ identities, rather than the reviews themselves, are what people come back for. 

“Some critics have things that they’re known for, like Nostalgia Critic watches things that people grew up with,” Taylor said. “It’s about creating content [viewers] enjoy and showing their personality in their reviews.”

Although sociology and Plan II senior Paul Palmer said these internet critics are funny and entertaining, he questions whether their work counts as authentic film criticism. 

“Being on YouTube doesn’t disqualify someone from being a good film critic,” Palmer said. “While deviation from [a traditional platform] is not a bad thing, picking something to rag on mercilessly, while funny and entertaining, isn’t competent criticism.”

Palmer said he worried that critics such as Walker focus too much on critiquing universally loathed movies and said the end result comes off as “grating and negative.”

Accounting sophomore Justin Hutchinson said he believes these YouTube critics tend to focus on entertaining an audience rather than their own critique, although he says some successfully blend the two styles.

“The big issue is having a unique voice,” Hutchinson said. “The secret to it all is being able to put the critic’s own self out there but not elevate it beyond the work itself. It’s a difficult balance to have.”

Hutchinson said in his opinion, Red Letter Media is able to incorporate the voices of the reviewers while still providing commentary about films. He said founders Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman make sure to never put their outgoing personalities above their actual critiques of the movies.

“Mike and Jay are very individual and bring their own senses of humor and perspectives to their work,” Hutchinson said. “A lot of reviewers are keen to make their jokes rather than actually offer any interesting input on the film itself.”

Although it’s unclear if YouTube critics always produce actual film criticism, there is little doubt that they have found a popular method to share their views on cinema.

“Reviews are going towards the video aspect,” Taylor said. “People seem to want to watch things more than read things.”