Thursday, January 24, 2013

Influences: The Nostalgia Critic

People have asked me, "Erik, who are your influences?  Who inspired you to take on the task of writing to the masses, being one lone voice in the night, someone who will shout out when things are overlooked, forgotten, or simply need to be stomped on until they stop moving?  An <shameless twitter handle plug> Erik at the Gates </shameless plug>, if you will?"

...okay, nobody asked me exactly that.  And maybe it was just one person who asked.  Well, it's not someone you know.  ...or is real.  ...but it could happen!

That's not important.  What is important is the whole purpose of this blog is to look at things that might be discounted by a large number of people, or to ponder the things that most people don't want to ponder (mental note for later, ponder which comic book characters would be most fun to play Shadowrun with...where was I?  Oh, right), I suppose one of the big things that's overlooked is my influences.  Who inspires me to try to write?  To try to be funny?  To prove to myself that, for as long as I can, I should just get ideas out there?

Well, that's the point of yet another article series called "Influences."  I'll look at the individuals who have motivated me, directly or indirectly, and who have inspired me to put myself out in the world where I can be regarded, considered, and either accepted or rejected.

So let's start with the one who just had a major announcement recently.  Let's start with Doug Walker.

This isn't the most flattering one, but it was the first image on Google.  I'm probably lucky it wasn't porn.

Doug Walker is the primary face behind (in front of?), a website name so brilliant, I want to punch my past self for not thinking of it first.  He's done sketches and bits for different programs on the site, and each one is unique and hilarious in its own right.  Video Game Confessions has the dry, observational humor from Dominic the bartender.  Ask That Guy is like any advice column, except for the answers frequently not being connected to the question or spiraling off to bizarre tangents.  Then there's the Nostalgia Critic.

This character, a man who looks back at cartoons, movies, and (in a few examples) video games of our collective childhoods isn't a new idea.  There are more websites out there going "Hey, remember this?  Remember how it sucked/ruled/was completely forgettable?" than I could possibly count (this one included, in many ways).  But what Doug Walker brought was a personality that thrived in the presence of bad films, with a keen eye and attention to research and detail that kept them as interesting as they were funny.

...unless you counted the number of times he misspelled his own name in the credits, but even that became part of the joke as he acknowledged his screw-ups in a few special episodes.

There's one thing that becomes very clear as you watch episodes of this program.  Doug Walker loves film.  He loves the craftsmanship, he loves the camera techniques, he loves lighting, set design, special effects, sound editing, the entire package.  You could easily picture him watching an awards show screaming that X should never have won "Best Production Design" over Y.  I don't even know what "Best Production Design" even means.

Most episodes, at initial inspection, seem to focus on the same formula:  Start watching bad show/movie, comment on particular aspect of bad show/movie, create a joke that sometimes carries over to other episodes, summarize why show/movie is bad.   But there's more.  It's almost never the same aspect of the medium that he focuses on from episode to episode.  A movie that has excellent acting might fall flat with its story.  Another might have a great story, but animation might be poorly done.  Another might be a mind-blowingly great visual to look at, but they bring in the wrong actors to be in it.  Perhaps it's just lighting, maybe it's editing, perhaps there's just a general theme that runs through the movie that's unpleasant.  Doug is able to dissect each film, distill down the unpleasantness to its purest explanation, and present it to us in a way that makes you both laugh and then think about how good the movie could be if those details were fixed.

It's also not always episodes involving things that are bad.  Before anybody thinks he must be a complete cinema snob (that's another guy), there are times he'll spotlight movies that might not be great, but that he has a special soft spot for.  Maybe the movie's just fun, or it has some great lines or one or two scenes so over the top you can't help but love it, he'll also distill any joy you can get from a film and highlight it.  He'll even go over things that were loved, like with his massive interview with several major individuals from Animaniacs, and detail how expertly they were crafted.

He manages this with the same precision and skill you'd expect from an expert in another field, be it a doctor diagnosing a medical issue or an architect laying out a complete set of blueprints with everything important highlighted.  His humor keeps it from being too serious, and the respect he has for the medium keeps it from just being silly.

Now, a while ago, during one of the multiple anniversary series he's done for the site (along with a ridiculous cast of friends and coworkers), he retired this character.  I'll admit, I was disappointed, as watching the newest review was a highlight of my Wednesday.  However, just the other day he announced that the Critic will be coming back, just perhaps not as full time as before to avoid burn-out.  Needless to say, I was very excited.

But, to get back to the point of this article, I still have to explain how he influenced me.  Now, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to grow similar facial hair sometimes.  In writing and presenting my ideas, however, Doug Walker helped me look deeper at things I liked, whether it was a major media production or simply a toy I kept from my childhood.  He made me recognize that I should look at themes that carry over from not just directors or actors doing multiple films, but also producers and writers.  He helped me be able to sit back and compare and contrast different aspects of a remake of a movie to a classic version to understand why I liked one better than the other (my comparison of the Judge Dredd movies is an homage to his "Old Vs. New" series).

I learned that there's nothing wrong with calling out something when you have a problem with it, and that there's no shame in later admitting when you might be wrong.  You don't have to be afraid of offending people when you present your opinion, because it really is your opinion.  As long as you don't tell other people "you can't like this," nobody should be able to criticize you for having independent thought from them.

There are many aspects of his work that I've picked up over time, blending it into my own style in the hopes of having something new and fresh.  Those of you who already know the site can probably see these, but those who haven't should certainly go back and look at his archive of videos.  It's an amazing list of productions, some of which I never knew existed, and he gives each one quality time in his analysis.

Perhaps, one day, once I establish myself enough with this blog, I could perhaps contribute something (an article, an idea, or maybe even a voice) to him and the rest of Channel Awesome.  It would feel great to provide someone I respect as much as I do with even the smallest contribution, to be able to point and say "that's great because of him, but I take pride in the sense that I helped."  For now, I'll just try to continue this blog as best I can, and, in the words of the Nostalgia Critic, "remember it so you don't have to."

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