RedLetterMedia's Spin on the Crazed YouTube Reviewer

One of the growing trends in cultural criticism on the internet is the YouTube video. Acting as a well organized visual presentation, a quick five or ten minute video to review pop culture is slowly becoming one of the most effective forms of critique out there. Like citing a passage from a book or play, critics can splice in a sequence of film and then break it down for the audience. There’s a lot of sub-par stuff out there, but when a capable film editor gets to work on it, the results are impressive. RedLetterMedia is the handle of a YouTube user whose video review of The Phantom Menace has recently cracked the million viewers mark, while his Star Trek reviews are all well into the six digit number of views. Striking a careful balance between being informative and entertaining, his videos delve into the nebulous realm of sci-fi film analysis with great results.

Each video features the voiceover of Mr. Plinkett. Sounding like a weird sexist nerd serial killer, Plinkett’s crazed mumblings are mixed with creepy asides and visual gags that give you something to laugh at while the video makes a larger point. I ought to stress now that this is not politically correct humor. RedLetterMedia explains in an e-mail, “When I did the first review, the Star Trek: Generations one, I started to record it in my normal voice and it was just horrible and dull. So I decided to do it in character to make it more palatable, especially since my goal wasn't to just give a cursory review, but rather to get really detailed. It is a massive amount of pointless nerd deconstruction so there has to be a ‘wink wink’ element to it. If you didn't have some kind of humor with the material you'd come off as either someone with no life at all (which is true in my case) or someone who’s a big armchair critic that thinks he knows everything. The character adds a certain level of irony and fun to it . . . it goes back again to short films I used to make with my friend Rich, who has only ever portrayed Mr. Plinkett in the films. He does the voice as well, but I do it in the reviews.”

The videos themselves are all very long and detailed. The Phantom Menace breakdown is 70 minutes long and is organized into ten minute sections. Star Trek: Nemesis takes 40 minutes to tear apart while Generations takes only 30 minutes. Sometimes they explain basic concepts of narrative like the plot arc of a protagonist, and other times they deconstruct the films scene by scene. RedLetterMedia explains, “I run a small video production company with a friend of mine. I do freelance video work whenever I can find it. Mainly weddings and corporate work, although I continue to shoot and edit fun projects like these reviews for Youtube as well as short films and features whenever I can.” The process starts with taking copious notes and going line by line through a film with a friend to find anything that doesn’t make sense. After that, a script gets typed up where a few gags are written in, followed by a recording process that features a lot of improv to add more variety. In terms of technique, “Over the years I’ve mastered the art of intentionally awkward editing for comedy purposes. Jump cuts and hard edits have always made me laugh for some reason. It’s in a lot of my old short films. I gravitate towards the bizarre in terms of comedy and dark cynical humor so weird things like slightly odd editing makes me laugh.”

The humor itself is dark and dry, giving an interesting spin to the idea of a psychotically unreliable film critic. Jokes about murdering his ex-wife, tying up people in his basement, or mailing pizza rolls in paper envelopes are spliced into the longer discussions. My personal favorite is when Plinkett finishes giving a two minute rant about how dramatically ineffective the battle droids are and then shows a clip of George Lucas explaining how easily Jedis can kill them. Plinkett starts shouting, “FUCK YOU!“ before cutting to the next rant. The humor neatly resolves the problem that you’re always going to run into when deconstructing sci-fi: in a film where everything is made up, how do you reasonably say something doesn’t make sense? The answer is to not bother with sounding reasonable and just accept that you sound crazy.

Whether or not there should be limits on a fictional world is a very real question for someone who intends to go line by line through a sci-fi film and explain why it’s terrible. RedLetterMedia writes, “It's a balance between the established movie universe rules and what is just lazy screen writing. There's a point when you can get too nit picky about stuff and I think there is a gradient of how picky you can get. Something like Star Trek is really black and white because there is this established universe and rules. It's almost impossible for someone to write an airtight TNG feature given the established history. Something will always be wrong and there are a lot of things you have to write into a film in order to move the story along. You can't evaluate all options that a trek character can take based on all the precedence that has come before it. So some things are forgivable and some are not. Star Wars is a little grayer because it's a mix of fantasy and a lot of excuses can be made for things that are vague. Something like Lord of the Rings (if you ignore the details in the books and just look at them as movies) is pure fantasy and harder to nail down things that are wrong or contradictions. You also have to look at things from a screen writing perspective and have an understanding of movies too. What irks me more than any of that stuff is just sloppy writing. Stuff like weak character motivations, lapses in common sense and bad logic to advance the movie's plot. The Star Wars prequels are the best examples of this where you're mesmerized by all the visuals and excitement on screen, but if you really stop and listen you'll realize that almost every line and every action makes no sense and is just there to get to the next special effects scene.”

The thing that really makes these film reviews shine is that you can tell RedLetterMedia is an enormous fan of Star Wars and Star Trek. The videos feature scenes cut from throughout the original Star Wars trilogy and the Star Trek series both for reference and to show examples of their quality in contrast. It’s not really about mocking these films or explaining why they suck. It’s a breakdown of how they could have been better. Qui-Gon Jin doesn’t really need to be in The Phantom Menace. Star Trek: Nemesis is a shameless rip-off of Wraith of Kahn except without the character development or drama. This is the kind of critical discussion that can only come about after the hype and excitement has died off. That’s when the conversation can quit being about "Loved it" or "Hated it" and start to explore what the work actually meant.

He explains, ”This all started from me just having re-watched Star Trek: Generations and wanting to explain in detail why I thought it was a shitty movie. I've always hated that movie because I'm a big TNG fan and I thought they completely messed up the transition to the big screen from what was a really great TV show . . . People seemed to enjoy what I was doing so I kept doing it after that. I have never really been interested in movie reviewing in general just when it comes to movies that I have some kind of connection with. I can see a movie that's just bad and shrug my shoulders. If it's bad and it gets to me in some personal way I'll have more interest in breaking down why it was bad and what went wrong rather than just complaining about it how bad it is.”





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.