What have been some of the biggest movie releases of 2014 so far? Transformers. RoboCop. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What's planned for the next couple of years? Goosebumps. Jurassic World. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
Why is Hollywood fixated on turning everything from the childhood of twenty and thirty somethings into a movie franchise? Because we love nostalgia! Nobody knows that better than Doug Walker, also known as the Nostalgia Critic, who writes and hosts a web series scrutinising the treasures of our youth with comically brutal honesty.
"I was going through that nostalgic phase I think everybody goes through, thus I became obsessed with finding all things '80s and '90s that I grew up with. Watching them again I realise many of them didn't hold up as well as I remembered. I always wanted to review movies in a Lewis Black sort of style and, since I was in a nostalgic phase, I figured tie it into that," said Doug.
Though the Nostalgia Critic started out looking exclusively at films and TV shows from his childhood, the show evolved to cover anything released before the early 2000s. Now, with so many modern remakes of nostalgic properties, the show tackles anything that Doug can find a way to make an entertaining point about. Over the years, the Critic has interviewed the team behind Animaniacs, lambasted commercials from the '90s aimed at kids and had his criticisms answered by Mara Wilson (former child actress of 'Matilda' fame).
Doug recalls his best moments as "anytime somebody tells me my work has helped them get through a hard time. Whether it be a death, an illness, or depression, I've had a lot of people say I've helped them a lot. I didn't see that coming when I started doing this, but it's easily the most wonderful thing about it."
Indeed, Doug comes across as a man keenly tuned in to what his fans are saying, which is impressive when the first rule of the Internet is 'Don't Read Comments'. So how does Doug keep his ear so close to the comments section and retain his sanity? "The best comments to take to heart are the ones you agree with. If someone says you're great and nothing else it has the same impact as when someone says you suck and nothing else. But when somebody points out something you never thought about, whether good or bad, those are the ones to listen to," he said.
"The trick is being honest with yourself and not letting your ego get in the way. It hasn't always worked for me - I still shot [a Let's Play of] Bart's Nightmare - but when it does it shapes you well. When I said I would review Man of Steel everybody exploded with disapproval, but when the review came out the fans loved it. I did it because I trusted that I had something good that I could tell from a different point of view than anyone else. Again, it's that honesty that makes all the difference. [Criticism] range[s] from everything to nothing. The littlest things can set people off, when I started the reboot people were angry that the wall was a slightly different color of white. I made fun of the people saying that in one of my videos and those same people thought it was brilliant. At least they had a good sense of humor. Bottom line you can never predict what people are going to like, but that's also part of what makes it so great."
In 2012, Doug decided to kill off the Nostalgia Critic in To Boldly Flee - an ambitious sci-fi epic celebrating the fourth anniversary of ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com (the website that hosts Nostalgia Critic videos) and featuring many of the other personalities from the site. Doug cites this as his most trying time. "I killed off Nostalgia Critic, started a new show, shot a three and a half hour special effects movie with over 20 people on set in a week, moved to a new home, got married, and did 13 con[vention]s."
That new show was Demo Reel, a webseries that placed more of an emphasis on parody and sketches than review, featuring a regular cast and ongoing storyline. Under the guise of trying to improve them, Donnie DuPre - a struggling film director, played by Doug - and his colleagues at their production company film elaborate remakes of popular movies (deftly satirising them in the process) whilst dealing with wacky shenanigans at their office. Fan reaction was mixed. "I learned a lot from the mistakes of that show, especially in terms of marketing and working to please the fans," said Doug.
"While I still enjoyed the show and have no regrets about it at all, we were trying to start fresh and take feedback from the viewers. As we wrote more and more around what they said they wanted to see, we found the complaints died down but so did the views. I find usually the videos that get the most views are the ones that have the most complaining in the comments... I think our changing angle along with it being the 'replacement' show for Nostalgia Critic was what did it in."
In 2013, Demo Reel came to an end in a disarmingly sincere, yet still incredibly funny, video in which Doug (playing himself) wrestled with the decision to cancel the show to bring back the Critic. The revived Nostalgia Critic series continues to this day, with the Demo Reel cast repurposed for parts in sketches that now feature heavily in the show. "Working on [Demo Reel] has helped me make bigger and smoother looking productions, and has evolved Nostalgia Critic in a way it hasn't in previous years," said Doug. "So in the end we have a show that didn't catch on but I still enjoy and learned so much from to evolve what I'm doing even further."
Doug's video announcing the return of the Nostalgia Critic
Though the Web has allowed anyone from filmmakers to musicians to puppeteers to find an audience, Doug feels that compromising your work for the sake of popularity or profit is a matter of circumstance. "It depends on what you want. If you want to make film with no one controlling you, go ahead and do it. There's very little holding you back nowadays with technology," he said. "However, if you're looking to do it for a living and grow an audience, then it's a compromise."
"Whether it be advertisers or your viewers, you have to make someone want to come back to you. This often means altering your work in a way you didn't think about. However, that can also lead to ideas you never considered and sometimes make your work even better. Nothing is going to be perfect but that's part of the challenge and part of the fun."
To close out our discussion, I ask Doug if he could let us in on anything he's got coming up for the Nostalgia Critic, ThatGuyWithTheGlasses or any other projects he's working on.
"I sure could."