Is Cinema Sins Bad For Film Criticism?

King Kong versus Cinema Sins

For the past five years, YouTube juggernaut Cinema Sins has become one of the major voices in online film discussion. Their main channel, which consists almost exclusively of their patented Sin videos where the team go through a chosen movie scene-by-scene pointing out continuity errors, poor filmmaking decision and otherwise picking it apart, has over 7 million subscribers and new videos (released twice-a-week) typically hit 2 million views in a matter of weeks (and have a very strong like to dislike ratio). What we're saying is, they're big. But are they a good thing? A recent debate about the channel sparked by some major Hollywood names has called their underlying ethos into question.

Shortly after their latest video on Kong: Skull Island, which spends a good 18 minutes taking down the MonsterVerse throwback, went live, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts took to Twitter to call out the channel, citing several mistakes and otherwise snide comments before concluding they were bad for film discourse, favoring nitpicking over analysis, and offered little in the way of actual entertainment. He was backed up by several other prominent filmmakers, including Gary Whitta who echoed statements they'll eventually create a barrier for the actual enjoyment of movies.

Today we want to take a deep, rational look at this and see what Cinema Sins is trying to do, how they've changed over the past five years, and what their impact on film criticism is.

How Did Cinema Sins Get So Big?

The Cinema Sins channel was created on 11 Dec 2012 and swiftly started uploading videos targeting the latest releases - first up was The Amazing Spider-Man, followed by The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, Hunger Games etc. What's immediately noticeable going back this far is the length of these videos; those first five are all under four minutes long and seemingly constructed with time as a factor; the narrator (Jeremy Scott) talks with such speed as if trying to get through the movie in a cheekily defined time limit. They are very, very different from the videos being uploaded today - shorter, leaner, more focused and, above all, openly comedic.

There's no pretense in these early videos that, despite their authoritative "Everything Wrong With" title, Cinemas Sins is a comedy channel. The speed, the dry delivery and above all the writing (many of the long-running gags, like "scene does not contain a lap dance" or "Prometheus school of running away from things" originate in those early videos) are all to ramp up the humor. In Everything Wrong With Cinema Sins In 3 Minutes Or Less (a self-deprecating bonus video released just six months after channel's creation, highlighting their meteoric rise) they even state "We put our videos in the Film & Animation category instead of Comedy because we've already given our full allotment of f*cks about people who don't understand sarcasm." Even the sin counter, which is rarely if ever representative of the creator's opinions of the movie at hand, felt like part of the joke. It put movies of all descriptions against each other without any grounding.

The channel's evolved a lot since then. There have been various other ventures - they started split-screen "Conversations About Movies" and Jeremy has his own, sparsely updated channel, while spinoffs Music Video Sins and Brand Sins all go strong, as does new podcast Sincast - but they're all centered on the main series, which is now a far cry from what it once was. Videos run longer (some have been done in two parts and most brush with 20 minutes) and the sins themselves are delivered with more dialogue and in a slower, more sardonic manner.

Now the videos are longer for several reasons. The simplest is that YouTube's algorithm now favors longer, continuously-viewed content rather than maximizing clicks as a few years prior - it pays to do one ten-minute video rather than ten one-minute vids. Cinema Sins are riding the wave, with their success giving them an audience who will happily sit through longer content. But the tonal changes are separate, and lead us to the complaints at hand.

This is an enterprise built on the direct mocking of movies that took years to make. That open one-sided angling, taking down even the writers' favorite films, is going to rub some directors up the wrong way. And so, to address Vogt-Roberts' complaints, we need to figure out what exactly Cinema Sins is trying to do.

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