End-of-Year Awards 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

It’s the end of 2021, so it’s time to look back on a few of the entertainment highs (and lows) of the year! Like I did last year, I’ve picked out a few of my favourite entertainment experiences from the worlds of cinema, gaming, and television, and I’ll be giving each a totally official Trekking with Dennis award!

Most categories have a winner and a runner-up; some just have one title and in those cases they’re the winners by default. I’ve put Star Trek episodes into their own category, otherwise I’d just be saying that every TV show that I liked this year was Star Trek!

Caveat time! Obviously I haven’t watched or played anywhere close to everything that was published or released this year! The exclusion from these awards of titles such as The Last Duel or For All Mankind doesn’t mean they aren’t good; I just have no experience with them so I can’t comment. It goes without saying that everything here is entirely subjective! This is just one person’s opinion – so feel free to disagree vehemently with some or all of my choices!

With that out of the way, let’s get started!

Best Documentary:

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Half-Life Histories series; Kyle Hill

There have been some interesting documentaries this year, but I wanted to highlight a semi-professional series that has been quietly ticking up views on YouTube. Kyle Hill has crafted a series of absolutely fascinating documentaries about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear accidents – some of which were familiar to me, but several of which actually weren’t.

Nuclear weapons are an incredibly controversial topic, of course, but nuclear power is something I firmly believe that we as a species need to embrace. At least in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power offers a reliable way for humanity to meet our growing power needs while phasing out fossil fuels.

Kyle Hill’s documentaries show how early nuclear experiments could and did go wrong, but they aren’t alarmist. Hill has a gentle, almost understated style that tells these serious (and occasionally fatal) stories with due dignity and gravitas, but without sensationalising the events in question. For anyone interested in the likes of the Chernobyl disaster or the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the entire series is well worth a watch.

Best Web Series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
The Jimquisition; Jim Sterling

I’d like to highlight a fellow non-binary creator here. Jim Sterling – also known as James Stephanie Sterling – is a video games critic on YouTube. Their main weekly series, The Jimquisition, often highlights bad practices in the games industry and draws attention to misbehaving corporations. The Jimquisition was one of the first shows to criticise the practice of lootboxes a few years ago, for example, and this year Sterling has worked relentlessly to call out the likes of Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard.

Too many publications – even blogs and social media channels – now work hand-in-glove with big corporations in the video games industry, leading many so-called independent publications to, at the very least, be cautious in what they say about both their corporate friends and the games they review so as to maintain their level of access. The Jimquisition has always been different because it’s self-funded, leaving Sterling free to criticise as they see fit.

On a personal note, seeing Jim Sterling come out as non-binary was one factor among many as I made my own decision earlier this year to discuss my gender identity in public for the first time, and I want to thank them for their brave decision.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Tasting History with Max Miller

There really isn’t anything quite like Tasting History. There are a plethora of cooking shows and channels online – many of which are fantastic! And there are some great history shows as well, everything from mini-documentaries to living history re-enactments. Tasting History blends these two things together, as host Max Miller cooks a variety of different historical dishes, and uses those as an entry point to talk about some of the historical events and personalities associated with the food.

I love history and I love cookery shows, so Tasting History is absolutely the kind of thing that was going to appeal to me! But a fun premise alone wouldn’t be enough, and Tasting History has a well-spoken host who makes both sides of the show entertaining as well as interesting. I’ve learned a lot about different dishes and historical cultures this year, things I never would have found out about if not for Tasting History.

Best TV Special:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

After 2020’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special had been a ton of fun, I was pleasantly surprised to see Disney+ bringing back Lego Star Wars for another outing this year. Terrifying Tales was a fun Halloween special, one which drew on many classics of the thriller and horror genres for inspiration while maintaining a child-friendly atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so this lighter tone was just perfect for me!

Focusing on Poe Dameron, Terrifying Tales used a frame narrative to tell three different spooky stories set in all three of the Star Wars franchise’s main eras. The first short, which focused on Kylo Ren, contained more backstory for the character than the entire sequel trilogy – and I would argue that it was actually better than the minuscule character development that Kylo/Ben Solo got in the films!

Palpatine was hilarious in the vignette that featured him, and I adored the way that Terrifying Tales used the character. The third and final vignette was a parody of a Twilight Zone episode and featured Luke Skywalker, and that was pretty fun to see as well. Overall, Terrifying Tales was a cute, funny, and lightly spooky way to get ready for Halloween!

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
The Grand Tour: Lochdown

As we approach the pandemic’s second anniversary, we need things like Lochdown to poke fun at what’s been going on in the world. In a unique way that only Hammond, Clarkson, and May can really pull off, The Grand Tour’s special episode made a trip to Scotland one of the funniest and most entertaining bits of television I enjoyed all year.

The trio have found great success at Amazon, and free from the constraints of the BBC (both financially and in terms of content), I’d argue that The Grand Tour is leaps and bounds ahead of Top Gear. As the show has switched its focus to these kinds of special episodes, there’s been a lot of fun to be had!

I’m not really a car person. Cars have always been a means to an end for me; a mode of transportation. But the enthusiasm of the three hosts for their vehicles is infectious, and the fun they have on their wacky adventures always manages to succeed at pulling me in and making me feel like I’m right there with them.

Worst TV Series:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Rick and Morty Season 5

After four pretty strong and funny seasons, Rick and Morty stumbled this year. It felt to me like the writers had become a little too aware of the show’s success and place in pop culture – and didn’t really know how to handle that. Season 5 was bland and forgettable, with several episodes that didn’t even win a smile, let alone a laugh.

Rick and Morty crossed over from being a fun series with a cult following and really hit the mainstream somewhere around its third season, and clearly that’s been a double-edged sword. Too many of the attempted jokes this year came across as either desperate or else simply as gross-outs or edginess for the sake of it.

Though the show had a few successful moments, such as the scenes between Rick and Birdperson toward the end of the season, Season 5 has to be considered a failure.

Best TV series:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Foundation

The first season of Foundation was imperfect but nevertheless good. The novels upon which Foundation is based are incredibly dense works that can, at points, feel more like philosophy than sci-fi, so bringing something like that to the small screen was no small challenge – but Apple TV+ stepped up.

Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance as Hari Seldon, and was joined by several actors with whom I was less familiar – but who all did an outstanding job. Foundation is also a visually beautiful series, one which makes great use of Apple’s high CGI budget. A second season has already been confirmed – so that’s something to look forward to in 2022!

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time was the first of Amazon’s two big-budget fantasy shows to make it to screen. We’ll have to wait until next year for the corporation’s Lord of the Rings prequel/adaptation, but The Wheel of Time is definitely a show worth watching in its own right. It has struggled, at times, to break out from the shadows of both Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Tolkien adaptation, but I’m so glad that I gave it a chance to impress me on its own merits.

Outside of the Star Trek franchise, The Wheel of Time is unquestionably the best television show I’ve seen all year. Amazon managed to adapt the first part of a long and complex story in a way that was understandable and easy to follow, bringing a new high fantasy world to the screen for the first time. There are some fantastic performances from Rosamund Pike and Madeleine Madden in particular, making The Wheel of Time a series to get lost in.

The first season concluded recently, and a second is already on the way! I can hardly wait.

Worst Video Game:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

This is a difficult one. There were plenty of bad games this year – games with horribly intrusive monetisation, overladen with bugs, or that just plain sucked. But for me, the year’s most egregious video game failure is a so-called “remaster” that was lazy, that didn’t feel like much of an upgrade, and that left me incredibly disappointed when I consider what might have been.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition contains a number of bugs that were present in the original versions of its three constituent games; bugs that BioWare failed to fix. Its visual upgrade, coming less than ten years after the third game in the series, was already going to be a hard sell, but there seem to be many textures that BioWare either didn’t touch at all or else did the absolute bare minimum to.

And that’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in a nutshell: it’s a “remaster” that tried to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum. The sad thing is that I adore the Mass Effect games – but this version was so much less than it should’ve been.

Best Video Game:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Road 96

Road 96 is quite unlike anything else I’ve played all year – and probably for quite a long time before that too! The game focuses on characters, introducing players to dozens of completely unique NPCs during a branching quest to escape a totalitarian state. It’s a road trip game… but that definition scarcely does it justice.

Road 96 has a beautiful art style, too, one that really brings to life its characters and American Southwest-inspired locales. There’s a wonderful soundtrack that accompanies the game, one with a definite ’80s inspiration – which I’m totally there for! It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling Road 96, and it’s an experience I really think you should try for yourself in as unspoiled a manner as possible.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Kena: Bridge of Spirits

When I was thinking about my pick for “game of the year,” there was never any doubt in my mind that Kena: Bridge of Spirits would take the trophy. It’s one of the most visually beautiful games that I’ve ever played, bringing an almost Disney-esque art style to life in the most fantastic way possible.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a modern-looking game with a distinctly old-school feel to it. The game combines elements of puzzle-solving and 3D platforming with some tight, focused combat, and the addition of the Rot – little critters that accompany Kena – is both adorable and incredibly useful. Collecting things in video games can feel like busywork, but because Kena’s power grows with every Rot she picks up, even this aspect of the game manages to feel worthwhile.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year. It didn’t just meet my expectations – it surpassed them by a country mile.

Worst Film:

πŸ† “Winner” πŸ†
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried to be dark and edgy and in doing so ended up robbing its source material of any of the fun and entertainment value it could’ve had. DC Comics has struggled to compete with Marvel, failing to recognise that it’s Marvel’s blend of humour and action that makes those films so appealing to many viewers. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a case in point – and a great example, in my opinion, of a film that completely misses the mark.

Perhaps to distinguish it from the likes of The Avengers, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was packed with gimmicks, too. An incredibly dark and boring colour palette drowned the film in grey, black, and brown tones, and some scenes were so poorly-lit that following the action became difficult. It was also shot in a weird 4:3 aspect ratio – again, seemingly for the sake of a gimmick.

I’m genuinely happy for fans of DC who worked hard to secure the so-called “Snyder Cut” after a long campaign. But the end result was, for me, the worst film I’ve seen all year. And this was a year where I watched Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Best Film:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Raya and the Last Dragon

I paid a lot of money (by my standards, at least) to watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+! Maybe I should’ve waited the extra couple of months, but I was genuinely interested to see the latest big Disney animated picture. The one surprise was the lack of any musical numbers, but despite that I had a good time with Raya and the Last Dragon.

Kelly Marie Tran put in an outstanding performance as the titular Raya, a young woman on a quest to restore the life of a dragon and reunite a fractured land loosely based on Southeast Asia. The film was dramatic and exciting, with a fun cast of characters. It’s also noteworthy that all of the main characters – heroes and villains – were women.

Now that it’s on Disney+ (and out on DVD and Blu-Ray) it’s definitely worth a watch.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Dune

I was worried that Dune would once again prove to be too difficult to adapt, but I was thrilled to see that I was wrong! Dune is a sci-fi masterpiece, and if its second instalment comes anywhere close to living up to this first part, I think we’ll be talking about the duology alongside the likes of The Lord of the Rings in years to come as being an absolute classic.

Dune is a long and occasionally dense book, so condensing it down and keeping a cinematic adaptation with a large cast of characters easy to follow was no mean feat. Director Denis Villeneuve did an outstanding job, and every aspect of the film, from its dialogue to its visual effects, are pitch-perfect.

I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline for a while, so stay tuned in the new year – I might finally get around to finishing it!

Most Exciting Announcement:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
Wicked

Picture Credit:Β Wicked the Musical London.

I was very lucky to have seen Wicked on the stage in London early in its run, and the soundtrack has to be up there as one of the best modern musicals. The announcement of a film adaptation came as a truly welcome surprise this year, and I will follow its progress with anticipation!

A spin-off from The Wizard of Oz, Wicked purports to tell the story from “the other side” – i.e. the Wicked Witch’s point of view. Disney in particular has shown in recent years that this concept can work exceptionally well, and Wicked pulls it off. The musical and the book that inspired it are very different, but both are enjoyable in their own ways – and I hope the film will be as well!

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Early in 2021 there were rumours of a Knights of the Old Republic game being in development, but it wasn’t until September that its existence was finally confirmed. A full-scale remake of the first game in the series is being worked on, and the idea of being able to go back and replay one of my favourite Star Wars games of all time is a truly exciting one!

So far all we’ve seen has been a CGI teaser, so the game is probably a couple of years away. But it’s still good to have something like this to look forward to! After several years of very limited success under Electronic Arts, Star Wars games are now being tackled by more developers and publishers – meaning we should see more from the franchise in the years ahead. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a remake of Knights of the Old Republic II after this one!

Best Star Trek Episode:

πŸ₯ˆ Runner-Up πŸ₯ˆ
There Is A Tide…
Discovery Season 3

There Is A Tide is basically “Star Trek does Die Hard!” If that sounds like fun to you, then we are definitely on the same page! Featuring a desperate plan to re-take the USS Discovery following its capture by a villainous faction, Michael Burnham, Tilly, and several members of the bridge crew all get their chances to be action heroes.

It isn’t an entirely self-contained episode, as it brings to a head Starfleet’s conflict with the aforementioned villainous faction that had been running for much of the season, as well as containing other ongoing story threads. But it works well as a single episode, too, with an explosive and action-packed story that feels like it was lifted right out of an action blockbuster!

There Is A Tide is a great episode for Michael Burnham, but it’s also good for Admiral Vance as well. He truly seems to embody the values that Starfleet and the Federation have always held, and anyone who feels that Discovery has placed less of an emphasis on that should pay attention to Vance’s scenes in particular.

πŸ† Winner πŸ†
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

First First Contact is an incredibly well-done episode of Lower Decks. The series’ trademark sense of humour is still present, but we see the entire crew of the USS Cerritos working hard to overcome an incredibly difficult challenge and save not only an ailing Starfleet ship but also an entire planet. The crew rise to the occasion as we always knew they could, and First First Contact hits all of the emotional highs you could ever want from an episode of Star Trek.

It’s also an episode that truly embraces the spirit of the franchise. The Cerritos’ crew aren’t faced with some horrible monster or alien to defeat, instead the puzzle that lies before them is scientific – and the solution to it has to be as well. All of the main and secondary characters get moments in the spotlight, and First First Contact even found time to further advance the relationship between Ensign Mariner and Captain Freeman.

Finally, there was an incredible moment of symmetry toward the end of the episode, as the Cerritos saved the day in a very similar fashion to how it had to be saved in the Season 1 finale. That moment was pitch-perfect – and I won’t lie… I teared up!

So that’s it!

We’ve dished out a handful of awards to some of the best – and worst – entertainment experiences of the year. 2021 is a difficult one to summarise. The ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic has been noticeable, with delays and even some cancellations getting in the way and spoiling the fun. But there were some fantastic projects across cinema, television, and video games too – including some brand-new titles that I feel have the potential to lead to ongoing franchises, or to be talked about a lot in future as classics of their various genres.

As 2022 approaches, I hope you’ll stay tuned for a lot more to come from Trekking with Dennis! In the days ahead I plan to look forward to some of the films, games, and television shows that we could enjoy throughout the coming year, so definitely stay tuned for that! And I have a number of reviews and other articles in the pipeline.

So the only thing left to do is to wish you a very Happy New Year! Whatever you have planned for tonight, I hope you have an amazing time. See you next year!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.


Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:

Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

Rick and Morty Season 5

The Wheel of Time

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Raya and the Last Dragon

Wicked

Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Discovery 3×12 There Is A Tide…

Lower Decks 2×10 First First Contact

What’s the right ratio of advert to video on YouTube?

I watch at least one video on YouTube practically every day, and there are a few channels that I regularly stay up-to-date with. There are some great, well-produced videos, mini-documentaries, and short films on almost any topic you can think of – including a growing number of Star Trek channels, which is great to see! But we’re off-topic already. YouTube itself runs adverts on most channels and many of the videos on its platform, and that’s one aspect of the question I’m going to ask today. But there’s another, and it’s one that primarily affects channels when they reach a certain size: paid sponsorships.

I’ve talked before about paid reviews on YouTube, which is a slimy practice that needs to be abolished. But this article isn’t about what specifically is being advertised or even the way in which YouTube channels handle what products and services they choose to associate with. Rather it’s a simple question: what is the right ratio of advert to video? Or to put it another way: how much of the runtime of a video can and should comprise sponsorships and other advertising?

Getting the balance right between advertising and content is difficult for some YouTube channels.

This question was prompted by a video I watched recently – and no, I’m not telling you which one as that would be unfair. This article is not intended to single out any one individual YouTube channel for criticism; it’s a common enough problem across the platform. The video I watched clocked in at just over seven minutes long, which is about average for the channel in question, and because I’m a huge nerd as you well know, it was about trains.

The channel in question runs ads, and as such I was forced to sit through a pre-roll advert before the video played. Luckily this only lasted a few seconds, and while it is somewhat outside the channel’s control, the fact that YouTube shows ads is another layer in answering my question as we’ll see in a moment. After the pre-roll ad, the video began. But of the seven-minute video, the first minute-and-a-half was entirely dedicated to the aforementioned paid sponsorship – this time for a VPN service. 90 seconds may not seem awfully long, and in the grand scheme of things it isn’t – but in a video this short, 90 seconds is already more than 20% of the total runtime.

And that wasn’t all. After the main portion of the video had concluded, I was surprised to see the timer was sitting only at the 6:15 mark. The remaining 45 seconds of the video were dedicated to the YouTuber plugging their Patreon account (where fans can pay monthly to support the channel) as well as another reminder to sign up for the crummy VPN service that was sponsoring the video. That means that, of the seven minutes of total video time, two-and-a-quarter minutes were taken up with advertising. That’s practically one-third of the total runtime of the video, without even accounting for the pre-roll ad. To me that’s just too much.

Everyone is trying to make money – understandably so.

In a way we’re spoilt by the internet offering so much ad-free content. Netflix, Paramount+, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming services generally don’t run any ads at all, and compared to broadcast television, which takes frequent and long ad breaks, online content is pretty consumer-friendly. But that doesn’t mean we should give content creators a free pass or let things slide when they go too far.

Even in the United States, where the rules around advertising on television are lax compared to the UK, no television channel is dedicating one-third of its time to ad breaks. When I lived in the United States in the mid-2000s, prime time television shows would show around 15 minutes of ads per hour – which is, if you’re quick with the maths, one-quarter of their time.

Older, more established YouTube channels tend to have a better handle on this problem, having worked out the right balance between making money and what their audience is willing to put up with. Thus it tends to be newer YouTubers, or channels which have only recently become popular, that fall prey to excessive advertising and overly-long sponsorship slots, at least in my limited experience with the platform.

This issue seems to affect newer YouTube channels more.

I don’t want to begrudge anyone making money, especially in the current economic climate. But there are good and bad ways to go about doing so, and there are good and bad ways to handle advertising and sponsorships. I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that a video which is one-third advert is too much, and this can become costly for YouTubers. They can lose subscribers, receive dislikes, receive negative comments and feedback, etc. It’s not uncommon to see comments calling out a YouTube video for dedicating too much time to advertising, and negative comments can be hurtful and even offputting.

Some videos can make the actual topic feel secondary, as if the video and indeed the whole channel only exist for the purpose of advertising. The content underneath the ads is what viewers come to YouTube for, and when that feels unbalanced it becomes very offputting. Whatever trust may exist between a YouTube channel and its audience becomes strained. This isn’t just the case when a YouTube channel is advertising a product or service close to the subject of the video, either.

Striking the right balance and getting the right advert-to-video ratio is important for any amateur on YouTube who hopes to make money on the platform. It’s worth any aspiring YouTuber taking a look at established channels to see how they handle things rather than launching headfirst into a sponsorship agreement without thinking it through. In the case we looked at, the two-and-a-quarter minutes of advertising would have felt far less egregious on a video that was twenty minutes long, so as I alluded to it’s not the raw length of time spent on advertising that’s the issue. Instead it’s making sure to get the right balance between time spent on advertising and time spent on the actual video. How much time in seconds or minutes to spend on advertising will depend on the channel and the length of video that the YouTuber intends to produce.

Being offered a large sum of money by advertisers can be very tempting to aspiring YouTubers.

As a good rule of thumb, I would suggest no YouTube video should try to pack more than 10% of its total runtime with advertising, and I would include in that plugging Patreon, PayPal donations, YouTube channel memberships, and the like. YouTube has recently become more aggressive with its own advertising, and it’s not uncommon to see two pre-roll ads now, as well as ads that run in the middle of a video, so YouTubers should try to take that into account when adding in their own ads.

It’s not always easy to make money on YouTube, and I’m sure that sponsorships are a very tempting prospect for an up-and-coming channel. But YouTubers in that position need to be very careful that they aren’t putting off their audience and potentially seeing those subscriber numbers and total watch hours drop as a result of being too aggressive. Usually this problem corrects itself; if a YouTube channel goes too hard and too fast on the paid sponsorships, they wise up either because they lose viewers or because of the backlash it generates. But it’s something to be aware of for anyone starting a YouTube channel and intending to pursue it as a money-making endeavour.

So what’s the tl;dr? In my opinion it’s about 10% or less. 90% or more of proper video content, 10% or less of adverts and self-promotion. Shorter videos in particular need to be careful with this, as it’s on shorter videos where I’ve found that the balance has not been correctly struck more often than not.

Sorry for the rant, but this is something that was really bugging me today for some reason!

Some stock photos used here are courtesy of Pixabay and Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

YouTube channel spotlight: Cruising the Cut

It was only a few years ago that I rarely used YouTube. I’d occasionally check out a film trailer or listen to a song I couldn’t find anywhere else, but I largely bypassed its user-generated content, figuring that the website was largely filled up with amateurish comedy, cat videos, and cringeworthy children making videos they’re bound to look back on in shame a few years down the line! But as the web has grown to become an ever-larger part of all of our lives, I’ve found myself spending more and more time on YouTube to the point where I’m pretty sure I watch at least one video on the platform every day.

There are some great channels on YouTube, and you can find different ones dealing with every topic under the sun, but this time I’d like to shine a spotlight on one which became a favourite a couple of years ago: Cruising the Cut. When I first subscribed, the channel was hovering somewhere around the 25,000-subscriber mark. That’s good, but by no means YouTube royalty! In the last couple of years, however, Cruising the Cut has grown to well over 100,000 subscribers, and hitting that mark was thoroughly deserved.

So what is Cruising the Cut? It’s primarily about travelling on England’s canal network, and the life of a “liveaboard” – i.e. someone whose permanent home is his narrowboat. The gentleman in question is named David, and the first couple of videos on Cruising the Cut explain how he decided to sell up and move aboard a canal boat permanently. David was a television journalist before starting his YouTube channel, and his background, both in terms of knowing how to use the camera and set up beautiful shots, as well as how to be interesting and informative in his presentation, shines through.

David runs the channel and produces and narrates every video.

2021 seems like a great time to get caught up with Cruising the Cut if a travelogue around England sounds like your cup of tea, because the pandemic has, unfortunately, brought a halt to David’s planned travels. The result of this has been fewer videos, and a recent announcement that there may not be much travelling being put to film at least for the next few months. So now could be a good time to binge-watch David’s travels so far!

I’ve always had an interest in canals, and their history is really fascinating. The second half of the 1700s was the heyday of canal construction in England, and a network of artificial waterways was built that spans much of the central part of the country. They were initially constructed as profitable transportation routes, often for moving natural resources like coal or iron to budding industrial centres. By the mid-20th Century, however, many canals had fallen into disrepair, and it took a lot of hard work to restore the network to its current condition – work which is still ongoing.

The invention of the railway and steam locomotives brought canal construction to a premature halt in the 19th Century, though many of the engineering and mechanical techniques pioneered during their construction did not go to waste and was used by early railway builders. It’s primarily for this reason, though, that the canal network is not larger!

A map showing the extent of the canal network in England and Wales.
Picture Credit: The Canal & River Trust

Since starting his channel in 2015, David has filmed his travels across a significant portion of the canal network, but hasn’t yet been everywhere or stopped at every point of interest! So hopefully, once the pandemic clears, there will be more to come. He manages to be informative and entertaining in equal measure in every video, and I find myself learning something new about the canals, their history, or the part of the country he’s visiting almost every time.

Gongoozling – the name for canal boat-watching – is, by its nature, a slow affair. This isn’t something fast-paced or action-packed, so set your expectations accordingly! Canal narrowboats only have a maximum cruising speed of around four miles-per-hour, so don’t expect Cruising the Cut to be zipping all across the country in each video. This is, as David says, “slow TV.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, though, and stepping out of our sometimes-hectic lives to slow down and set our watches to “canal time” is no bad thing. Sometimes we choose entertainment for its value as escapism, and perhaps that’s what you’ll find with Cruising the Cut. Life on the canals certainly seems to be at a different pace – it can feel, sometimes, like another world, one caught in a moment somewhere in England’s past.

The intro to episode 159.

When I first encountered Cruising the Cut there were a couple of other canal-related YouTube channels, but that number has grown over the last few years and there must be at least a dozen by now. It’s a niche, certainly, but apparently a growing one! I wouldn’t have expected that necessarily, but despite the fairly obscure subject matter, it just goes to show that anything can be interesting and entertaining if well-presented.

That could be the motto of many YouTube shows, actually! I’m often surprised at how channels with a fairly narrow or unusual focus can draw large audiences, but when the presenter is enjoyable to watch, the subject matter itself can almost be anything. In the case of Cruising the Cut, following David’s travels around the canal network is one half of the appeal; the second is the way in which it’s presented.

The episodes in which he travels are usually filmed from two angles – one at the front of the boat, and one at the back, where David can speak directly to the camera from the boat’s stern deck. Cruising the Cut does sometimes make use of drone shots as well, and these can be absolutely stunning! There are some beautiful vistas along the canal network, and David’s camera work is great at capturing them.

The view from the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in Wales.

So that’s about all I have to say, really. Cruising the Cut is gentle entertainment for when you need a break, as well as an interesting and informative travelogue, one that is perhaps not quite on the beaten track! You may have seen England in travel documentaries before – you might even live here – but I’d be willing to bet that most folks haven’t seen this side of the country. There are big cities, smaller towns, and rural areas all served by this canal network, and it really is a world unto itself – a world of slow-moving pleasure boats, holidaymakers, marinas, chandleries, and even the occasional floating business that has survived into the modern era.

I know this isn’t the usual kind of geekdom that I write about – and it seems a country mile away from sci-fi – but if you’re interested either in a fun travelogue or in learning more about the canals, which are a fascinating part of English history, maybe you’ll find Cruising the Cut as much fun as I do.

Cruising the Cut, and all videos posted to the channel, are the copyright of the channel owner. YouTube and associated trademarks are the copyright of Google and Alphabet. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

There’s no such thing as a “sponsored review”

#notspon

The growth of the internet has meant that anyone can be a critic or reviewer nowadays. This website is, in a way, testament to that. I never trained as a journalist or critic, and while I took classes both at school and university on subjects like literature and creative writing, and have been a writer in my career, I’m by no means a professional critic. Nor are most bloggers, YouTubers, and others in the digital world of media criticism. While some online criticism can be of a lower standard as a result, the broader picture is that there’s much more diversity in the way we approach and think about media, with reviewers now coming from many different backgrounds instead of all being journalism majors from a select few universities. This is a good thing.

But some online critics, especially when they start to get a following, can be tempted down a deeply unethical path by companies willing to pay for positive reviews and attention. This is especially prevalent on YouTube, but the reality is it can happen anywhere, and we must all be careful what we read or watch online.

YouTube is a great place to find independent media reviewers, but some videos are adverts disguised as criticism.

This article was prompted by a video I spotted on YouTube, and while I will spare the YouTuber’s blushes by not mentioning them by name, I feel that it encapsulates a wider issue that seems to plague discussion surrounding gaming and technology in particular. The video was titled: “Final Fantasy VII Review #ad” (or words to that effect) and was a paid promotion for the newly-released remake of Final Fantasy VII posing as a review. While, to his credit, the young man did put the “ad” hashtag, calling this piece of work a “review” is unacceptable. This is, sadly, something that I see regularly and there are many examples on YouTube and many other websites, apps, and social media platforms.

Let’s be clear: a piece of work can be a review or it can be an advertisement. It cannot be both.

I’ve written adverts and reviews in my career as a writer. I started out writing marketing content for a large games company, working primarily on their website. Later, while working as a freelancer, I wrote for many different companies, often with the intention of selling their products. I know how marketing works, the kind of language used, and how scripts and articles can be written specifically to sell products. I also know, thanks to this website, what it’s like to write from the other side and express a legitimate opinion as an independent critic.

No one pays me anything for writing here on Trekking with Dennis. I paid for this website, its hosting, and its domain name. This isn’t my job, it’s a side-project for fun and to give me a small creative outlet. Not only that, but if I were ever approached by someone and asked to promote a product or service, I’d tell them that if they wanted to hire me to write for their website I’d happily take it under consideration, but that no paid-for article will ever be published here. This website exists purely to express my thoughts and opinions on the subjects I’m interested in.

Trekking with Dennis will always be independent.

There is a solid line between a review and an advertisement, and crossing that line destroys any integrity a self-proclaimed critic may have. It also damages the brand that is paying for such a promotion, as it demonstrates that they have no faith in their product to receive positive reviews on its own merits. It’s a tacit admission that their product is sub-par and that a financial incentive is necessary for anyone to look upon it favourably.

Companies count on most people ignoring the small print and simply watching the video or reading the article and seeing the product receive unadulterated praise. And the truth is that it works – many people don’t recognise or understand the difference between something paid-for and a genuine review in which the critic is able to express his or her own thoughts. Companies get away with this because they nominally comply with the rules which state a critic must be up-front about paid-for “reviews”, but they can do it in very subtle ways that mean most people don’t even notice. On YouTube, this means using the “ad” hashtag. That alone is good enough for parent company Google – the video itself need not state anywhere that it’s a paid promotion. On a blog or website, it might be included somewhere in the small print underneath the main body of text, making it easy to overlook. This is duplicitous, sneaky advertising, and on a website like YouTube, whose audience is disproportionately comprised of young people, it’s deliberately designed to be as subtle as possible so that many of them will not even be aware that a video purporting to be a “review” is in fact an advertisement.

You may have recently heard of a mobile phone game called Raid: Shadow Legends. Many YouTube channels carry ads and sponsorships for this game, and while it has come in for criticism for the way the company behind the game handles its paid promotions, they are at least clear that the game is being advertised. They make no attempts to disguise the fact that video segments dedicated to discussing the game are sponsored, and while there may be legitimate criticisms of the stilted script or the dishonesty in some of these paid promotions, they are at least clearly paid promotions and not attempting to pass themselves off as genuine criticism.

This isn’t a dig at one specific YouTuber – though I am no longer subscribed to his channel – nor even at the platform in general. People want to make money, and I understand that – especially in the current economic climate. But we need to make sure that the line between advertisement and criticism remains solid and does not become blurred, lest people lose faith in any and all forms of online criticism. For a critic to pen an article or produce a video claiming to be a genuine review while receiving payment is unacceptable, no matter what hashtag or small print they use. No one is saying they cannot produce an advertisement for that company or that product, but it must be labelled as such and not lie and try to pass itself off as something that is is not and never can be. Integrity matters.

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studios and/or publishers. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.