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THE KING OF KONG, 2007
Movie Reviews!

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THE KING OF KONG, 2007
Movie Review
Directed by Seth Gordon
DOCUMENTARY
Review by Andrew Rowe



SYNOPSIS:

Diehard video game fans compete to break World Records on classic arcade games.

REVIEW:

The King of Kong: A fistful of quarters is that rare documentary that couldn’t be any better even if it was scripted. The doc follows underdog Steve Wiebe as he tries to take the world high score of the arcade game Donkey Kong from the reigning champ Billy Mitchell. Doesn’t sound very exciting, but what director Seth Gordon does with the footage is craft something that is suspenseful, emotional, and most importantly, very entertaining.

Gordon sets up the characters immediately. Steve Wiebe is a loser, and has been most of his life. He has a wife and two children, but even his wife talks rather poorly of him. His parents don’t beam with enthusiasm about him, and his friend says that Steve cries more than any other man he knows. Steve Wiebe is a loser. Steve Wiebe is the film’s hero.

Billy Mitchell has been described at the “greatest arcade-video-game player of all time”. Billy was the first person to have ever gotten a perfect score in Pac-Man, as well as numerous other honors with such arcade games as Donkey Kong Jr., BurgerTime, Centipede, and Donkey Kong, which he holds the world record for the highest score. Billy is also an extremely successful entrepreneur. He owns “Rickey’s World Famous Restaurant” chain, and sells his own line of hot sauces, “Rickey’s World Famous Sauces”. Billy was a born winner. Billy Mitchell is the film’s villain.

Gordon and his editors have you rooting for Steve and loathing Billy upon their introductions. Brief histories of both men are told through interviews with friends and family as well as footage from Billy’s teenage years, topping arcade high scores of various different games. The two men are on either side of the spectrum; Steve is shy, unsuccessful, and lacks confidence while Billy is outspoken, very successful, and cocky as hell. You learn to cringe and wave your fist angrily every time he appears on screen.

Steve decides that he wants to break the world record of Donkey Kong, and sets out to do so, buying an arcade cabinet, and playing it in his garage for hours on end. Steve develops a winning system to the game with his math and engineering knowledge. During one videotaped attempt, Steve ignores his child, crying in the bathroom for his father to come clean him. Steve submits the video, and becomes the Donkey Kong world record holder, for a few weeks. Billy sends his protégé to inquire about Steve’s arcade cabinet, which he discovers was provided by Roy “Mr. Awesome” Shildt. It’s revealed that Billy and Roy are arch nemeses, and have been for several years. Because of Roy’s involvement with Steve’s machine, Twin Galaxies, the organization that keeps track of high scores achieved on arcade games, disregards Steve’s score.

Steve must prove his gaming skills and travels to Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day to perform live, and confront Billy in a head to head competition. The world of competitive arcade gaming is revealed, and the people that play them. Steve is unwelcome by most and many of Billy’s minions in the arcade try to get under Steve’s skin. Steve stays strong and despite other conspiracies, questionable game tapes, and shady characters, comes out victorious.

The film is the equivalent of Rocky, except instead of battling it out in a boxing ring, Steve is sitting on a stool controlling a virtual character who leaps over barrels, battles a large gorilla, and saves his princess. Director Seth Gordon stages the film as a David versus Goliath affair. As a viewer you cannot watch Steve Wiebe without cheering and rooting for him every step of the way. Billy is the vile villain, who will sink to any low to come out on top. And it’s this age old battle of good and evil that make this documentary feel like it was scripted by a member of the Screen Writers’ Guild.

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