April 20, 2013

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Seth Gordon (2007)

This documentary follows Steve Wiebe - an unemployed father of two who is down on his luck. He happens to have a Donkey Kong Jr. machine in his garage, and decides that beating the World High Score is within his abilities. This high score is currently held by notorious and respected gamer Billy Mitchell (who reminds me of Tom Cruise's character in Magnolia), who set it in 1982. This film is in the same category as Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary and Word Wars in the sense that they follow avid players who play these games to the point of obsession. Playing the games becomes an all-consuming affair that inevitably spills into other sectors of their lives. In this case, Steve Wiebe is just looking for that eventual break. He's sick of being the runner-up, sick of letting his family down. This could be his one big shot to stand out. Wiebe is no doubt talented, during the film he sits down at his child's drum set and performs a well-crafted drum solo while Donkey Kong footage and white pencil sketched overlays provide some eye candy. He is accused of being obsessive compulsive, but you're left wondering if people like this are more of a highly-functioning autistic. Every movie needs its bad guy. Billy Mitchell at first comes off as a likable figure but that degrades quickly when you begin to peel the layers of his personality. You soon see that he is a ego-maniacal  arrogant, bitter man. Billy Mitchell is clinging to that Donkey Kong score like its a high school football trophy that he still brags about 30 years later. He appears to be in a better financial situation than Wiebe, but money doesn't buy happiness. You never see any children on Mitchell's lap. While Steve Wiebe's life appears fulfilled and rich with family ties, Mitchell has only his trophy wife and his low-paid minions to do his dirty work. Regardless of what that silly Donkey Kong score is, Steve Wiebe is the real winner because hes the better guy.

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