Saturday, February 9, 2008

Movie Review: The King of Kong

non spoiler don't worry

I am a fan of documentaries, and this was a really interesting one. If you grew up a child of the eighties like me, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Q-bert at the like were a big part of life. Multiply that by about 10,000 and you have the subjects of this movie.

We meet the world's best "classic" video game players. A subculture of fanatical nerds that make guys who play dungeons & dragons look like Sinatra's Rat Pack. Billy Mitchell from Hollywood, FL is the leader, figuratively (all of these pale arcade dwellers worship him) and literally (he has the recognized points record for 5 classic games). Billy has held the Donkey Kong record since 1982 - no one has broken it for 25 years. Billy brags how being the world's best video game player has shaped his life - how it has led him to be the best at what he does in business, in relationships, everything. He kind of has a messiah complex and looks like Jesus himself, if Jesus was a Donkey Kong master - and an asshole. Sure, Christ can walk on water but can he smash a few barrels with a giant mallet and get past level 21? Mitchell is FIERCELY protective of his record and his legacy in this nerd community. He is their Jim Jones, their Charles Manson, their Karl Rove if you will. (And I think you will).

We next meet family man Steve Wiebe. Steve seems like an All American guy - he lives in the suburbs of Seattle, he is married, has 2 little kids. We learn from interviews with his wife, parents, friends and brothers that poor Steve always seems to come up short in life. Despite being driven in his hobbies to the point of obsessive-compulsive disorder, he seems to be a sadsack. He was a great athlete in high school but hurt his arm and couldn't pitch in the team's championship and let his team down (he cries). He is a great musician, and was in one of Seattle's earliest grunge bands but starved trying to be a working musician (he cries). He is working for Lockheed and gets laid off for two years on the same day he and his wife close on their house (he cries). His mother even confesses she always suspected he might be borderline autistic since he was so singularly focused on things that strike his fancy. Donkey Kong becomes his next OCD hobby.

While he is laid off and looking for work, he decides he needs to do something in life that he could be successful at and have control over - so he buys a Donkey Kong console and puts it in his basement and tries to go for the world's record. We watch as it strains Steve's family as he spends his time trying for the record.

If this were pro wrestling, Steve is definitely the babyface - the good guy trying to unseat the cocky heel champion (Billy Mitchell) who denies him his due for any successes Steve earns. We watch Steve travel to enemy territory - an arcade in New Hampshire where all these video game geeks who are buddies and worshipers of Mitchell hang out - to try and break the record in person while they classlessly try and stop him from winning. We watch Steve travel to South Florida to try and challenge Mitchell in person.

This is a fascinating documentary, only about 80 minutes long but it tells a great story. It could be about any professional athletes or chess masters who compete at a high level, this happens to be about a video game that most of us spent our childhood playing. You can't help but cheer for Steve in his pursuit of unseating a legend who has been on top of this Donkey Kong world for 25 years.

I enthusiastically give this movie 4 "Lanes"

here is the trailer to King of Kong:

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