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The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

October 7, 2009

9/10 1-Ups

One of the best movies of ’07 and arguably the best video game movie of all time, too. Yes, it’s even better than Tron.

The King of Kong is about two guys – Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe. This is Billy Mitchell, after spending a lifetime setting crap-load of high score records on a crap-load of old school video games, he and his mullet have become legendary figures in the world of people who still play games that are mere myth to anyone born after 1990. And this is Steve Wiebe, an otherwise normal, genuinely good guy who decides he’s going to break Billy Mitchell’s long-held Donkey Kong high score because he just got laid off and has oodles of time on his hands. Billy Mitchell thus throws down his hypothetical gauntlet in response, combs some pomade through his power mullet, and it. is. ON!

I can understand how some of you might not be jumping out of your seats in excitement by now, but you know what, that’s okay, video games aren’t for everyone. And there in part lies the beauty of The King of Kong, that like all great documentaries, it doesn’t matter whether you immediately connect with what the movie’s about or could honestly give a rat’s ass about grown men playing video games, you can’t help but get sucked in.

I mentioned this back in my American Movie review, but the first time I saw this I dragged my mom along for the ride, my mom who has never played a video game in her life, although I’m pretty sure she knew what Donkey Kong was, which is pretty cool. But like I said, she ended up being just as into this movie as I was and she wasn’t just playing along to be the good mom that she is; like me, she’s gone on record as hailing this as one of her favorite movies of ’07. So yeah, my mom rocks.

Anyway, there are a couple reasons why this movie is nothing short of enthralling. In a really obscure way, this is a David and Goliath story, this is Rocky vs. Apollo Creed we’re talkin’ about. As you can imagine, Billy Mitchell plays the Goliath role, a man who revels in his own glory as King of 1982 and dresses the part, bottles up the sweet scent of his own shit and calls it hot sauce, and will stoop to the lowest, juvenile levels of sportsmanship to defend his reputation. And then there’s Steve Wiebe, a guy with more heart than you can imagine, a godsend of normalcy and grace to the gaming community who picked up Donkey Kong for fun and ended up becoming just as passionate about it as he is with everything else in life, and no matter how hard he tries, he always ends up in second place. You quickly grow to love Steve, you really want to see him succeed, you start to care about Donkey Kong like he does, and every unfair obstacle that gets in his way comes off as utterly devastating. 

It’s amazing that the director, Seth Gordon, managed to be there to film this when he did and capture so much of it as it was happening. He doesn’t have to manipulate the drama because every single person in this movie is so out there and eccentric that he couldn’t have written better characters if he tried. More than anything, The King of Kong is a fantastically entertaining and heartfelt underdog story and it’s one strange-ass look into one of the more bizarre subcultures in America that pretty much everyone watching this movie would have no reason to discover on their own accord.

It’s human, it’s absolutely hilarious, and it’ll give you a whole lot of respect for the amount of skill it actually takes to play Donkey Kong, because it is one hell of a hard game. You might not believe me now, but really, give The King of Kong a shot. You’ll be chalking it up to everyone you know just as much as I am right now.

Might not be the best game-to-movie adaption (because there is none), but it’s the best movie about video games ever made.

Once again, nerd power.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 24hourstomidnight permalink
    October 7, 2009 12:25 am

    I love that Billy Mitchell antics nearly push him over the edge of “villainy” into “cartoonish super-villainy”. I think it’s the fact that he thinks he’s the hero.

    (p.s. Super-positive review for a super-positive movie!)

  2. nothatwasacompliment permalink
    October 7, 2009 11:16 am

    I got some interesting comments when I reviewed this movie…

  3. October 7, 2009 10:25 pm

    I love this doc, and totally agree with you that you don’t have to care a lick about gaming to get drawn in by this story.

    Mitchell has to be one of the more despicable movie villains around, made all the more despicable by the fact that he’s a real guy, doing really slimy things to stay one step ahead.

    This might well be one of the best docs I’ve ever seen. case you’re curious, here’s what I thought when I saw it…

  4. October 8, 2009 9:41 pm

    Great movie, but unfortunately, real life doesn’t have such a happy ending. I checked on the world records after I saw this movie and Billy Mitchell is the champ again 😦

    • October 8, 2009 10:06 pm

      I saw that, too. That is a bummer. But then again, Billy Mitchell sucks and he still has that mullet. Score one for Wiebe.


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