Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Movies You Should See (But Probably Haven't): The King of Kong

Horrible Bosses is a surprise hit in most people's books. But not nearly as big of a surprise that it comes from documentary director Seth Gordon. He did have one prior studio film in Four Christmases, but that itself is a documentary on how Vince Vaughan somehow finds work.

Anyway, Gordon's first feature was the doc The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. It is about the video game Donkey Kong and the quest to reach the highest score. Sounds thrilling, right?

I can honestly say this is the best documentary ever. This doesn't expose any crazy government cover-up, or explains the amazing miracle of penguin life, or anything like that. It takes seemingly normal people attempting to do something that is, quite frankly, pretty boring, and it molds them into a truly remarkable masterpiece. These real-life characters are more interesting than anyone Christopher Guest could dream up, and there is more emotion over this stupid game than in even the best written Hollywood dramas.

So let's meet the competitors. On one side is child prodigy Billy Mitchell. He believes that if you aren't first, then you are last. The cocky, hot sauce entrepreneur was one of the very first video game champions, holding records to all the classic arcade games. Among his accolades was being the first person ever to achieve a perfect score in Pac-Man.

How do you get a perfect score in Pac-Man you ask? You eat every dot on the screen except for one and the four power-pellets. Then you eat the power-pellets one by one, eating all four ghosts every time in between. Then you eat the final dot, as well as all the fruit that popped up. Repeat that for all 255 levels until the game glitches out.
Namco declaring him the greatest gamer of the 20th century.

He was also the current Donkey Kong champ, the most complex of the classic arcade games. He is worshiped as a God by all his fellow gamers, some of who have dedicated their entire lives to recording video game high scores. He ate all that attention up, and lived the life of a God.

On the other side of the country is Steve Wiebe. He is your classic everyman who has always thought he deserved better. He gets laid off from work, again, and he can't get motivated, until he sees a TV special about the Donkey Kong record. He says "Hmm, I was good at that game back in the day", and without any fanfare at all, he breaks Billy's unbreakable record. This throws the competitive gaming world into madness, as they refuse to accept his score. And it leads to a one-on-one throw down between the Gaming God and the blue-collared family man.

Or does it? Billy almost seems scared to face him. I won't spoil it for you.

Not to sound cliched, but this is about more than just a game. But the supporting characters are far from cliched. There's Walter Day, the man behind all the video game records, whose entire wardrobe consist of referee uniforms.  Ladies man and professional "pick-up artist" Roy Shildt has hated Billy Mitchell and his spiteful banter since he was a child, and will do anything to get his revenge. Brian Kuh was busted for cheating, by Billy nonetheless, but took his "pwnage" with pride, and made a successful law career off of Billy's wisdom. And of course, there's Doris Self, a flight attendant trailblazer turned 80-year-old Q-Bert champ. You couldn't make these people up.

Everyone in this, as well as the entire scenario, is just so unreal, and that makes it even more believable somehow. This film is all around funny and captivating, due mainly to it being so...normal, in all our abnormal lives.

Word is they are making a non-documentary film version of this, again directed by Gordon. While I don't doubt his talent, he could never create something like this, no matter how funny Kevin Spacey was. So get out there and see the real version of King of Kong now. You don't need to be a gamer to enjoy it. As long as there was something meaningless in your past that meant everything to you, you will find yourself in this.


  1. Great choice. I agree it is the best documentary ever. All of the people in it unwittingly fall into very defined character roles. And there are so many absurd scenes like the video tape Billy sends in. It's unbelievable and that makes it great.

  2. nice one, sounds pretty interesting and worth watching it, gonna check this prolly out later ;)

  3. never heard of it but will check it out! thanks!

  4. I've been hearing a lot about this film. I needs to see it.

  5. This has always been on my radar, I just can't bring myself to see it. It just feels too nerdy for me.

  6. I watched the first half before but didn't get around to finishing it, it was good just got busy and forgot about it.

  7. I've seen this, it was really good. That guy was such an insecure douche!!

  8. I think I saw a review on this movie. Or some Day time TV show did something on that video game. Isnt the point to play the game till you max out the score and make the game get all glitchy?

  9. I am gonna watch this one just to see..> Thanks for info!