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The legendary video game Donkey Kong was a huge in the 80s just as the arcade was the place for video gamers to hang out. More than twenty-years later, the video games have become a huge industry of its own while there are still those who still play Donkey Kong despite its date graphics and controls. Then in 2007, a film was released about a novice gamer who decided to challenge a gaming legend in beating his legendary high score at Donkey Kong in the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.
Directed by Seth Gordon, King of Kong tells the story of a novice gamer named Steve Wiebe who decides to go on a quest to destroy the top score the game Donkey Kong that has been uncontested for over 20 years. His opponent is none other than the game's top-scorer named Billy Mitchell. Also featuring Walter Day, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is an enjoyable and entertaining documentary about Kong supremacy.
In 1982, video games ruled the world as a small group of players became the elite in video gaming. Among these classic arcade games that have been played, one of the toughest games that is played is Donkey Kong. The first ever game to feature Nintendo's own mascot Mario of the Super Mario Bros. fame, the game is essentially Mario trying to avoid barrels, fireballs, and other objects being thrown at by a large gorilla named Donkey Kong as he is holding a princess hostage. During this phenomenon, a gamer named Steve Sanders claims to have a high score in that game but challenging his score is another gamer named Billy Mitchell. Mitchell not only won a competition against Sanders but also proved his claim to be wrong. The two became friends as Mitchell in 1982, held a long-standing record of 874,300 points in Donkey Kong that for more than 20 years, would remain unbroken.
In the years since his record, Mitchell's fame in the video game community grew where in 1999, he did another impossible feat in playing a perfect game of Pac-Man. While Mitchell remained an icon who lives quietly in Hollywood, Florida as an owner of a restaurant and selling hot sauce that's made him rich. In Redmond, Washington, a family man named Steve Wiebe had just gotten laid off from work at Boeing. Surrounded by his wife Nicole and two kids, Wiebe is a man who always had talent whether it's in sports or something else but never reaches the pinnacle. While getting a degree as a teacher and eventually, becoming an eight-grade science teacher, Wiebe decides to buy a Donkey Kong arcade machine in his garage just to kill time.
When Wiebe discovers about Billy Mitchell's record, he decides to make an attempt to break the record and film a game on a video camera for Twin Galaxies. Twin Galaxies is a company run by Walter Day who keeps track on video gaming records as he receives Wiebe's tape in which Wiebe broke the record with a million points. For a brief moment in Washington, Wiebe becomes a local celebrity as he was considered to be the new record holder in Donkey Kong. Then the appearance of Mitchell's rival Roy Shildt decides to investigate Wiebe's machine as he wants to help Wiebe. Yet, Mitchell claims the record isn't legit as the staff of Twin Galaxies are convinced that Shildt's involvement only caused trouble resulting in disregarding Wiebe's record.
Wiebe decides to travel to Laconia, New Hampshire to prove that his skills in Donkey Kong are legit in playing at the Funspot Arcade in front of Walter Day and the staff at Twin Galaxies. One of Mitchell's cohorts Brian Kuh watch as not only did Wiebe score extremely high but also reach the kill screen for the very first time at its arcade. For a moment, Wiebe is the star until a tape sent my Mitchell where he claimed to have scored more than a million points is shown to the staff at Twin Galaxies.
With Mitchell trying to steal Wiebe's thunder, one of the staff members at Twin Galaxies isn't convinced that Mitchell broke the record. Yet, Wiebe decides to challenge Mitchell once and for all as nine months after the Funspot game, the Guinness Book of World Records want to publish his score. Wiebe and his family come to Hollywood, Florida as he wants to challenge Mitchell to a one-on-one game in front of the public including the people at Twin Galaxies.
While the idea about two guys competing over a Donkey Kong score record might seem silly to some audiences. The film is in some ways about the silliness of the world of video gaming yet there's something endearing about these gamers. They're passionate about these classic 80s games that they play while excited to see who is going to break some record. Hell, it's better to play video games than go out, do drugs, or do something bad. Gordon doesn't portray these gamers or people like Walter Day as caricature but real people who have a passion for the world of video gaming. Day is a great, eccentric character who has a life outside of video games where he plays songs on a guitar and such.
Even other personalities like Roy Shildt, Steve Sanders, and Brian Kuh are fun to watch as Shildt has a video where he claims to have the long-standing record of Missile Command. Kuh is great as well for a scene where he's telling fellow gamers about the kill screen coming in Donkey Kong that he's never achieved. Sanders though, is the most straightforward personality as he is a lawyer who tells the story about gaming history. Yet, Gordon focuses on the film's central plot of the documentary. Billy Mitchell and his newfound rivalry with Steve Wiebe while trying to maintain his own fame as the Donkey Kong record holder.
It's no doubt that Mitchell is an interesting personality who helps out other games including the late Doris Self (whom the film is dedicated to) in giving her fame for her legendary playing in the game Q-Bert. Yet, Mitchell is in some ways the guy that audiences love to hate. He has a dark, shady beard, with a long, mullet-like hairdo, a self-promoting attitude in believing he's the best. He's got a wife with huge breasts as if he picked her up from a bar while wearing some cheesy clothes and such.
Then when the film progresses as Mitchell tries to steal Steve Wiebe's thunder, he definitely becomes a person that is more unlikeable as he tries to avoid Wiebe and such. While Gordon might be portraying Mitchell as the villain, you can't help but hate Mitchell's actions for what he's trying to do to Steve Wiebe. That is why the film has a great sense of conflict. In the villain, you have Billy Mitchell and has the hero, Steve Wiebe.
Wiebe is a guy that audiences can't help but love because he's a decent person who works hard, tries to do his best and has a family who loves him. Even as he is seen playing Donkey Kong, it's the way he figures out how to play the game including the often, unbeatable third level that includes springs coming towards Mario where he figured out how to beat it by himself. Using math and such shows the great skill in what Wiebe possesses to beat the game which is something that the people in Twin Galaxies have a hard time to accept.
What is more surprising that though Wiebe is a skilled player at Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., hes just a normal guy that isn't this obsessed gamer. Yet, when it seems he's getting his moment only to have moment of glory stolen, you can't help but feel sorry for the guy and his family. Yet, what's more amazing is his drive and the balance he has in both his Donkey Kong playing, his work as a teacher, and his role as a family man. Even his students are rooting for him as Wiebe is a guy that the audience want to root for.
Gordon's work in the direction is superb as he captures the moment of intensity that included Wiebe's game at Funspot that included scenes of Brian Kuh calling Billy Mitchell. Through its sharp, energetic editing style and sharp, doc-style cinematography, Gordon does an amazing job in capturing the action and spirit of video gaming and its personalities. With a plaintive score from Craig Richey, the film's music features some memorable pop songs including Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger from Rocky III and Joe "Bean" Esposito's You're The Best from The Karate Kid as great music to pump things up to accompany Wiebe's quest to break the Donkey Kong record.
Seth Gordon's The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a fun, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece. Where as some documentaries try to make a statement or something, here is a film that audiences can enjoy while having a hero to root for. Fans of video gaming no doubt consider this film a pure joy to watch as it's got something geeks and all sorts of eccentric personalities to enjoy. In the end, for a film that enjoys the splendor and strange obsession of video gaming with two different people battling it out for Donkey Kong supremacy. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is the film to go seek out.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older