The King of Kong

13 09 2007

The King of Kong
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
is a documentary about, of all things, a Washington man’s attempt to get credit for setting the world Donkey Kong record. Oh, and this just happened. There are still people playing, and obsessing about, Donkey Kong. (For some reason, that makes me feel so much better about my own life….)

The Washington man is Steve Wiebe, a middle-school science teacher. He’s an enormously sympathetic figure, not least of all because things just never seem to go his way. When he sets the world record, it seems like a long-overdue payback. But, of course, there’s an obstacle. The governing body (yeah, that’s not a joke!) for Donkey Kong scores is insular and all too tied to a previous record-holder, Billy Mitchell—who seems, in so many ways, to be a throwback to 1982.

Mitchell is definitely the bad guy in The King of Kong. At some early points in the documentary, I wondered whether the filmmakers were being entirely fair to him. But he exhibits some clearly jackass-y behavior. He never holds his ego in check, and you get the sense he’d do just about anything to stop Wiebe. (His 1980s-era mullet somehow makes him seem even more sinister.) The question is whether Mitchell and his following will give Wiebe a fair shake.

I won’t tell you what happens, of course. I will tell you that The King of Kong is one of the best films of the year. I truly don’t care one whit about Donkey Kong—or video games in general. But I was quickly and completely caught up in Wiebe’s story. And so was a surprisingly full theater of Philly filmgoers. The King of Kong will probably be hard to find, but it’s definitely worth the search.

I give The King of Kong three stars.

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