Beauty and the Best

Feb 2013

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters Review

Really? Has no one here done a movie review in over a month? I'm mostly just the video game guy but let me take a look and see what movies I have that All Good Fans might like to hear about. Wait, video games, movies - I've got it! The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. So crowd around everyone while I tell you about one of, if not the most, entertaining documentary I have ever seen.

Don't just take my word for it, this film has a 96% fresh rating on 
Rotten Tomatoes but of course you come here exactly because you want my word for it it, so here it is, followed by some more. King of Kong tells the story of Steve Wiebe, a father & husband who is laid off from his job so decides to pass the time by buying a Donkey Kong arcade cabinet and attempting to break the world high score.

The film follows Wiebe after he does nearly the impossible by actually succeeding. His almost 
Asperger level dedication to the game is amazing to see. He practiced day & night, made charts to determine ways with which to rack up more points and was so unilateral towards his goal that his high score submission tape has him continuing to play while his toddler throws a tantrum for him to stop because he needed help going to the bathroom. That scene is actually a little excruciating to watch, truth be told, but it's just the beginning. 

Little did Wiebe know that doing so would bring him into a strange world of aging gamers still holding on to their glory days from the golden age of video arcades, where they achieved quasi celebrity-like status for reaching world high scores in similar games such as
Pac-Man, Frogger, Centipede, and others. And these scores are regulated by an equally strange group from the Twin Galaxies Arcade headed by the eccentric, if also lovable old enthusiast Walter Day.

Not all the members of this cabal are as lovable as Wiebe is though (the previous world record holder for Donkey Kong is a man by the name of Billy Mitchell whose claims to fame are his high scores and personally branded hot sauce). Now Billy Mitchell sells himself like he sells his hot sauce so he wasn't about to let his position slip without a fight, thus setting up the conflict of the film.

Mitchell produces questionable evidence proving that he outdid Wiebe's score and through the rest of the film, Wiebe tries to reclaim his prize while feeling stonewalled by a culture and political system that is all new to him. It's a real underdog story and while real life rarely has true villains or heroes, the film clearly sets its position on whom it thinks are which. It may not make for the most unbiased documentary film-making but it sure is fun to see unfold.

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And as documentaries go, this one also has some pretty good production values with editing tricks, animated segments, musical cues and more. It's an extra level of polish that really helps this stand above a lot of other films of the genre and adds to it's often surreal feeling. Make no mistake, however, that this is a real life story filled with more colorful characters and intrigue than a lot of fiction could ever muster. So much so that a scripted film adaptation is apparently in the works.

I would definitely recommend the original King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters though, not just to fans of video games but to anyone who likes good stories or learning about different subcultures. It was originally released in 2007 so there's also lots more to learn about these people, the game and all of the sagas surrounding in the years that followed but you can start by finding this either on disc or digitally from your provider of choice.

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