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In the early 1980s, legendary Billy Mitchell set a Donkey Kong record that stood for almost 25 years. This documentary follows the assault on the record by Steve Wiebe, an earnest teacher from Washington who took up the game while unemployed. The top scores are monitored by a cadre of players and fans associated with Walter Day, an Iowan who runs Funspot, an annual tournament. Wiebe breaks Mitchell's record in public at Funspot, and Mitchell promptly mails a controversial video tape of himself setting a new record. So Wiebe travels to Florida hoping Mitchell will face him for the 2007 Guinness World Records. Will the mind-game-playing Mitchell engage; who will end up holding the record? Written by
The project originally began as a documentary about competitive gaming in general - it wasn't until the film was well into production that the crew discovered the events surrounding Wiebe and Mitchell, and decided to re-focus the film entirely on this rivalry. This largely accounts for the amount of coverage the film gives to minor players, such as the elderly Q-Bert champion. By the time production ended, over 300 hours of video had been shot. See more »
In the scene in which Steve's son Derek is crying and shouting, the "Donkey Kong" sounds heard don't match the action shown on-screen. See more »
When I have to watch that pile of eight tapes over there for Dwayne Richards' two-day Nibbler performance, that's 48 straight hours of paying attention and making sure he's doing everything correctly.
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a truly exciting, funny, and inspiring 'sports' movie about the players of the toughest game in the world
If it weren't for the sincerity of it all- or maybe because of it- King of Kong could be conceived of as a mockumentary. But there's no joking with these guys, which sometimes makes it a lot of fun to watch the competition between Billy Mitchell and Steve Weebie (right way to say the name?), where sycophants and idiosyncrasies fly on the former's self-spun empire/network and on the latter just your average suburban housewife and kids going somewhat begrudgingly along the ride. It's a saga though not just about them, but about the world of gaming, of the mind-set that pervades everyone from lawyers to 'Roy Awesome' to little old ladies competing at Qubert, and the nature of competition itself. Not since Rocky- and maybe even better in its exuberance and humility- has one seen a tale of the underdog and the king played out in odds that should seem somewhat silly.
But what's so amazing is how first-time director Seth Gordon plunges the viewer into this world, and it's immediately recognizable to anyone over 18 and under, well, 55 to 100- anyone who's ever gone to play one of the "old-school" arcade games like Donkey Kong or Pacman/Mrs. Pacman or even Pong. We see how the players have to not just go into the games haphazardly by luck; like football, there's game-plans and strategies, and like that sport there are also some obstacles that are apart of the nature of the design of the sport. There's a whole incredible facet one takes for granted, for example, about the technology of the machines, which despite being eclipsed many times over by new systems can still be tampered with, as is the case with Steve's first machine that reaches the top score, and then discredited because of a chip possibly (or not) being replaced or implanted in to give leverage at a non-gamer store.
Yet the more slippery side-stepping for players is what's even more intriguing. Characterization can be a tricky thing for the documentary director to deal with, but in King of Kong it becomes something of a controversy left by the wayside as Billy surpasses Steve's score with a game he played recorded on videotape- while Steve set his score by an official Twin Galaxies referee (Walter Day, to be exact, who's a character in and of himself)- with more than a few skips right were the score should register. Saying it skims the line of reality and mockumentary comes with the territory- after a while watching Mitchell is like watching someone who's improvising as he goes along, hiding behind his perfectionist guise as a world-class champ and purveyor of fine hot sauces with his fake-buxom wife and lackeys watching every move Steve makes.
Aside from it being compelling storytelling as one sees the transformation of Steve from failed baseball pitcher and drummer to a Donkey Kong (and Donkey Kong Junior) champ, making all-time high scores while his kids cry about their poor behinds, it's one of the best kinds of sport-genre features in years. Many times one sees this played out, and it's been parodied in the likes of Dodgeball ("Nobody makes me bleed my own blood" came to mind once or twice looking at Mitchell, and his smart but biased cronies are like classic supporting characters), and the clichés and conventions get the better of the narrative. This time there's no pressure to push it into what's expected: we genuinely care what happens in this battle of the joystick, as Steve sheds genuine tears playing his ass off at all accounts of live events whilst Billy sulks away in his living room hearing the updates on his phone.
As far as triumph-of-the-human-spirit stories go, King of Kong is hilarious entertainment, sometimes for all the strangest (Day's would-be musical career) and silliest reasons (what's so special about the Guiness book of records, Steve's daughter asks), but engrossing as documentaries should get- one of the best of the year in fact.
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