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This excellent film has everything that a movie fan loves to see: the classic hero and villain story, action, suspense, drama, and comedy. Who would have thought all of this would come out of a documentary about Donkey Kong? The story follows Steve Wiebe, a family man from Washington trying to beat the arcade juggernaut Billy Mitchell's world record score on Donkey Kong. The film is perfectly edited by introducing both characters, showing their history in the video game culture, and giving the viewers a sense of which person to root for. It's hysterical the way this simple story is made out to look like an action adventure film. Steve is the underdog, the man that has a big journey ahead of him. But to overcome the challenges and try to claim the title of Donkey Kong master, he must face the opponent Billy Mitchell and his video game minions.
This film is one of the most fun times I've had in a theater in long time. The whole audience was involved, cheering on some characters, laughing at others, and applauding many times. It's so much fun to watch an underground culture and see people you didn't know existed.
My favorite part in the film is probably when Steve has to show up in person and prove his ability. It's so hilarious, suspenseful, and inspiring.
The King of Kong is a terrific film. It's a lot of fun, there's never a dull moment, and it really shows what a great film is supposed to be like.
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.
The film was funny in a sad, yet sympathetic way. Steve Weibe is this "average" guy who gets his 15 minutes of fame, only to have it continually disputed by a mullet-haired Billy Mitchell (who bore more than a passing resemblance to Superman's General Zod), who seemed to not defend his titles out of fair competition, but out of insecurity that he might not be known as "the best".
The main prize of the whole competition seemed to be not the point of having the highest score in Donkey Kong, but it was more a battle of Steve's point to be credited for a score which he kept earning time and time again, versus Billy's fragile ego. Steve video tapes his high score, Billy contends that it's not credible unless played live. Steve goes to play live in a public place, Billy sneaks out this "top secret" hi-score tape, where the editing and quality are questionable. And yet, that's somehow okay by the judges board.
The Twin Galaxies organization also seems very much like a "Boy's Club" looking out for their "bro", and are willing to subvert their own set guidelines to keep their buddy's prestigious spot within the organization.
As a gamer, it was very frustrating to watch Steve get his title taken away time and time again, due to frequently changing "technicalities" insisted on by Billy Mitchell, especially when Steve proved it repeatedly, and Billy never bothered to show up to any of these competitions at all (save for one where he skulked in the background like a 12-year old comic book villain), much less even play a game during the run of the whole film. The only game he had at all was just running his mouth, and I'm surprised he didn't start twirling his mustache like Snidely Whiplash.
Even if it was the editing that could have put Mitchell more in a negative light, all the editing in the world couldn't remove his preening, skulking, and making arrogant and ridiculous comments throughout the film. He seemed so incredulous that he would be incapable of losing anything he attempted, but it was obvious that he wasn't willing to risk the chance of even the slightest chance of losing. It was very clear that the guy was willing to do whatever it took to not only protect his high score, but his ego and status within his circle of hangers on.
Without divulging anything regarding the ending. my theater clapped at the end of the film due so several surprises that take place in the last 20 minutes or so. In a sense, this is the "Rocky" of video game films (complete with "Eye of the Tiger" playing in the background at one point). As a video gamer, I've seen the world portrayed in the film, and there really are Steve Weibes and Billy Mitchells out there, along with the rest of the supporting cast. And for a documentary, it's a lot funnier than what one would expect, though in unexpected ways.
For those who enjoy video games, or even the excitement of seeing an unusual competition, it's a worthwhile film, and definitely recommended if you can find it in theaters.
P.S. In addition to the great story of a man who wants something... If you have ever played any of the Kongs, or Pac-Mans, or have ever marveled at someone else's video game ability this is the movie for you!
If you have ever played the original Donkey Kong arcade game, or on the original Nintendo, you have to see this movie. I have never beaten Level 3 on the third cycle - the spring on the elevator stage, if you know what I'm talking about, is going extremely fast. These guys get beyond 20 cycles.
I don't want to give anything away...I heard they are going to make this a feature movie with actors, but I think that eliminates the main draw of this concept - these guys are in their forties, in some freak cases have wives and children, and they play Donkey Kong with as much heart as Lance Armstrong rode bikes. They are some of the strongest characters I've seen in a movie since STAR WARS. To best summarize how enjoyable this movie is, after watching the DVD for the first time, I immediately restarted it from the beginning, and watched it again.
SPOILERS BEGIN HERE
As I have noticed there are one or two negative comments here on IMDb and I thought I'd offer my two cents here. First of it's important to realize the film is presented from a certain point of view, I would argue against anyone who says it lies, but you must acknowledge that events might be seen differently though different pairs of eyes, that's just human nature.
- Billy Mitchell: The film is unapologetically presented from Steve Wiebe's point of view - it is his story after all. And although Mitchell comes off as arrogant and egotistical and a jerk at times he isn't "made out to be a villain." In fact the filmmakers offer him endless opportunities to present himself and his case and the reasons behind his actions constantly giving him more and more rope which he only uses to hang himself. It is also important to realize that one of Billy Mitchell's longtime friends, Steve Sanders, who is in the film, stands by his friend but also stands by the film. I had an opportunity to interview Mr. Sanders, who totally enjoyed the film.
- The "Break-In": I've seen a comment or two talking about the "break in" and saying how if it happened the police should have been called. Steve's wife discusses the event in the film and never alleges the two men broke into her house. What she does say was they arrived when Steve wasn't home as she was leaving and her mother was the only one in the house. Since the machine, and the home for that manner, belong to Steve she asked them to wait as he was expected home shortly - which they agreed to do. Here is where POV comes into play again, the men talked their way into the house after she left and dismantled it before Steve got home. Is that a break-in? Well, I'm sure we can agree their activity was hardly 100% honest and above board.
- One comment states that Billy never wanted his 1 million score to be recorded, yet the film contains a phone conversation where he asks Walter Day for the score to be submitted, despite some oddities to the video tape which were never accounted for.
SPOILERS END HERE
I hope that helps to explain what seems to be some issues people have with the film.
Go to RazorFine Review to read my full review of the film and the interview with Steve Sanders.
The mock-epic tone, which so many supporting characters delightfully contribute to, feels seized by director Seth Gordon and infused into his charming take on good-vs-evil, letting this potentially inspiring metaphor stretch it's wings into a blossomed, well-rounded quirk-fest far more fun then it's rigorous gaming pedigree would suggest.
And yes the film was carefully edited to make for some dramatic moments as all films are. It is after all entertainment. But nothing so much that it taints the great story this film tells. I can think of quite a few documentaries and films in the past few years that did the same thing. Fahrenheit 9/11, An Inconvient Truth, JFK and pretty much any story you see told on the news tonight. The truth is left on the editing room floor. AlphaPepper should probably change his login ID to Sour Grapes and remove his head from... well you know.
Billy Mitchell is no doubt a nice guy but is perfectly edited as the villain for this film. Steve Weibe is likewise edited to be the perfect underdog. All the other cast of characters in this film and some of their comments make this a film worth seeing. And without a doubt Steve Weibe's daughters "from the mouth of babes like" comment steals the whole show in the end.
In the end this is just a great story about two men Steve Weibe and Billy Mitchell fighting for title of King of Kong. I hope this film gets picked up for larger distribution so more people can enjoy it like I did.
I also have to comment about the other posters who are speaking of the supposed "break in" to investigate Wiebe's Donkey Kong machine. It is never claimed by Wiebe's wife that they broke in. Rather she told these "investigators" that she was uncomfortable with them looking at the machine while her husband wasn't home. Instead of respecting her wishes, they waited till she left and went in while Steve's mother was the only one at the household.
This is a great film. Like the film American Movie, it is a whirlwind in which the power and depth of the material is remarkable, and yet it is incredibly compelling to watch, start to finish.
Another important point is that the film is not only a great treatise on individual psychology and what our winning-obsessed culture has wrought, but a great meditation on how the various types are fostered by and then fuel their immediate relations.
On the surface, this documentary is about classic arcade games (focusing on Donkey Kong) and its players. But by the end of it, you will see what it means to stand up for what it's right, to stand up against your friend, to find the will to continue after what seems to be endless hurdles, and to stay decent and true when it feels like it doesn't do you anymore good - all play out in front of you in a movie about Donkey Kong.
As the credits roll, you will continue to find yourself rooting fervidly for the film's protagonist, Steve Wiebe, and wish that he does find what he is looking for.
I have never rated a film a "10" but this film certainly is a 10 in my opinion. It is as entertaining as the games depicted and quirky as the characters shown. I had never heard of Billy Mitchel before the previews of this film came out- in fact I never knew there was a video game champion of the nation- I never knew there were records kept and scores to beat other than the proverbial 9999999. I wish not to say anything about the characters or the barriers some characters in the film had to overcome because I fear I may give something away and this film is far too wonderful for me to spoil for anyone even if accidental.
Let it be said that one mans quest is endearing, another mans life philosophy proves him to be shallow, void and full of cowardice and yet another is merely a sick groupie for Billy Mitchell. All I can say is that the film is worth the price of admission and concession. I have never rated a film a 10 until now and that when it comes to DVD I will buy it. PLEASE PLEASE see it for yourself!
I'll get this out front first: yes, these are real people doing their thing but a lot of this is very contrived and set up for dramatic purposes. The "good guy" is made to look even better than what he probably is, and the "villain" is made to look like the bad guy so much so it's laughable. I mean, come on, man! It's just tooooo hokey.
Steve Weibe looked like the only normal human being in this film, but if you read the ending graphics, you have to ask how many "nomral family men"would be traveling all over the U.S. to set a video game record? The black-hat-and-clothes villain Billy Mitchell was a little too bad to have credibility. Yeah, he's arrogant, and I do believe he his one of those guys who lives on past glory and is deathly afraid of losing in front of a crowd. But, they (with his cooperation, of course) made him into a cartoon character in this film. It was ludicrous..
The more believable parts still made me shake my head in wonder how some people are just plain nuts......and don't know it! "Nerds" is good word to describe almost all of the old arcade video-game zealots. I think the oddest one might have been the "referee," Walter Day, the bearded transcendental meditation guy. He's is the third leading "character" in this documentary. Actually, he didn't appear too wacked until the second half of the film when we saw and heard him trying to sing, among other things.
And by the way, if you've ever read about guys who set multiple records in the Guiness Book Of World Records, they are, indeed, a strange lot. Notice the intense, Charles Manson-type eyes on a lot of these people; it's scary!
Like other documentaries about unusual people or controversies (i.e. "My Kid Could Paint That," "Crazy Love") this will keep your interest throughout and having you rooting for the good guy, big-time, even if it is contrived. In the end, manipulated or not, we care about what happens in this story, so director Seth Gordon did his job well.
This movie does everything a great documentary does. It finds a subject that you didn't know you cared about until you saw it. Its characters tell a fantastic story but the movie doesn't choose sides (in this case, one character was so incredibly unlikable that Gordon doesn't have to). And it gets lucky to capture moments that are so surprising, intense, and exhilarating that no one could possibly write them in a script. If you see this version first, you may not want to see the fictionalized version that's in the works, because there's no way it can possibly top the real thing.
After watching the trailer I instantly knew that I could not look this movie up before watching it. That was a good call. I started out watching the film with a slant liking for Billy. He was a cool guy with a superb record on Donkey Kong. But here comes this loser nerd Steve and wants to shine and break that record. I didn't think that this Steve-guy was nice, so I started to like Billy more and more.
But then something happened. Billy is surrounded by this Billy Myth and all the people around him believes more of Billy than they really should. The facade seems to crack a bit, and soon Steve really proves that he is The Man.
But everything isn't perfect, and the ultimate battle between Billy vs. Steve is, as I mentioned, a Classic.
Filming, research, editing, music - most in this film is very very good. It's a very interesting film to watch, mostly because you really get close to these people. And it is also very nice to watch a film where you actually see GOOD people. Walter Day impressed me very much, and it seems to me that he is the real Hero of computer games. It is nice to know that Day has been there for the records, because his presence alone makes it believable.
Overall, this documentary is a must for anyone who ever played a computer/video/arcade game.
9 out of 10
I will be talking about this movie for years and years, and I will make it a goal of mine to spread the word about this film.
Easily one of the funniest movies I have ever seen as well. It was CONSTANT laughs. The characters are unknowingly hilarious.
Film of the year. I seriously can't believe how much I liked this movie, and I had no idea about the complexity of the gaming world. This is such an insightful film, and it was cut so perfectly. Everyone needs to get to a theater showing this.
It is all here and it is really well put together. The film starts by presenting the history and success of Mitchell and it does so in a way that makes him look arrogant and a bit of a t*sser although to be fair the bad ties, blow-dried flowing hair and definition of "having it all" don't help him refute this presentation much. Then we move to Steve Wiebe a "normal" guy who is unassuming and relaxed about everything but decides to shoot for the title. We see him do this, only to be rejected by the ruling body (whom we also get to see as an enthusiastic but still geeky group of men), which leads Steve to decide to compete live and prove his scores in front of a crowd and in direction competition with Mitchell if possible. So the film has a clear villain, it has a guy we can easily support, it has a showdown and it has suggestions of conspiracy, with the deck stacked up against our hero that he must overcome basically everything is in place and works really well. As a result it is surprisingly gripping considering it is a film about grown men playing a retro video game and you will be willing Steve on in his attempts and really feeling for him when things go against him.
In the aims of fairness though, it must be noted that a lot of this is brought out in the edit and I can totally understand those involved having issues with how they have been presented. For example, Mitchell's videoed score was only formally accepted after months of review it was taken off the website despite having been put on it immediately, and the inspection of Steve's machine was probably not as shadowy as the film suggests. However, beyond individual feelings this didn't matter to me and actually I think Gordon deserves credit for what he managed to produce in the editing room because he has made a film better than many of the comedy sports underdog films out there yes it is a shame that Mitchell looks like a pr*ck to get this, but the film is gripping and fun enough to prevent you thinking about this while watching.
As well as the drama the film is also surprisingly funny. In some ways the humour is painted into the characters themselves, whether it be the comic creation of "baddie" Mitchell, the couple of hangers-on that he has who treat him like a God or just the constant juxtaposition of geeky men playing games with their words and attitudes suggesting a pursuit of much more import and worthiness! This stuff runs constantly and well but there are also some great lines scattered around outside of this the best coming from Steve's daughter who can't understand why anyone would care about the Guinness book of records.
The King of Kong seems a limited-interest film that will only appeal to geeks but this is far from the truth. In reality the film is a "real life" underdog sports comedy, with the real-life aspect making it more gripping than any similar Will Ferrell film has been. Yes, it is unfair on the individuals to twist the facts to suit the film, but it is also unfair to Gordon not to give credit to him for how well he does it and what a great little film he has produced as a result. Ignore the fact you hate video-games, this film is engaging, funny and it will have you caring deeply about the outcome more than you should. Great film.
The messiah of this strange subculture is Billy Mitchell who at 17 years of age achieved fame by setting several world records at various classic arcade games just as the video game craze had peaked. As these arcade games were replaced with more advanced games, Mitchell apparently lost interest in setting new records just as people lost interest in attempting to break his old ones. His records seemed to be unbreakable. No one was more certain of that than Mitchell.
When there was a sudden revival of classic arcade games in the 90's, Mitchell's nearly-forgotten records once again dazzled another generation of arcade game fanatics. Mitchell apparently had been unaware that he had ever left the public limelight and speaks to camera as if it were still 1982. Nothing about his appearance or behavior could have been changed to make him more villainous to the audience. His hair and clothes make him look like he had just stepped out of 1982 yearbook. He touts his ancient glories to the camera with sneering grins and the unblinking stare of a salesman who is trying to get you to spend a lot of money on something you don't want. His motives are completely transparent to the audience yet he's unaware of this. More disturbing, his fans are just as clueless. We realize we're seeing a personality cult straight out of a college textbook.
Then enters Steve Wiebe who has built a Donkey Kong game from spare parts in his garage and clearly breaks Mitchell's "unbreakable" record on it. Wiebe's personality could not be more different than Mitchell's. He is a smiling unassuming and somewhat introverted science teacher, a good musician and has an incredibly kind and supportive wife with much smaller breasts than Mitchell's wife's. Wiebe sends in the video tape of his record breaking game to the web site who keeps track of such things assuming that he would simply be awarded the new world record.
The results of this video tape could not have been anticipated by Wiebe nor anyone in the audience who is unfamiliar with the strange cult of gamers. The documentary has to unweave an odd history of rivalries, personality clashes, and bad blood going back decades to explain why this community had no choice but to claim that Wiebe's new score was a fraud. He was not part of the cult and even worse unwittingly made a connection to someone who is considered an "enemy" of this cult. For the record to stand, he must "redeem" himself by going through what can only described as an initiation ritual. Only then can he be considered someone worthy of having his name placed next to the name of Billy Mitchell.
It's clear that these men are not looking at Wiebe as someone has mastered Donkey Kong. They're looking at him as a potential new hero, a new idol, a new leader for their isolated subculture. Wiebe is not interested in worship; he simply wants his record to be acknowledged. This causes dissonance to the ranks because worship was all that Mitchell ever wanted from them. As Wiebe publicly demonstrates his mastery of Donkey Kong, Mitchell is shown actively avoiding Wiebe and his new fans and having a Svengali-like power over his most dedicated fans as he plots against this new interloper.
If all this sounds outrageous beyond belief then you simply must see this film. It shows how desperate some people are to be part of a community, how certain personalities can shamelessly control these people and make them say ridiculous things to the camera to show their worship and devotion, and how someone who enters the community and refuses to play by the unspoken rules can throw their make-believe world out of balance.
Billy Mitchell should be up for villain of the year.
King of Kong is well done in it's ability to take engineering and technical aspects of gaming and presenting it commercially and in a visually descriptive fashion.
The complexities of Donkey Kong were never evident to me when I was playing it way back when, but King of Kong explained these complexities and broke the code all in one motion.
Brilliant!...I mean Awesome!