Home > Uncategorized > Review: “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quaters”

Review: “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quaters”

“Oh, it’s on. It’s on like Donkey Kong!

OK, so they never actually say this in the movie, but they should have. “The King of Kong” is a fascinating, hilarious documentary about the video-game subculture that is as suspenseful and exciting as any mainline feature. It follows the clash of video game titans struggling mightily for the top record in the best arcade game ever, Donkey Kong. In one corner is the reigning champion since 1982, Billy Mitchell, who has rode the wave of discipline and success honed at the joystick into establishing a profitable chain of barbeque restaurants in Florida. Yet his long greasy hair and awkward patriotic ties remind us that ultimately, he belongs solely to the gaming world, where he is the king of the virtual land, master of the computer domain.

In the other corner is Steve Wiebe (pronounced WEE-bee, though the other arcade players will butcher it repeatedly). Wiebe is, in many ways, Mitchell’s inverse, his arch-nemesis. Where Mitchell is nerdy but successful, Wiebe is Mr. All-American–but he cannot seem to buy a break. He was a high-school ace pitcher, a talented musician, and an engineer at Boeing: but he lost in the state finals, his band never made it big, and he was laid off from his job on the very day he signed on his house. Wiebe is the man we expect to thrive in any arena of life–expect for maybe video games. Mitchell, we might assume, could never do anything else.

Wiebe, all too familiar with failure, decides he will claim fame in the world of Donkey Kong. He holes up in his garage, perfecting his craft while his family tries to support him in his third-life crisis. Wiebe becomes very good: he soon records a record-breaking score and submits it to Twin Galaxies, the international arbiter of video game high scores. However, Mitchell and his cronies (you’re darn right he has cronies!) are dubious and investigate Wiebe’s machine. Believing his game’s computer board may have been tampered with, Weibe’s score is disqualified. Discouraged but not broken, Wiebe attends Funspot, an arcade game tournament in Iowa where he triumphs and sets the record publicly. But even after he conquers Mitchell’s high mark, lo and behold Mitchell submits a video that shows himself achieving an even higher score, the first 1,000,000+ point game. As you might imagine, neither gamer is ready to give up so easily.

If watching other people play video games sound boring, have no fear: “King of Kong” is one of the more enthralling movies I’ve seen in a while. Aside from the on-going “Who’s the champ?” story, “King of Kong” captures a snapshot of the gaming world and offers a few subtle insights about human determination and competition. We realize what we’ve always feared: adulthood is just high-school drama par excellence. The Donkey Kong game at the center of the movie naturally gives the documentary an adolescent feel, but the story matches a common school narrative: the talented jock, the cool kid on campus, surprises everyone by taking his talents to the gaming world of geeks and nerds (think “Glee!”) where he domaintes. The real gamers, in turn, bristle: “What are you doing here? This is our world! Go back to your sports and your rock bands and your girls!” One of the funniest aspects of the movie is watching Steve wander through the Funspot arcade, his Nike athletic shirt and fit frame glaring against the ironic T-shirts and plump visages of his competitors. Wiebe’s never-ending drive to earn the respect of his fellow gamers feels so out of place: the movies begs to know, “Why does he even care?” And yet when he sits down on his stool, hands poised over the joystick and buttons, it is clear: he is indeed one of them.

One of the great aspects of modern documentaries is following the story after the story (e.g., Food, Inc. and the food safety bill that just recently passed). To see how this one continues one, watch the movie, then read Roger Ebert’s review here and then check out the Twin Galaxies scoreboard for Donkey Kong here. Let’s just say it is still on like…well, you know.

PS The movies mentions early on how difficult Donkey Kong really is. I found an online version and tried it out: I couldn’t get past the first screen; it is indeed incredibly hard.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Liz
    January 1, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    OH MAN. I was just making fun of Chris for watching this a week or so ago. I watched bits and pieces of it, and the whole time I was just slightly creeped out that people actually spend this much of their lives perfecting DONKEY KONG. IT’S A VIDEO GAME, PEOPLE. I just wanted to scream “GO FIND SOMETHING TO DO THAT ACTUALLY MATTERS IN THIS WORLD!!!!!!!”

    Also, I felt really bad for the First Lady of Donkey Kong (Wiebe’s wife), especially when he mentions that she was getting increasingly annoyed with his gaming habit. I expected her to divorce him by movie’s end… but I went to bed, so I don’t actually know how it ended.

    Chris really liked it, though. I’m really trying not to judge either of you for this.

  2. Liz
    January 1, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Also, what was up with the greasy dude’s little minion at the FunSpot thing, constantly talking to him on the phone in the background?? Goodness.


  3. January 3, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Janelle loved it. Just like a Laker fan to hate good movies.

    There were so many nuggets of goodness throughout this movie–the greasy minion is just one of many. It’s really worth watching.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: