The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
The King of Kong tells the story of Steve Wiebe, an unemployed husband and father of two, who dedicates his free time to achieving the highest ever recorded score on Donkey Kong. The man he must beat is Billy Mitchell, truly one of the great villains of cinema. I’d swear that Billy Murray modeled his character in Kingpin after Billy Mitchell, but Kingpin came first. If Billy Mitchell oozes with confidence, Steve Wiebe comes across as the perennial runner-up.
I must admit that in the first ten minutes of this film I feared it simply could not sustain my interest for 90 minutes. In setting up the history of competitive arcade gaming, the filmmakers cycled through a great deal of b-roll, archival material, and interview, many seemingly stolen from different moments in time. As a filmmaker, I pay attention to such things and many of these items read list a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, the film transforms into this epic struggle between two men over something so trivial, at least to most of us. Yet, director Seth Gordon makes us care. He has us worried that Steve Wiebe will destroy his marriage. He has us wishing someone would just take Billy Mitchell down a peg or two. He even has us engrossed in the intricacies of competitive video gaming. He creates two warring camps of competitors and spins tales of espionage and cheating throughout a story that keeps you hoping Mitchell and Wiebe will finally square off in a classic head-to-head battle, the kind we are already used to seeing in fictional films like The Wizard or Joysticks.
I really marvel at the amount of drama packed into this quirky subject and Gordon should feel blessed that the two men vying for the title of King of Kong are such great characters. I am sure what is on the screen belies the struggles behind the scenes to make this movie. I will certainly be watching this film again, like a magician watching another magicians act, studying just how the illusions are constructed. I will say that I’m a bit upset that the filmmakers did not license the work of Buckner & Garcia or utilize the same song as in the opening credits of Joysticks.