I love documentaries about weird or quirky things. I loved Errol Morris’ Gates of Heaven about pet cemeteries and I loved Up For Grabs about the dispute over Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run ball. Who doesn’t love Trekkies I and II? I even love pretend documentaries like A Mighty Wind and Spinal Tap. So The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters was right up my alley. The movie shows the battle between two grown men (with, semi-surprisingly, wives and children) for supremacy of score on a video game that’s 25 years old: Donkey Kong.
In this corner, Gamer of the Century, world record holder at one time or another of five internationally recognized high scores on some of the world’s most well known video games, including Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. His recognized Donkey Kong record has stood for 25 years, Billllllllly Mmmmmmitchell!
And in this corner, a newcomer to the Donkey Kong universe and father of two. A gifted athlete and musician and a Jr. High science teacher, claiming to have beaten the all time high score on Donkey Kong in his garage, Steeeeeeeve Weeeeeeeeeeibeeee!
Steve Weibe and Billy Mitchell share very little in common save their savant-like talent for Donkey Kong. Mitchell has the most ridiculous haircut I’ve ever seen, resembling Darth Vader’s helmet, which is oddly appropriate. He is calculating, manipulative, and successful. More arrogant than a Donkey Kong champion should ever be, he’s been a legend in the arcade gaming community for over 25 years, and is now a hot sauce tycoon who speaks in overly thought-out riddles and Machiavellian clichés. At one point he even declares himself as controversial as the abortion issue.
Weibe is intelligent and gifted, but has struggled to put it all together, starting with a disappointing pitching performance in a high school championship baseball game. The day he and his wife signed papers on their house, he was laid off from his job at Boeing. Quiet and unassuming, his failures have stuck with him and he’s looking for a chance at validation.
The battle begins when Weibe’s video tape of his record breaking Donkey Kong score, which he mailed to the recognized arbiter of all things classic arcade, Twin Galaxies, was called into question. Only a live score could be verified beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was told, a rule that apparently only applies in certain cases. Weibe travels to Funspot in New Jersey for a big gaming event sponsored by Twin Galaxies in an attempt to square off with Mitchell face to face and beat his score in public. Funspot is a haven for nerdery; a lot of paunches, bad hair, bad skin, black jeans, and facial hair.
I don’t want to give too much of the story away. I’ll tell you that Mitchell doesn’t show up at Funspot, but a video tape of his apparent latest record-breaking game comes out and is accepted as legit, even though Weibe’s tape was rejected. The Twin Galaxies crew and a lot of their sycophantic disciples are a pretty protective bunch and Weibe is the outsider trying to break into this strange world. He’s treated shabbily by most of these snobby dorks at first (they constantly mispronounce his name as weeb when it should be pronounced wee-bee), but after he doggedly continues to travel to these events to prove his legitimacy, even to Mitchell’s hometown, they come to respect him, and even like him.
Really, this isn’t a movie about Donkey Kong. It’s about the drive to succeed and be recognized for your accomplishments on their own merits (even if it’s something as inconsequential as a video game) and not because of who you are or who you know. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is hilarious in its absurdity, but it works on a deeper level as well.
A good documentary should let its subjects tell the story by showing them just as they are and not manipulate to affect the viewers perspective. There were some moments that seemed a little contrived, but on the whole I think they played it pretty straight. Even if you’re not into video games (or nerds) this is definitely worth the hour and twenty and is one of the best movies from 2007.
Here’s a trailer: