Wednesday, January 30, 2008

One From The Queue: The King of Kong

I'm probably a little bit late to jump on the Netflix bandwagon, but I finally got around to joining the Internet movie delivery service last weekend. I hardly ever watch movies at home, as I don't pay for any movie channels and I hardly have any non-music DVDs. But the concept of having access to such a deep selection that can be conveniently delivered to my front door was too good to pass up. At least until I get bored of the novelty.

As my first selection, I chose the newly released DVD about a man's quest to obtain the world's highest score in the vintage arcade game Donkey Kong. The movie is officially titled "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters." It had a short run in theaters late last summer, and I was interested in seeing it then, but I never got myself to the theater. I was thrilled to find out on Sunday that it was being released a couple days later, also known as yesterday. So thanks to Netflix, I was able to receive it on opening day. I popped it in last night, and before I get into the movie, I will tell you that as soon as it ended I watched it again (with the audio commentary turned on).

The movie centers around an average Joe family man (Steve Wiebe) who has spent his entire life coming in second place. He can never seem to come out on top of anything. He also happens to have a stand-up Donkey Kong arcade game in his garage, which he started playing obsessively after being laid off from his engineering job at Boeing. He spent hours a day documenting the games patterns and learning how to rack up more and more points, all the while neglecting his wife and two children more than he should have. He learns of the Donkey Kong world record having been set in 1985 by Billy Mitchell, a man who in 1999 was declared the Video Game Player of the Century. Billy holds numerous top scores in classic arcade games, and was the first person to ever record a perfect game in Pac-Man, by clearing all 256 boards without losing a single man. Talk about too much time on your hands.

The documentary filmmakers did not set out intending to make a movie of Steve's quest to claim the Donkey Kong high score, but rather a general documentary on the gamers who have become obsessed with achieving world record scores, recognized by the officially renowned Twin Galaxies gaming board. Twin Galaxies was founded and is still run by a kindly older man who both trained with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (of Beatles fame) in transcendental meditation AND loves wearing a referee shirt. In following a few leads during their filming, one involving an 80-year old woman gunning for the Q-bert title, they soon realized that through 350 hours of footage, Steve's story and his quest to claim the title from Billy Mithchell was intriguing enough to be the primary plot line of the movie.

If you enjoyed spending time in arcades back in the 80s and 90s, would be entertained by watching grown men who look like they just walked out of 1983 (think Phish playing at UVM), and can get caught up in the battle of an underdog and outsider challenging a proven champion with a horrible hair cut, you will love this movie. And you will definitely want to watch it twice.


Some Dude said...

This was easily one of my favorite movies of last year and was kind of disappointed that it didn't get nominated for Best Documentary - it's that good.

Anonymous said...

According to, Billy Mitchell reclaimed the Donkey Kong title w/ 1,050,200 pts. -- it apparently was witnessed by live referee.

DS, Weightstaff