Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I remember it vividly.  It was 1984 and the snack bar just got in a pair sit down arcade machines in Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.  Sure we had Pac-Man, Q-bert, Dig-Dug and a few other arcade games of note, but DK and DKJ were the ones that set that place afire and the competition for that high score was hot one between me and Mike Gomez.  Eventually I became the local King of Kong with a high score of two hundred and sixty something thousand, and it was quite an accomplishment at the time but at least where I lived, High School video game kings got little to no love.  This is why we usually went to snack bar after football practice or basketball practice or after a night of chasing girls and trying to convince older G.I’s (I lived on an Army base) into buying us beer.  I had no idea that the all time great high score in Donkey Kong was 867,425 and owned by some youth from Florida named Billy Mitchell, thus I could not have foresaw that twenty five years after Billy set that record his entire self worth would still be wrapped up within that record.  But this is why we have excellent films such as Seth Gordon’s outstanding documentary ‘The King of Kong’.

The film introduces us to the world of competitive video gaming which may seem silly to some, if not most, but video games becoming the industry that it has become, it kind of makes sense that these games should have some kind of champion.  Gordon introduces us to the players in this particular corner of the gaming world which is lorded over by the video game maven Dave Day and his Iowa company of Twin Galaxies, which is the keeper of all records video game related.  If you do happen to be a competitive gamer, then Billy Mitchell is your version of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzsky, Dan Marino or whoever is the king of kings of something, and the supremely arrogant (or extremely self-confidant) Mitchell wouldn’t have it any other way.  Billy, who today is a mullet sporting Hot Sauce tycoon, cherishes his DK record the way some people cherish their children.   On the other side of the country is one Steve Weibe who as his own mother describes as possibly mildly autistic.  Steve is

a suburban father of two blessed with numerous talents such as a high level of intelligence, athleticism, and creativity but is just one of those hard luck cats that things never seem to work out his way.  After getting laid off at his engineering gig at Boeing, an increasingly depressed Steve Weibie began searching for something that in someway may lead to some kind of accomplishment for the man, and he found it in the Donkey Kong world record.  Steve went out and brought himself a used DK machine and set about to break himself a world record.  If Steve knew then what he knows now, he might have taken up skeet shooting, or hot dog eating or anything other than classic arcade video gaming.

Undoubtedly the worlds nicest guy, Steve Weibe video tapes himself breaking the DK record and sends it to Twin Galaxies for verification, but similar to Barry Bond hitting 756 the keepers of the flame don’t trust it, especially since it usurps the great Billy Mitchell’s supposed ‘perfect score’.  The ‘man’ discards Weibe’s record due to a possibly rigged machine, and demand that he break it in person.  Steve makes the trip to the Mecca of video arcade gaming and does his thing, and that’s when things start to get a little suspicious, as if things aren’t suspicious already.  For what happens next, I suggest you track down an art theater that ‘The King of Kong’ is playing at or wait until comes out on DVD.

Despite the fact ‘The King of Kong’ is a documentary it has all of the elements of a standard film in that his as a clearly defined everyman hero, a definitive villain with his villainous henchmen, with the added plus of this villain possessing a mullet, but a real nice one though, and it tops all of that off with a corrupt system.  I’m sure if they were to make an actual film of this they would call it ‘The Insider 2’ and it would star Russell Crowe.  All that ‘The King of Kong’ was missing was a damsel in distress and a bomb that needed the red wire cut.  But honestly this is what makes this film such a compelling one to view because all of the characters were so interesting and you truly cared about the outcome of the events.

Oft times with documentaries I become concerned if I’m being manipulated to think one thing as opposed to another and this one is no different in that I must ask myself is Billy Mitchell really this big of an asshole, do the people in this gaming community have such tiny lives that there self worth is wrapped in some other dudes virtually worthless record and is Steve Weibe really this nice of guy?  And though I’m certain some selective editing went into creating this film, but editing can only go so far and editing can’t put words in your mouth.  Well it can, but I don’t think it was done here.

Those minor concerns aside, as far as I’m concerned we have almost a sure fire lock for inclusion in our top ten list 2007, unless 2007 heats up really fast.  By the way, I tried to play Donkey Kong again for the first time in well over twenty years and couldn’t even get off the first level.

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