I came across this trailer a few weeks ago. Right away, it appealed to all of my dork sensibilities so I headed straight over to Blockbuster.com and added King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters right to the top of my queue. Well, we finally got around to watching it earlier this week and had a complete blast! The film basically catalogs the attempts of a Washington middle school teacher, Steve Wiebe, to break the world high score for Donkey Kong (one of the hardest video games ever created) — a record that no one had even been able to come close to in 20 years. The record-holder, Billy Mitchell, is a celebrity of sorts in the subculture of classic arcade gaming, holding several other records and carrying an ego to match his long list of accomplishments. Steve, who you can’t help but love, has perseverence and humility on his side, while Billy always seems to have an ace of some sort up his sleeve (and even a few minions to help him along the way). As you watch, you cannot help but get drawn in to their world, and eventually find yourself a full-fledged member of the classic arcade gaming community by the film’s conclusion.
Throughout the film, we found ourselves laughing almost constantly at the gravity that most of the people in the film give to the classic arcade scene. I couldn’t help but think about how most of us find ways to immerse ourselves in some sort of microcosm that most other people out there have no idea even exists. Sure, I was laughing quite a bit throughout – but there was definitely a part of me that realized that I have attend the occasional tuba conference, listen to tuba CDs, and even check the tuba forums from time-to-time. So, as ridiculous as these folks are, I can empathize with their passion and fanaticism.
Sadly, since watching the movie, I’ve learned that director Seth Gordon may have seriously manufactured a lot of the personalities and situations that made the movie so compelling in the first place. From Spout.com:
On the flipside of that quarter is the fact that director Seth Gordon played extremely fast and loose with the editing in The King of Kong. In fact, he made it seem like Billy and Steve were bitter rivals, and that Billy would avoid Steve in public. The truth of the matter is that they had appeared in public together before, played games in public, and even given interviews together. There are plenty of moments in the movie where you find yourself thinking, “Geez, this Billy Mitchell guy is a real douche.” Unfortunately, most of those moments were created with a few mouse clicks, deftly removing scenes that would have told you otherwise.
Now, Seth Gordon and his producer Ed Cunningham claim that some of these meetings happened before they started making the movie, in 2004, which would be forgivable. However, there’s a created scene in the film where it looks like Billy drives up to a restaurant and refuses to come in because Steve’s inside. According to Walter Day, Billy and his family actually came in and even spoke to Steve. The more you read about the way the film was put together, the more it unravels.
You know, it’s always disappointing to find out that you’ve been hoodwinked a little when it comes to the documentary genre. However, nobody forced Billy to say all of the arrogant things that come out of his mouth throughout this movie, nor was Steve coached on how to portray himself as such a stand-up guy. Even if we were watching a caricature of reality in King of Kong, it’s still a great story!
PS. If you’d like to see some REAL microcosm nerdery, make sure you check the last comment from the above article!