The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

February 27, 2008 at 8:43 pm 1 comment

Just saw this movie today and I agree with everyone else that this should have been up for Best Documentary at the Oscars. The story of Steve Wiebe trying to claim the highest score in Donkey Kong is just as inspirational as any fictional underdog story. In fact, The King of Kong is like a video game version of Rocky. Wiebe is like Rocky, an everyman who has the odds stacked against him as he struggles to get to the top. Kong‘s Apollo Creed is Billy Mitchell, holder of the highest score in Donkey Kong (and also among the top scorers in Pac-man, I believe). Outside of the usual video game media circles, he was featured on MTV’s True Life show, and he also owns a restaurant chain in Florida and sells hot sauce (which I hear is pretty good). Mitchell is already known in Donkey Kong circles and is friends with Twin Galaxies, a group that has become the official record-keepers of classic gaming scores.

It was pretty inspirational to watch Steve Wiebe attempt to break the record. Having lost his job (on the same day he and his wife closed on their new house), and generally being looked over his entire life, he decides to turn his gaming hobby into a goal. His family soon becomes annoyed with his obsession, but sticks with him throughout his ordeal. Billy Mitchell is portrayed as a jack-ass who’s head is so big he can’t fit through doorways. Apparently, he’s not that bad of a guy, but even before this movie came out, I’ve been hearing that he really is an asshole.

Rounding out the rest of the ‘cast’ are people like Steve’s wife, who is supportive and feels sorry that her husband keeps getting the short end of the stick in many of his endeavors. There’s also Walter Day, the official referee for the Twin Galaxies organization, and Mitchell’s best friend Steve Sanders. Steve had met Mitchell when they were part of a Time magazine photo shoot and was soon outed when his Donkey Kong score was proclaimed to be fake. There are about a dozen others, each one about as weird as the last.

This isn’t the greatest documentary ever made, and it does portray a classic underdog story we’ve seen before, but still has you really cheering for the hero. All the characters, even the supporting ones, all seem almost like cartoon characters, and they add great color to the film. It was interesting to see that there were people out there that will watch hundreds of hours of VHS tapes of people beating (or trying to beat) world records. And it’s not just watching these tapes, they’re scrutinized and examined like it was a tape of the JFK assassination. I will say that, although many reviewers state how funny this movie is, I only laughed at a few spots, like the one involving Wiebe trying to tape his record-breaking attempt. Some of the bonus features on the DVD, however, are hilarious. Great film, and I believe it’s such a shame that it was overlooked at the Oscars.


There’s been some controversy over the accuracy of this film. I believe that it is practically impossible to make a 100% impartial documentary, and I honestly did not expect this film to portray either Steve Wiebe’s or Billy Mitchell’s side fairly. I judge it based on its entertainment value and any lessons it tries to teach. However, there is an interesting post on the Twin Galaxies forum regarding certain omission from this film. Check out the Twin Galaxies website to find out more (but don’t if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want anything spoiled).

(images from Yahoo)


Entry filed under: movies. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

And the Oscar goes to… The Oscars in HD

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. zippyfish  |  March 25, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    What a fantastic documentary this was. Who would have imagined the drama and machinations that go on in the world of competitive arcade gaming?


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