It’s Christmas time and what’s the true meaning of Christmas? Video games of course! Yes, the giving and receiving of video games. Alright, fine. It’s also got something to do with the birth of a baby a couple of thousand years ago or something. I don’t know, I’m an atheist. Still, video games play a lot into the Christmas experience, especially for anyone in my age bracket. Who doesn’t remember receiving a NES at Christmas? Well, I don’t because I have a shitty memory but I did own one and I’m sure it can’t have been a birthday present. No way, not for just one of us. It must have been a combined Christmas present between me and my brother Jason. Maybe Jordan as well but he was born in 1989. Might have been a bit young. On the other hand, I’m sure we all thought that the NES would be the only console there would ever be, something that would last for our entire lives, so maybe it was for all of us
So yes, for as long as I can, and apparently can’t, remember, video games have been a part of Christmas for me. And so it is with this tenuous link that I segue into today’s review, ‘King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters’. It’s a tale as old as time, a tale of rivalry, a tale of conspiracy, a tale of competition between two men. A tale of Donkey Kong.
And what a tale it is. This film is so brilliant in it’s simplicity. At it’s core its about nothing more complex than one guy trying to beat another’s score on Donkey Kong but it’s the intricate events and characters that surround it that makes it so much more. There are three major characters who are at the forefront of this story. There is Steve Wiebe (pronounced Wee-bee), the challenger, Billy Mitchell, the mulleted champion and Walter Day, the referee and an old friend of Billy Mitchell.
Steve is a man who’s life has been beset by failure. Every time he’s gotten close to even tasting the smallest bit of victory or success it’s been snatched away from him. Maybe that’s not fair. He does have a wife, two kids and a nice job as a high school science teacher but in terms of things that men care about such as sporting victory or musical accomplishment, despite being talented in these areas, Steve hasn’t gotten where he’d dreamed he’d be. The main problem seems to be that Steve has, as his brother puts it ‘a few social hang-ups’. In other words he seems to be quite shy and is also incredibly nice. The kind of nice that actually becomes a problem because you allow people to walk all over you. So what better achievement for someone with such social hang ups to aim for than a high score in a video game. Steve also has another thing going for him and that’s that he has a very, very analytical mind. He can detect patterns and find solutions to things that I, someone who has an incredibly poor mathematical mind, find truly astounding.
Billy Mitchell is essentially the polar opposite of Steve. He’s achieved success in his life, both with video games and with his hot sauce business ventures. He’s had the high-score on Donkey Kong ever since the 80s and is basically an idol to the small group of hardcore classic arcade gaming nerds who surround him. Scratch that, he’s more than an idol, to them he’s like a living God. He’s the embodiment of Neo from the Matrix movies if the Matrix had the graphical capabilities of an Atari. As such, Billy Mitchell has a very inflated sense of self-worth. He’s uber-patriotic, uber-egotistical and an uber-arse hole. He’s one of the greatest screen villains I’ve seen in recent years and what’s terrifying is he’s a real person… well, that and his hair. The scene where Billy and Steve are finally on screen together is one of the most tense and heart breaking scenes in any film, documentary or otherwise.
You can’t deny, however, that Billy has a talent for success. He clearly strives hard and works towards achieving his goals, sometimes using questionable means. There’s one scene which shows him in a supermarket, moving another brand of hot sauce out of the way and pushing more of his own into the spare space. What a man.
Walter Day is a bit more like Steve Wiebe. He’s also incredibly nice to the point of it perhaps being to his disadvantage. He seems to be a refugee from the love generation, an aging hippy who somehow found himself in the arcades during the 80s and never managed to find his way out. He’s the founder of Twin Galaxies, an organisation that collects and ranks high scores and acts as it’s official referee during live events. There seems to be the suggestion, however, that because of his nature, Twin Galaxies has been almost high-jacked by the gamers themselves, Billy Mitchell in particular. Most of the other people who make up TG also seem to have high scores and there are times when it seems as though they are doing everything they can to stop Steve Wiebe from removing their king from his throne. Of course it could just be that the only people qualified to check if people are cheating or not or if a score is valid are the people who have truly mastered those games. It’s the nature of the beast.
It’s these other people who surround the situation that add yet another layer to this film and it’s interesting to see the juxtaposition between the two worlds, the very ordinary world of Steve and his family and the very odd and sheltered world of Twin Galaxies and the people it’s made up of. Some of these people, such as Robert Mruczek who watches every taped high score attempt that comes in, have given their lives over to the past time. It’s really quite sad to see though I suppose they can be admired for their passion. Maybe.
So what’s left to say about the film without giving too much of the story away? Well, it has an awesome soundtrack. In particular their use of the ‘You’re The Best’ from the Karate Kid, ‘Eye of the Tiger’, ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ and one particular track that Steve Wiebe composed himself are all brilliant and just add to the feeling that this is just like watching a film about boxers, karate masters or any other physical contest between two men… I dunno, wrestling or something. It has the feel of a true sports underdog story.
So to wrap up, I love this film and I haven‘t really covered too much of the plot because I don‘t want to spoil it for anyone. I honestly think that it might be perfect and I can’t see anyone not enjoying it. Go and buy it right now and by several more copies for your friends and loved ones for Christmas. It’s only £3.98 at amazon.co.uk and $15.99 at amazon.com. You can afford that! Actually, Americans might wanna buy it from amazon.co.uk… It’s probably cheaper even with the postage and packaging. And don’t just download it. You need the DVD and the two brilliant commentaries that come included on it, especially the one with Chris Carle and John M. Gibson. It’s hilarious. Seriously, buy this film. You won’t regret it. Even if you don’t like video games, you’ll enjoy this film. I showed it to my mum and before she said “What? A movie about Donkey Kong? That sounds stupid! You’re stupid! I wish I’d never given birth to you!” Ok, she didn’t exactly say that but she thought it sounded stupid but afterwards she loved it. And so will you. That’s a promise. Look, here’s the link:
King Of Kong DVD
No more arguing, go buy it. I give this film five pints out of five. Laterz. Buy it.