Sunday, April 5, 2009
Day Eighty-Three: The King of Kong (2007) - Rank 5/5
This was a documentary that made me feel both young and old at the same time. Aged in the sense that I not only recognized all the Atari arcade games featured in the film, but had grown up playing them. Juvenile in the sense that I grew up playing these games, while the contenders in the politically perverse gaming world were receiving international recognition...within certain circles. Either way, I found the film both endearing (for its connection to the sentimental) as well as intriguing, for I never realized that competitive gaming in the realm of arcade games from the late seventies and eighties still existed (much less, in the heated spirit that the competitions seem to have).
The documentary focuses on an underdog, Steve Wiebe, as he endeavors to set the new world record for a high score on Donkey Kong. A large examination is also given to Billy Mitchell, the reigning champion, whose score had stood for almost twenty years. Every "name" in the competitive video game world was on the scene or took a hand in either in aiding and supporting Steve with his quest, or endeavoring to deter him from outdoing Billy, a veritable Boss Tweed of gamers. The pettifoggery of "gaming rules" when it comes to submitting new high scores was both fascinating and almost laughable. In short, these guys take gaming really f**king serious.
Steve is a great individual for director Seth Gordon, because the guy's a quintessential gamer "nerd" - introverted, a little autistic perhaps and non-confrontational, and he's pitted against his very opposite. Billy Mitchell is an overly-empowered man, his need to dominate others in life spawned from his title as world record holder for Donkey Kong high score. Between his faux mullet, his garish USA ties with mismatched shirts and self-run hot wing sauce industry, I found him so bizarre (and almost villainous), I wanted to see more of him. However, I can understand the director's reluctance to explore Mitchell - apart from drastically losing focus on the primary subject (Wiebe), it would be tough to get to the real Billy Mitchell. Every time he's on camera, it's as if he's trying to sell himself to you, never letting you know what he's really thinking. This seemingly disingenuous nature scarcely lends itself to exploration.
In summation, this was one of the most gripping documentaries I've seen in some time, moving me to dust off the old Atari 2600 and indulge in some Kaboom. It's still one of my favorite video game consoles and it just sickens me when I mention this in front of my students at school and they respond with: "What's Atari?" Goddamned kids, with your Facebooks, Hot Topics and...Glenn Miller...whole damned world is going to hell in a hand basket.
Watch the Trailer