The King of Kong: A different generation

An apology for the hiatus of Film Critique Corner, I have been writing a book afterall, normal service will resume starting today. You can expect it every week on Sunday.

The King of Kong is a documentary about two guys battling each other to take the top score of Donkey Kong, arguably the hardest arcade game of all time. It’s a film about persistence, following your dreams and what a competition can do to you and what it means to these people. It’s a film from the old age of messaging boards put together with stickytape and an internet just getting its feet out of the dial-up slime. This is a film akin to that of The Social Network in my belief you can make a great great movie out of anything and The King of Kong delivers.

For starters it’s structured in a way that makes you actually doubt the competitors and decide against simply Googling the out-come given the way the story is presented. Billy Mitchell is the top Donkey Kong dude and has been since two decades ago and now some high-school teacher schmuck by the name of Steve Wiebe wants to take that away from him. The film follows the two as they detail their lives and the way it shows one as a top king makes you think that both men do not deserve the lifestyle they leave. There are good guys here, there are bad guys here and you can take a guess at who’s who.

The King of Kong also follows Walter Day, the founder of Twin Galaxies, the international gaming high-score referee foundation organisation thing thing. His job, and his co-worker’s job, is to make sure everything goes legit and the film looks into all of their lives and the lives of Twin Galaxies folk. This also happens to capture a rare, rare sight of not one VHS tape but thousands of tapes of high-score achievements that the members pour over and analyse to make sure not one foul is there. We find out that Walter Day is a weird, weird kind-hearted fella and the film then falls into a climax when Guiness World Records wants Twin Galaxies to be its partner and the deadline to send in a certain Donkey Kong score calls up Steve Wiebe to finally get that fame he deserves.

The King of Kong is a weird, off the wall documentary about competitiveness and a weird world of bleeps and bloops which enchant men into being douches or obsessively driven folk. The way it structures itself in a chronological sense reminds me of Supersize Me in the way that it covered each of Spurlock’s days but The King of Kong seems to do it a lot tighter. There’s a lot more grip to the story, it feels more human especially when raw, unedited five minutes of footage is used to show Billy Mitchell walking into a room with Wiebe playing Donkey Kong.

What I will criticise the film for, as I have to do because this is film critique corner, is not its biases but perhaps some of the way it overplays certain characters or rather underplays. Brian Kuh, one of the challengers of the title, sort of disappears after the first third and never returns. Steve Sanders, Billy’s aide and friend, has a little mini-arc of going from Billy Mitchell’s side to Wiebe’s side to we don’t know if he’s spying side to Wiebe’s side and that’s never actually played. Wouldn’t that be a great note to end on? I’m not familiar with the two’s relationship but from the looks of things, Sanders slowly but surely warmed up to Wiebe.

Some characters such as Wiebe’s family are overplayed to the point where I feel the point of “He’s a deserving guy” is perhaps hammered in too far. The moment where Wiebe cries at his failure is a powerful moment but when it jumps straight into his children running about and him being with a family you can juxtapose this against Billy Mitchell with his family. Or rather lack thereof. He has a wife but we never see him interacting with her beyond a line of “There are some people I don’t want to spend too much time with.” when walking around Wiebe.

Mitchell’s persona is both subtle and massive. You can see his great big ego and the way his parents talk about how he’s always been a winner, but the film never plays on his subtleties. When Steve Sanders is talking about how he respects Wiebe and Mitchell barely days anything, and the camera just zooms in on his face, we don’t get any commentary over that of him saying something in the past or perhaps hammering home the “Undeserving” of Wiebe’s life. If we were treated to Mitchell mouthing him off we might nod along to the family sessions a lot more.

Maybe I’m nitpicking because, yes, I’m nitpicking. Documentaries and me get along way too much all the time, and unless the subject revolves around Al Gore or global warming or conspiracy bullwack, I generally fall in love with them way too easily. Supersize Me is more of a questionable one to me given I’m not sure if it’s asking we get rid of McDonalds entirely given utter self-control is impossible or if the experiment is way too ludicrous. I prefer Fast Food Nation in that respect.

You know, we haven’t had any real good ‘video-game movies’. Does The King of Kong count? Does Indie Game: The Movie count? Maybe. Video-games themselves, for the most part, are riddled with cinematic tropes to the point where they become Predator and Star Wars tributes all bundled together because they were made by that generation. The King of Kong however is about a different generation and no matter its nitpicks it’s still a weird, weird exploration of something very jargon-heavy yet so approachable. It’s about two guys and a video-game.

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