The King of Kong


This is the type of documentary that makes you question if the whole thing is a sham; in which the subjects are such caricatures, in which the subject matter is so… extreme. When I first saw American Movie I thought it was a mockumentary, and would be tempted to make the same assumption with The King of Kong, if not for the fact that there were so many witnesses.

Now, I’m a bit of a computer game geek. I love my 90s point and click adventure games, even if it takes me up to a year to finish anything.King of Kong, The Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, however, are out of this stratosphere. They are masters of classic arcade games, in particular the original ‘Donkey Kong’ of 1982. Now, according to me, these types of computer games are from an era before computer games were fun. Playing them is all about timing and an extremely repetitious cycle of running and jumping. More importantly, ‘Donkey Kong’ is considered to be one of the hardest games ever created, so much so that it’s a rarity to for someone to pass the third level.

So with this knowledge on board, we can appreciate the uniqueness of our subjects even more. Billy Mitchell is the ‘Donkey Kong’ world champion, having scored 874,300 back in 1982. He’s held onto that title for almost 25 years, so it’s a bit of a shock when a school teacher from Seattle sends Twin Galaxies a taped high score that well and truly surpasses Billy’s. Twin Galaxies act as the official score keepers and judgers of computer game records, and the third most important subject of the doco is founder Walter Day.

If this doesn’t sound like fertile ground for drama, you wait until the sneaky manoeuvring, macho posturing and overall stress surrounding these two kings of Kong sets in. Seth Gordon’s doco is steeped in nostalgia for those arcade machines of the early 80s, whose only purpose was to guzzle your coinage (so say I, anyway). As you watch these experts at work though, you realise it isn’t about fun. It isn’t about addiction really, either; maybe more about compulsion, about the need to be the best at something.

The film fairly quickly has us taking sides, and it’s hard to imagine certain subjects would be happy with their representation, but it’s in the nature of documentary to take a side. I’m sure this will be a hit with those who look back on the early days of gaming with a sentimental glint in their eye (and it’s a niche market), but the rest of us will be more than taken in by these fascinating masters of the coin-operated computer.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 8th March 2008
Hoopla Factor: 3.5 stars

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