Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Movie recommendation: The King of Kong

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
directed by Seth Gordon
79 minutes

The King of Kong is so funny and heartbreaking, its characters so unwittingly self-revealing, that it's easy to mistake the film for a mockumentary. But it's for real, and it focuses on the rivalry between arcade-gamers Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, as they engage in asynchronous combat to achieve the world-record score in Donkey Kong.

In competitive arcade-gaming, as in professional wrestling, there are good guys and bad guys, very broadly drawn. Wiebe, an endearing nebbish, practices on a machine in his garage and travels with his wife and children to an official site in an attempt to set a new world record. Mitchell, the reigning champion, is a well-groomed hot-sauce entrepreneur whom we see moving competitors' products to the back of a supermarket shelf. And as in professional wrestling, an official organization — Twin Galaxies (!) — seems intent upon elevating some competitors and impeding others.

My arcade life is pretty much limited to a Ms. Pac-Man machine in a Boston pizza parlor, circa 1981–1983. But the play's not the thing: you don't have to be (or have been) an arcade-game fan to enjoy The King of Kong.

Thanks to Rachel for introducing the rest of our family to this fine film, available on DVD.

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