The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters, directed by Seth Gordon, is a fairly brief, surprisingly poignant documentary about - wait for it - the quest to achieve the world record high score in Donkey Kong. Even growing up in the 1980s I never got into video games, having no hand/eye coordination and the reflexes of a spastic chicken, but many of my friends loved them: Space Invaders, PacMan, Ms. PacMan, Centipede, Q-bert, Frogger and, of course Donkey Kong. This film is about the guys who have never let go of that love.
The documentary focuses on the two erstwhile competitors, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe. Billy was the reigning world champion, attaining the Donkey Kong record high score in 1982 and who pretty much kept the same rad hairstyle since then as well. Steve, on the other hand, is a regular (albeit OCD with a slight inferiority complex) guy who discovered Billy's 20+ year old record after he lost his job and set off after it as a means to accomplish something - anything - in his life.
Drama and controversy abound: Steve breaks the record but the governing body is suspicious; Steve travels across the country to break the record AGAIN, live and in person; just minutes after Steve savors his victory, one of Billy's lackey's presents a videotape on which Mitchell has shattered Steve's attempt. Nearly a year later, Steve flies across the country again, this time with wife and children in tow, to challenge Billy in a live head-to-head competition. But, despite his avowals that a live record is the best record, not to mention only living ten miles from the competition site, Billy Mitchell refuses to compete against a heartbroken Steve. I'm telling you - you can't make this stuff up.
Director Gordon makes no bones about for whom we're supposed to root. Billy Mitchell is smug, successful (he not only runs a booming hot wings franchise but married himself a tarty-looking wife with booming bazooms) and has surrounded himself with panting gamer sycophants. Steve, on the other hand, plays the game obsessively in his garage while his wife bites her nails, worried about whether they'll make the mortgage payment. I'm a sucker for an underdog story and I was soon shouting at the television screen ("Come on, you blowhard! Play him! Billy Mitchell's a chicken!") - much to Mr. Mouse's dismay as he was trying to sleep next to me on the couch. Mr. Mouse doesn't find Donkey Kong competition all that exciting, apparently.
Frankly I don't either but The King of Kong is not ultimately about the video game. It's about believing in yourself, about connecting with other people (perhaps not dating other people, but making connections nonetheless), about passion and obsession. It's about chasing dreams. I think we could all use a little more dream-chasing.
20 hours ago