Every year, there are documentaries that explore war and disaster, historical figures and disturbing facets of society, and every year, there are other documentaries that buck that trend and focus on something no one ever thought would be turned into a movie. Enter The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, about the best Donkey Kong players in the world.
Yes, Donkey Kong. As in the original Mario game, about a little plumber who jumps around on a screen trying to save his princess from an angry age that throws barrels and fireballs. It's a game we've all played, and many of us have loved, but not something you'd think would make for a good movie. Director Seth Gordon, however, has managed to make an inspired little tale of quarreling men and a quest for greatness, with a little controversy thrown in for good measure.
The King of Kong focuses on Steve Wiebe, a man with a little OCD who picks up the hobby of playing Donkey Kong to a religious level. At one point, he blows through the point record previously held by the Donkey Kong master Billy Mitchell and sends in his video to prove it (because these guys record their playing just in case). Unfortunately for Steve, the Donkey Kong record-keeping commission (that's not their name, but that's essentially what it is) questions the validity of his video and the purity of his arcade machine. Sensing political bias in favor of Billy, Steve decides to go public and break the record once again. Suddenly, the two men find themselves in a battle for the record, and it's a fight to the death!
The documentary is an amusing one. Obviously, I never expected it to be that good, but Gordon does a good job at establishing his characters, developing them and capturing the rather bitter fight between the two men. The King of Kong is fun to watch.
That being said, the movie isn't that good. Most of these lighthearted documentaries aren't especially memorable, and The King of Kong is no different. If you never see this documentary, you will be no better or worse off as a result. Do I have a recommendation for how it could have been better? No, not really, but a little tightening in a few places could have fastened the pace. Fans of video games will appreciate this documentary, but with so many movies out there, The King of Kong wouldn't be near the top of my list.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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