Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

First of all, apologies for not posting much lately, between the 48-hour film festival I participated in a week and a half ago (the Elevate Festival) and my trip to Colorado for the Estes Park Film Festival this last weekend, I've been busy lately and neglecting my virtual life.

Anyway, I've been behind in catching a lot of the recent late-Summer/early-Fall movies so I headed up to Pasadena to see this crowd-pleasing documentary. First of all, guys: settle on a single title. The King of Kong gets the idea across just fine without the unnecessary jokey subtitle.

So this is a very entertaining documentary about two men battling for the world record in Donkey Kong, with sharply rendered characters in a simple, direct conflict with a likeable underdog challenging an established, irritating champion. This gets to one of my main quibbles with the movie, and about so many modern documentaries: that it's so wrapped up in being about its surface-level plot (who will win the title, the ambitious prick or the quasi-autistic family man?) that it forgets to spend a lot of time thinking about anything deeper on a thematic level (the drive for success in modern America, the absurdity of grown men becoming emotionally wrapped up in a 1980s arcade game).

Part of my resistance to the movie's spell can be attributed to my lack of interest in video games. Once I realized that most video games basically operate on the same principle as those levers that rats push in order to be rewarded with treats, I decided to find better ways to spend my time. So I'm glad that the movie depicts its characters as geeks, by and large, but a little added contrast between their subculture and the rest of the world might have provided a little more definition for the world of competitive video gamers.

All that said, it's a very well-made documentary, sharply edited and shot in a less ostentatiously hip manner than Murderball from a couple of years ago. I was a little annoyed at how obviously I was being manipulated to root for Steve Wiebe against his rival (and as of June, current world-record holder) Billy Mitchell - in American, we love winners, but we love to tear them down even more. But I think this is a healthy thing, because two of my favorite things about America are our insistence on rooting for underdogs and our refusal to kowtow to established authority. It helps that Mitchell seems to be a world-class cock (just look at him in that photo above - in case you can't tell, he's wearing a Statue of Liberty tie. Also, he has a wife whose defining features are her huge knockers). Billy has the world record, but his appearance in this movie will live in cinematic infamy.


cjKennedy said...

How can you not root against a guy with a mullet?

Plus, I actually went to school with Steve between 5th and 12th grades and even then he was one of those shy, but really nice guys. said...

Dude, there's a TON of themeatic subtlety in the film. In fact, it wears it on it's sleeve so much it's hidden through how open it is (if that makes sense).

It's about bullying and access rights. What gives Billy the "right" to manipulate those around him in order to keep an arbitrary record that he holds? The others allow him to for some's almost like our fascination with celebrities. We allow them to do things the rest of us wouldn't get away with. Billy is a celebrity to this subculture and as such, he has his way with them.

I mean, how free is Steve in a free society? Why is what he's done speculated on when what Billy does is taken as true. There's many, many little idiosyncraticies at work here, and not just on the surface in the form of a sweet mullet.

Plus, it's just such a classic underdog tale...almost made me mad the filmmakers were able to find such a terrific story. I think the title being constantly screwed with has something to do with the fact the filmmakers are adapting the doc into a feature....which will be frigging lame. I can already see Will Ferrel and Ed Norton starring. Ugh.

Jeff McMahon said...

I guess when it comes to documentaries, for me what I'm often missing is the directorial voice, which is certainly present in the films of Errol Morris or Werner Herzog. In this movie it's clear that Billy is a jerk, what I think is less clear is what exactly the filmmakers think about Billy being a jerk, and what they think about representing him so clearly as a jerk and how that resonates with the big picture. If that makes sense. All your points make sense, I just could have used a little cinematic punctuation on them.