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King of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters
Reviewed by Rick Klaw, © 2007

Format: Movie
By:   Seth Gordon (director)
Genre:   Documentary
Review Date:   August 17, 2007
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

Like many born in the late 60s and early 70s, my childhood was shaped by arcade games. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Centipede, and especially Donkey Kong occupied the vast majority of my non-school pre-pubescent time. I wasted far too many hours feeding the quarter-eaters. After discovering girls, science fiction, and movies, my interested waned and by the end of 1980s, like most of my generation, the classic video game joined the Betamax, blow-dried hair, and Night Ranger as relics of the past. In his documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, director Seth Gordon skillfully explores the lives of contemporary die hard classic arcade game fans, a group for whom time stopped in 1982.

Gordon shares the story of 35 year old middle school science teacher Steve Weibe as he challenges Billy Mitchell, "Gamer of the Century" over the world record of Donkey Kong. Already the record holder in Centipede, Mitchell, in front of the 20 best gamers in the world, scores 874,300 points on Donkey Kong, at the time considered an unbreakable record.

After losing his job at Boeing in 2003, Weibe obsesses over Donkey King and decides to mount an assault on Mitchell's score. Weibe eventually achieves the previously thought unattainable score of one million points, which makes him a local celebrity in his Seattle hometown. The enjoyment of his new-found fame is quickly diminished as doubts fermented by Mitchell and his sycophants spread throughout the classic arcade game community about the veracity of Weibe's score. Weibe challenges Mitchell to a grudge match, which Mitchell declines. Weibe proceeds via phone and intermediates to hound the reluctant Mitchell, who ignores Weibe. The possibility of a Guinness Book of World Record listing only intensifies the situation.

Perfect foils, the opponents lives and personalities diverge greatly. The soft spoken, likable Weibe lives in a suburban home with his wife -- an amazingly patient partner who encourages her husband on his often insane quest -- and his two young children: a son who plays his own game of Donkey Kong on his Game Boy while his father practices and sets records on the big machine, and his daughter, who in perhaps the most telling scene in the movie, wonders aloud what the big deal is.

Sporting a mullet and expensively clothed in styles straight out of the 1980s, the arrogant Mitchell runs a successful chicken wing restaurant in Hollywood, FL. His cosmetically-altered wife just seems bored by the whole thing.

Gordon successfully uses these individuals as centerpieces in his expose of the classic gamer geek society and the unique personalities that it attracts. He recounts many stories of the supporters and detractors in both camps while chronicling the various "wars" and skirmishes throughout the community.

The director manages to create a nostalgic atmosphere through the use of trivia tidbits and historic accounts while remaining firmly rooted in the present with the real-world issues of relationships and competition -- healthy and otherwise. In The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Gordon produces an entertaining, amusing documentary.

Rick Klaw is a writer and RevolutionSF editor at large. His book has a gorilla on it.

 
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