The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters [retro review]

“I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to be the center of attention. I wanted the glory. I wanted the fame. I wanted the pretty girls to come at me and say, ‘Hi. I see that you’re good at Centipede.'”

The Scoop: 2007 PG-13.  Directed by Seth Gordon and starring Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, and Walter Day.

Tagline: Don’t Get Chumpatized

Summary Capsule: It’s the Good, the Bad, and the Donkey as Roger and Me meets The Karate Kid meets Super Mario Brothers.

Al’s Rating: I sometimes call myself The King of Majong, but I guess that’s not nearly as impressive.

Al’s Review: Did you ever wonder what happened to Lucas Barton from The Wizard? Not Jackey Vinson, the young actor who went on to play ‘Young Gene’ in Breaking the Rules, but Lucas Barton, the kid with ninety-seven Nintendo games and a love for the Power Glove (It’s so bad). Lucas Barton grew up and turned into Billy Mitchell.

Billy Mitchell is, quite simply, the best. In 1984, Billy played Burgertime to 7,881,050 points, a threshold that remained uncrossed for 22 years. In 1999, he played the first ever perfect game of Pac-Man — attaining the maximum possible score of 3,333,360 points by eating every fruit, every Power Pellet, every blue ghost and every dot for 256 boards without losing a single life. That same year, he was crowned in Tokyo as “Video Game Player of the Century.”

He currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his wife, Evelyn, and their three children, where he runs the successful “Rickey’s World Famous” restaurant chain and hot sauce company. He even has his own folk song. “If I have all this good fortune,” Billy says, “if everything’s rolling my way, if all these balls have bounced in my favor, there is some poor bastard out there who is getting the screws put to him.”

Enter Steve Wiebe.

Steve is a middle school science teacher from Redmond, Washington, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He was a star pitcher in college who brought his team to the state finals, but was unable to play in the game. He is a gifted musician who was in a Seattle grunge band in the early 1990s but never managed to take off like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. He was a successful engineer who lost his job at Boeing the day he and his wife signed the papers on their house. Steve has spent his entire life in second place — until Donkey Kong.

One day, alone in his garage and armed with only a video camera, Steve shatters Billy Mitchell’s top score of 874,300 and completes the first recorded million-point game of Donkey Kong. Now, he just needs people to believe him.

The King of Kong is the story of Steve’s mission for legitimacy and his descent into the world of competitive retro gaming. His scores are so high that fact-checkers from Twin Galaxies, the Mecca of video game record-keeping, bully their way into his house and take apart his machine for inspection. His associations with fellow gamers who have vendettas against Billy Mitchell are questioned and scrutinized. Steve travels to conventions across the country, running up against Billy’s sycophants and proving himself in game after game, all the while trying to track down Billy himself and force a showdown to determine once and for all the best in barrel-jumping business.

The world we glimpse is an absolutely fascinating little niche of society, governed by its own rules and mired in its own politics. It’s populated with characters that you wouldn’t believe if they showed up in a fictional story: the folksy, bearded Walter Day, who runs Twin Galaxies and wears a referee outfit during business hours; the loud and boorish Playgirl model, Roy Schildt, who has dubbed himself “Mr. Awesome” and creates self-help videos where he imitates General Patton and teaches you how to score with chicks.

As Steve ventures from venue to venue, we learn more about the two men at the center of this struggle and see two distinct, fascinating portraits emerge that would feel right at home in the last act of a Rocky movie. Billy is never seen without a button-down shirt and colorful tie; Steve’s idea of dressing up is a polo shirt. Billy clearly loves to talk to the camera (or anyone who will listen) and spends his interviews dispensing sound bites and nuggets of gamer wisdom; Steve is comparably quiet, not even correcting the pronunciation of his last name when he is repeatedly referred to as Steve “Weeb” instead of “Weebee.” Steve is always with his wife or his kids; Billy is more likely to be on his cell phone to one of his business partners or Twin Galaxies flunkies. It’s silly, of course, to not account for internal manipulation by the filmmaker (never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, right?), but, at the end of the day, the images speak for themselves: Wiebe is still the genial, guileless, slightly goofy everyman who’s playing the game, jumping the barrels and climbing the ladders over and over and over again to pursue his goal; Billy is still the monolith rockstar, perfectly groomed, impossibly confident, content to live off his reputation and stay in seclusion at the top of his world.

I won’t spoil whether or not Steve finally gets his one-on-one challenge, but suffice it to say that the movie delivers. It’s a story about Donkey Kong, sure, but, by the end of Steve’s quest (or at least the end of the last reel), it’s become about something larger than a plumber chasing his monkey: it’s about fighting City Hall, it’s about earning respect, and it’s about how you measure success. That’s not bad for a game that only costs a quarter.

No matter how hard he tried to ignore him, it soon became clear that Steve was not leaving today without buying something from Foot Locker.

 

INTERMISSION!

  • According to Steve Sanders, the top five arcade games of all time are Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac Man, Defender, and Galaga.
  • They love the face-dissolvey effect, don’t they?
  • Billy has a hickey in the 1982 photo shoot
  • Although Steve’s arcade machine plays Donkey Kong, it has a DK Jr. cabinet (for which he has also held the world record on several occasions)
  • According to Billy Mitchell, the average Donkey Kong game lasts less than one minute
  • I love the chalk drawings Steve uses to explain his Donkey Kong strategy
  • During one interview, Billy rearranges hot sauce on the store shelves so his brand is in front
  • I love Doris’s stuffed Q*Bert
  • Witness nerd rage at The Funspot
  • Walter Day changes into his referee uniform to talk to the Guinness people over the phone
  • Check out Mark Alpiger’s weightlifting gloves.  That man is ready to Marble.
  • As the credits roll, we get updates on the fortunes of several subjects since the end of filming while a ‘history of video games’–type montage plays in the background.
  • Steve Wiebe’s theme song during the movie is one of his own compositions.
  • If you notice, the “important package” that Billy gives to Doris is not the same one that the Twin Galaxies guys open later in the movie. Billy gave her the wrong tape, and the cast spent an hour watching professional wrestling before they realized that nothing else was recorded on it. Billy had to FedEx the real thing up to New Hampshire.
  • I’ve actually been to The Funspot in New Hampshire. The movie doesn’t really give you an idea of the scope of this place, but it’s basically a multi-level arcade that’s the size of a small shopping mall. We’re talking three stories of video games!
  • SLIGHT SPOILER.  The Donkey Kong world record has jockeyed back and forth since the release of The King of Kong. Most recently, Steve Wiebe reclaimed the record on Aug. 30, 2010 by scoring 1,064,500 points during a two-and-half-hour game.

Groovy Quotes

Billy Mitchell: There will always be the argument that video games are meant to be played for fun. Believe me, some of it’s a lot of fun. Video games are meant to be played at home, relaxing on a couch amongst friends. And they are, and that’s fun. But competitive gaming, when you want to attach your name to a world record, when you want your name written into history? You have to pay the price.

Adam Wood: I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I play video games, which I think is far superior an addiction than any of those other ones.

Walter Day: I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to be the center of attention. I wanted the glory. I wanted the fame. I wanted the pretty girls to come at me and say, “Hi. I see that you’re good at Centipede.”

John Farley: (sung) Billy Mitchell, primo joystick dude / Amazing in the maze, he ain’t gonna lose. / Blue man in the corridor singing the blues. / A perfect game goes down. . . / Billy’s on the moooove

[while Steve is breaking the Donkey Kong world record]
Derek: Daddy! Wipe my butt!

Student: Okay, I didn’t know it was a world record… it’s for Donkey Kong, is it? Oh, my gosh. This is, like, it’s… all the science teachers here are weird.

Billy Mitchell: The worst thing that could happen would be to give somebody the credibility of a score that doesn’t deserve it. But even far worse than that would be to deny somebody the credibility when they deserved it. If I’m not there, I don’t know.

Jillian Wiebe: Work is for people who can’t play video games.

Mr. Awesome [a la Patton]: I want you to remember that no punk bastard ever got a gnarley piece of poontang by being sensitive and considerate!

Steve Sanders: [Mr Awesome] threatened Bill Mitchell physically. Uh, in fact, he has threatened Bill Mitchell’s life.
Mr Awesome: No, I did not. I did not. I did not. … He threatened his own life to make it look like me!

Billy Mitchell: No matter what I say draws controversy. It’s sort of like the abortion issue.

Brian Kuh: There’s a Donkey Kong Kill Screen coming up!

Mr Awesome: Everything would’ve fell right into place, but they forgot about one thing: that I would–about me convincing Steve Wiebe not to be a chump. Talking him out of chumpatizing himself.

Billy Mitchell: It’s probably a good idea, like, if I say hi to Todd.
Brian Kuh: Actually, would you believe he’s in the middle of a Ladybug game. I don’t think we want to interrupt.

Cameraman: What if I told you the Guinness Book of World Records has asked Twin Galaxies to provide 6 to 10 classic scores for the 2007 edition?
Steve Wiebe: Is that truthful?
Cameraman: The deadline is April 20th.
Steve Wiebe: Is that true? Then we better get practicing.

Jillian Wiebe: I never knew that the Guinness World Record Book was so… I never knew it was so important.
Steve Wiebe: I guess a lot of people are… yeah, a lot of people read that book.
Jillian Wiebe: [while directly looking at Steve, her father] Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there.

Steve Wiebe: I traveled 3,000 miles to give myself a chance to get the world record and be in Guinness. I hope he can, at least, come ten miles and put his game on the line.

Billy Mitchell: Video Games are meant to be played in a competitive environment, under pressure, organized, where you have to perform literally on demand.
[insert]
Interviewer: Have you ever seen your husband compete head to head in video games?
Ms Mitchell: Never.
[/insert]
Billy Mitchell: …And when you do that, you have far more credibility than someone who says “Oh, I did that last week.” No matter how good you play tennis, no matter how good you play golf, if you don’t play when you have to play, if you don’t play when the pressure’s on, then you’re really not good enough.

Steve Wiebe: I can handle losing if he would at least compete against me.

Mike Thompson: I’ve heard a lot of talk of Billy Mitchell, and I’ve heard a lot of talk of strange videos and things. But I haven’t heard much in the way of him getting in front of a camera crew with people and getting a record in front of people. I haven’t heard about that yet. Maybe he did that 25 years ago. But I haven’t heard of him doing it lately, and it makes you wonder why not.

Steve Sanders: I can only speak for myself, but I’ve talked with Steve, I talked to his wife, I talked to his kids. I’ve met with him, talked to him in detail. And, speaking for myself, I have no question about his integrity, his ability, or anything else. He’s proven himself not just as a Donkey Kong player, but really as somebody who really desires to do the right thing.
Interviewer: Do you agree with his–
Billy Mitchell: I’m not familiar enough with the situation.
Interviewer: Okay.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Air Guitar Nation
  • Roger and Me
  • The Wizard
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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The King of Kong Review | edwin508

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