Written by: Ron Bricker
So, you guys went out and saw Crumb, right? Good. Well done. Now comes The King of Kong.
Subcultures? You want subcultures? We got ‘em. ANOTHER great thing about documentaries is that you often get a view into a world otherwise never seen, certainly not seen in any mainstream Hollywood movie, let alone in real life. Eccentrics, weirdos, off-beat types, hell, INTERESTING people, this is what docs bring us. No regular film is going to spend 90 minutes on two guys going for the Donkey Kong high score, but here it is, and, once again, there’s more drama packed in here than you would believe.
I, like many, grew up on these classic stand-up arcade games, Robotron being my favorite. The golden age of these games was in full swing, mid-80s, as I pumped my coins into Centipede, Defender, Tempest, and all the others. A huge hit, not one I liked, though, was Donkey Kong, where you battle Kong and try to rescue the girl. Considered the most difficult of all these early games, I lasted like 30 seconds before dying. Not for me.
Also out there playing was a dude named Billy Mitchell. Widely considered the best player of his generation, Mitchell at one time held the high-score records for Centipede, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong Junior. His 1982 Donkey Kong high score was considered unbeatable, and for twenty years, it was. Mitchell played his part well – arrogant, well-coiffed, patriotic – he was the figurehead of competitive gaming, and he ran with it. But enter Steve Weibe. And enter The King of Kong.
Weibe is more a regular guy than most of the others, a high school teacher with a Donkey Kong machine in his garage and wife and kids upstairs. He plays it as an escape, and guess what, he’s really good. It’s his battle with Billy Mitchell that propels the film. Who will beat whom? Who’s really the best? These two guys couldn’t be more different. Soon, you’re rooting for one over the other, you’re flabbergasted as the powers-that-be seem to screw Weibe, and you watch as the collision between our two gamers unfolds, or does it?
Wow. This shit’s gripping. Real emotion, real fears, real triumph, real people. You don’t have to care a lick about video games to get drawn in. And it’s the observing of this world that really sticks with you. All the supporting characters, the “referee” (Walter Day), the assorted friends and family, Robert Mruczek, the poor guy who has to watch all the submitted video tapes of various games to verify legitimate high scores (and he has the best line in the movie – “I gotta watch 8 tapes of Duane Richards’ two-day Nibbler performance. That’s 48 straight hours of paying attention,”) the spectators, ALL of these people add layers and depth to the story. And it’s not like they’re written that way. It’s who they are.
It’s a story of heroes and villains, hot sauce and quarters, sadness and joy. Check it out!