Thursday, October 11, 2007

The King of Kong

Hands down, the best documentary this year, and one of the most entertaining movies this year- period. If this doesn't get a Oscar nod, I'm boycotting the ceremony (not like I usually watch it anyway). The King of Kong continues a recent trend of nerdy activities given the star documentary treatment. I follows on the heels of relatively recent movies such as Spellbound, Wordplay, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (a movie about bowling, not Sean Connery's schlock fest).

King of Kong tells the story of the bitter rivalry between Billy Mitchell, Donkey Kong world champion of over 20 years, and Steve Wiebe, a middle school science teacher who took up playing the game in his spare time. The conflict in the movie doesn't begin until a ways into it, with Wiebe submitting a new record score, and having it rejected on suspicion of fraudulence. The problem? The organization doing the record keeping, Twin Galaxies, is under the iron fisted influence of Mitchell. So now it's a competition as to who can set the highest legitimate score.

At its core, this is not so much a movie about that rivalry, but a movie about the gaming community, and the gamers themselves. Unfortunately, I was a little weary about some of this. The movie painted Wiebe as a clear hero: straight arrow, honest, integrity, and kind of a push-over. While Mitchell was portrayed as a sneaky, underhanded, and manipulative weasel (though some of what he did and much of what he said seemed to fit that persona). I just hate to take whatever the film-makers say as the gospel without knowing about the situation myself. For example, Wiebe's wife and kids got quite a bit of screen time- painting him as a family man, while Mitchell's wife was only in one or two scenes, contradicting him.

This movie goes far beyond just the two of them. It encompasses the whole culture of competitive gaming. It features Walter Day, the founder of Twin Galaxies and grand martial of all competitive gaming in the U.S. He also happens to be a folk-singer on the side, so the movie , of course, contains the obligatory scenes with him standing outside singing annoying songs about games. It also features video game legends like Steve Sanders, Todd Rogers, and Doris Self (the adorable 80 year old travelling around the country trying to regain her Q-Bert record). It's almost inspirational seeing these social outcasts get their moment, and feel perfectly at home doing what they are so good at.

Whether you agree with what director Seth Gordon is trying drive home, this is a fantastically entertaining movie. It gets into the technical difficulties of Donkey Kong, as well as the emotional stresses put on those that play it. It covers the culture as a whole, while really getting you attached to individuals. It even has some moments that keep you on the edge of your seat as much as any action movie. I've waited months and months to see this, and now that I have, I was not disappointed in the least. One of the best movies so far this year.


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