Friday, August 17, 2007 Presents King of Kong

While video game contests will never headline SportsCenter, a new documentary film gives the arcade all of the tension and intrigue of the Super Bowl.
Seth Gordon's King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters follows Seattle dad and science teacher Steve Wiebe as he becomes a challenger to one of gaming's most elusive titles: Donkey Kong record holder.
King of Kong, which opens in select cities August 17 en route to a wider release and almost certain cult status, has all the wrenching drama of Ali-Foreman or Yanks-Sox. But it is much, much funnier. One of Wiebe's record-breaking attempts -- captured on videotape as per competitive gaming rules -- is jeopardized when his kid poops his pants (no one else is around to help wipe him up).
Donkey Kong, the hardest game.
Video: Courtesy of Picturehouse
And Wiebe's rival, 20-year reigning champ Billy Mitchell, has the bravado of a WWF champ, bragging about his groupies and referring to himself in the third person. Once named "video gamer of the century," Mitchell also holds the Pac Man title and sports a hairdo dating back to that game's heyday.
"We thought of this like a traditional sports movie, leading to a head-to-head showdown," said Gordon, who produced the film with ESPN football commentator and former NFL player Ed Cunningham. "But it went from being about an arcade championship to becoming about social science and personal politics and the ways people play games in order to come out ahead."
A King of Kong movie trailer.
Video: Courtesy of Picturehouse
King of Kong's real-life geeks and obsessives prove far more entertaining and dimensional than the fictional ones invented for Napoleon Dynamite and Eagle vs. Shark. Walt Day, the Gandalf of the arcade-game world and head of Twin Galaxies (which serves as an online Guinness Book for gamers), sport a ref's outfit while scanning tapes of record-breaking games.
Mitchell's posse, suspecting Wiebe of hacking his Kong console for a better score, breaks into his garage to inspect the logic board. As the final showdown at the legendary New Hampshire arcade Funspot approaches, death threats and espionage, mindgames and Jedi references abound.
Anyone who missed the arcade craze of the '70s and '80s might think the ferocity of this Kong competition slightly nuts. But with a world record at stake, the pressure is very real. Gordon argues that Wiebe and Mitchell are superior athletes, each with the off-the-chart focus and hand-eye skills necessary to reach Kong's mythic "kill screen." Both were outstanding high school baseball players.
"Wiebe and Mitchell are so far beyond everyone else in Donkey Kong, the hardest of the classic arcade games," Gordon said. "I think of them as Salieri and Mozart -- there's nobody else that can appreciate what they know how do as well as each other. And that's why they are enemies."
A mutually beneficial relationship.
Video: Courtesy of Picturehouse
Wiebe and Mitchell truly do seem to hate each other. Asked at a film festival Q&A session if Mitchell was the prick King of Kong made him out to be, Wiebe -- a gentle, sweet-faced man -- diplomatically pleaded the Fifth. As for Mitchell, audiences at festival screenings quickly learned to hiss each time he popped on screen.
Now that New Line has signed on to produce a fictional version of Kong, Gordon (who will direct) finds himself in a quandary.
"Billy's already so larger than life," he said, "that it'll be a challenge to recreate him as a fictional character and make it believable

No comments: