Friday, September 21, 2007

The King of Kong: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

As someone who spent many of his pre-adolescent days pushing quarters into arcade video games, The King of Kong showed me what I could've been if I'd had a) more disposable income at that age, b) a little bit of discipline (I could give up on something fast if I wasn't any good at it), c) fewer interests (comic books and drawing were big with me back then), and d) perhaps a better mode of transportation than a bicycle.

But even if I'd taken video gaming more seriously, I'm not sure I'd have reached the smileless obsessiveness of guys like Billy Mitchell, who assumes a cold-blooded, take-no-prisoners pose to not only explain his achievements in his chosen hobby, but to defend the honor and presumed integrity of the record scores he's set, and makes an absolutely fantastic villain for this documentary. The story also has a perfect underdog hero in Steve Wiebe, a husband and father of two (the scene in which Wiebe plays his record-setting game while his son is pleading with him for attention is one of the funniest things you'll ever see/hear), who plays Donkey Kong as a way to console himself after being laid off from his engineering job, finds a sense of purpose in pursuing Mitchell's record score, and seeks some fulfillment in a life that's presented quite a few letdowns.

The world these people live in, or choose to enter, is so bizarre - with all of its self-imposed rules, ethics, biases, and alliances - that it almost seems like another existence (well, maybe not for those of us who spent our summers having our senses flooded by electronic beeps and jingles in darkened arcades), yet the movie gets you to feel something - whether it's sympathy, empathy, or disdain - for them, which is kind of amazing to experience.

P.S. (This doesn't count among the four sentences) To the college kid in front of me in the ticket line who opted for a different movie because he "hates documentaries," I feel sorry for you.