One might have never known that competitive Donkey Kong could be so full of intrigue, backbiting and petty rivalry, but then, one would think you could only dream up the character of Billy Mitchell, one of the two real-life rivals for the glory of “Donkey Kong high score”. The 2007 documentary “THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS” portrays the Sisyphean struggle of one Steve Weibe, a great geek in his own right, to beat Mitchell’s world high score on 80s arcade game Donkey Kong, and in the process achieve triumphs that he’s been unable to obtain in quote-unquote real life. Standing in his path is Mitchell himself, and the entire competitive video game establishment, which is portrayed in the film as being totally monolithic, but in actuality is about a dozen geeks and a couple guys working for official scoring agency “Twin Galaxies”.
Mitchell is the real story here, a guy so hilarious in both look and in attitude that he almost seems made up. Back when he was 18 he started setting and breaking high score records on a number of arcade video games like “Pac Man”, “Donkey Kong Jr.” and of course, “Donkey Kong”. He wears an awesome mustache-and-mullet combination that goes way beyond “hockey hair”, and would instantly provoke laughter in virtually any major or minor metropolis. Mitchell is given to wearing American-flag and Statue-of-Liberty neckties, runs a successful hot sauce business, has a wife with some fantastic breast implants, and carries with him a chip on his shoulder like you wouldn’t believe. HE alone will be the King of Kong. Any challengers to his record must be vanquished. The film lets him run his mouth and incriminate himself ad nauseum. I have to admit, some of it does seem a little staged, but then again, the filmmakers could just be outstanding at editing & arranging clips. “The King Of Kong” is very fast-paced for a documentary, and we get to meet some pretty great characters beyond Mitchell, all involved in this tiny netherworld of trying to beat previous high scores on archaic 80s video games.
I enjoyed the pace and the well-done contrast between Mitchell and Weibe. Weibe even cries at one point, and you just know that given his compulsion to “be #1 in something”, those tears are real. I think the filmmakers might’ve been able to mine the whole sad crew for laughs a little more than they did, and again, I have a sneaking suspicion that Mitchell was a little bit “coached”. But overall, this was a solid 1:19 of quality entertainment, and a rental I’ll heartily recommend.
Celluloid Hut Rating: B