Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Movie Review: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Should I see it?

Short Review: What's more pathetic than a bunch of goofballs wasting their lives playing Donkey Kong? A bigger one writing a review about them wasting their lives playing Donkey Kong.

In many ways, this is one of the better documentaries I've seen in recent years. I know its strange to say that about a movie about geeks fighting for the world record score in Donkey Kong. Many may consider this to be a frivolous movie about frivolous people. In some ways this is true, again, at it's core its just about losers attaching their self identity to their ability to score fantastically high scores on a 1980's arcade game. The arguments, conniving and shed tears in this piece are anchored in human stupidity - then again so are most things we strive after.

What did I find so wonderful about this film? First off, it is hilarious to see geeks in their natural habitat and completely unfiltered. Their awkwardness that comes from the odd mix of high intelligence/low social skill is on full display. Grown up and amongst their own, these geeks revel in their foolish pastime with glee. This peek at geeks is a superficial benefit of the film, a little deeper is where the movie takes shape.

The film follows perpetual loser Steve Wiebe as he attempts to break the world record for Donkey Kong. Amazingly, this is no easy task, not because the game is so hard (it is) but because of the competitive nature of the current champ Billy Mitchell. Mitchell has no intention of relinquishing his crown easily and manipulates the 80's arcade playing society (yes, there is one) against Wiebe. The level of deceit and competition that is shown in this movie is truly surprising.

Documentarian Seth Gordon has a perfect sympathetic hero in Wiebe and couldn't ask for a better villain than Mitchell. Gordon lays out a brilliant competition that almost seems scripted in many spots. The odd human drama in this movie plays like nerd Shakespeare and this is where the movie gets its depth. The display of our ability to squabble and actually hurt one another over things so massively trivial is striking to see. The fact that it is being played out by geeks is just the cherry on the sundae.

The natural reaction for most people is to ignore this documentary. It is about Donkey Kong after all. I'd suggest you give this one a second look. If there is any part of you that is intrigued, I'd recommend you pick it up. At the worst, you have ninety minutes of some serious nerd viewing to enjoy.

Click on the geek to see the trailer

Worldview: Regardless of the ridiculous pastime of these men, they are caught up in an ethical drama. The followers of Mitchell want nothing more than their hero to succeed over the usurper Wiebe. Mitchell pathetically plots to destroy his foe and his starstruck geek minions are more than happy to cheer him on. Wiebe, a perfect Everyman, has spent his life getting the short end of the stick and even in a world of nerds, he cannot find a break.

Mitchell for all of his winning and perceived glory is chasing a meaningless end. He boldly talks about "making history" and likens his achievements to the Red Baron of World War I (he's given to egotism). He seems utterly blind to the foolishness of his efforts, the meaninglessness of his goals. It is interesting that Mitchell's own parents casually explain that he is a manipulative guy who will do what he has to do to win. As I watched him scheme to keep his fragile identity intact, I kept thinking of a verse:

"Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun." Ecclesiastes 2:11

In the end, Mitchell is protecting an empty title, a meaningless concept maintained by men who should be doing better things with their lives. Having the best Donkey Kong score isn't inspirational (actually, Wiebe almost makes it so) and it doesn't improve things. Seeing Mitchell's willingness to be cutthroat over something so petty can be a reminder to the rest of us. What do we hold dear and protect too strongly? Is your identity invested in empty fleeting moments of glory, titles or things or is it in the only thing that actually lasts - God? A person who submits to the Lord is spared from having to cherish the frivolous. See, you can get all of that from a bunch of nerds playing games.

Cautions: I don't recall any cursing and this thing is brimming with nerds, so there's no nudity or sex (just like in real life with these guys). This isn't for the whole family since I can't imagine younger viewers getting into it. Overall, it is a safe flick for those sensitive over content.

1 comment:

Hamburg said...

You must not be aware of it, but (to quote NBC's Chuck "[This] millennium belongs to the geeks."

It's a new era. Video games, tech and gadget savvy are what are cool now.