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The King Of Kong
cast: Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Walter Day, Brian Kuh, and Steve Sanders

director: Seth Gordon

78 minutes (12) 2007
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
The fact that there is such a thing as competitive video gaming is pretty common knowledge. However, the world this film explores, of the Twin Galaxies organisation, their monitoring of arcade game scores in the US and in particular, the struggle for the top spot on Donkey Kong is both new and fascinating. This is a world where trivialities are taken deadly seriously and where your score carries much more weight than a simple amount of points.

Steve Wiebe is a genius, a man who has formed bands, excelled at maths and never quite got the break he needs. Having been laid off from Boeing, Steve becomes obsessed with Donkey Kong and begins to attempt to beat the high score. A stay at home dad, Steve's obsession is clearly seen, or implied, as being damaging to his family but he sticks with it nonetheless.

The man Steve attempts to unseat, Billy Mitchell, is everything he isn't. A massive figure at Twin Galaxies, Billy is rich, debonair, successful and equally obsessed with Donkey Kong. A professional gamer since the 1980s, Mitchell's power and influence seems set to stand in Wiebe's way and a confrontation between the two men appears inevitable.

If this sounds like a western, that's because it is one. Wiebe is a nice, decent family man whose integrity has been pushed so far and no further, Mitchell is the local big wig with everything to lose and between them are people ranging from referee Walter Day to Roy Shildt, a professional gamer and pickup artist who has a long standing feud with Mitchell. All of them however are constantly orbiting around Donkey Kong itself, an incredibly old and difficult machine that somehow still exerts a tremendous gravitational pull. Wiebe won't be a better man if he beats Mitchell, Mitchell won't lose anything if he loses to Wiebe but somehow, no one involved can let go. What ensues sits somewhere between a debate and an all out war, with splashes of surreal humour and moments of desperate pathos thrown in for good measure.

In the end, this is a film about success; about how you define yourself and the different approaches the two men take make for fascinating viewing. The casual, borderline messianic Mitchell is presented as a masterful politician whilst Wiebe seems content simply to rely on his skill and inherent belief in the goodwill of others. How this pair resolves their differences, and who emerges on top, makes for one of the oddest and best documentaries, and films, you'll see this year. Whilst Walter Day in particular has been critical of the film's depiction of events, whether you view The King Of Kong as a documentary or as a western with added arcade machines, it's hugely enjoyable.

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