One of the more unappreciated genres in film today is the documentary. Documentaries, if done right, have the chance to be even more meaningful than a standard narrative feature film. Not only can an audience learn a large amount of information about a certain subject, but allows audiences to learn about something that really is not talked about, or just kind of under the radar. There have been some powerful documentaries like Restrepo, showing life during wartime, and also some out of the box flicks, like Exit Through the Gift Shop. While both are polar opposite topics, one about war, and one about the culture of street art, aka graffiti, both have a great deal of substance and insight.
That is what is so great about documentaries. They are some of the most out of the box flicks that are always interesting to watch when done well. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is perhaps the most odd of them all, a story about a rivalry in the classic arcade game Donkey Kong, and the culture behind the classic gaming community. Despite how odd this sounds, King of Kong is by and large my favorite documentary of all time.
The King of Kong follows two polar opposite people, an acclaimed hot sauce maker Billy Mitchell, and a down on his luck teacher Steve Wiebe. While both are vastly different, both have one talent in common, skill in Donkey Kong. The two soon begin to form a rivalry, as both compete to be the best Kong player of all time!
The King of Kong really grabs its audience, and is very engaging throughout. It takes skill to really envelop an audience completely, but director Seth Gordon makes this somewhat odd subject material really interesting. As an audience, you start to build an interest in these classic games, their history, and the people who spend their lives playing and mastering them. For something so minimal, it’s impressive that the content is not only engaging, but extremely so.
Like a documentary should, the film has a fair bit of information, and it dishes its info out well. Unlike some documentaries which feel like a lecture or school book, King of Kong presents information in a very stylish and streamlined way, making it easy to digest, while the audience is learning a fair share on the subject at the same time. Gordon thrives at this especially, using a lot of neat stylistic touches that involve the games.
For a film of this manner, its important to have the right tone, and thankfully, King of Kong does. This film does a great job of never really taking its subject matter too seriously, by having its fair share of laughs and light moments. At the same time, there are a fair share of more sentimental moments involving some of the characters as well, but the film is able to balance these along with its less serious tone.
These people in the film are just out-of-this-world, which is what makes the film so engaging. You can tell that Gordon and crew have a earnest appreciation of these people, despite at times the film showing these characters acting in a less than ideal way. That is where the movie really becomes something special, though.
Many of the people involved in the film have came out complaining about how they were depicted in the film, but honestly, it feels like they were caught red-handed as the conniving people they are. The King of Kong displays a kind of niche group of classic gamers that feels like they would all be relatively cool guys, but in reality, most of them cheat and fix things in their own way, ignoring what is truly right. The ringleader of this all is hot sauce tycoon Billy Mitchell.
One of the more interesting elements about the film is that is has a narrative-like feel to its story. On one side, the down-on his luck teacher Steve Wiebe, trying to break the Donkey Kong record, while keeping his integrity, on the other, Billy Mitchell, who chases victory no matter the cost. These two characters set-up a sort of underdog story, which turns out to be very involving and engaging. It’s impressive how the film manages this narrative, along with teaching its audiences a thing or two about the niche group of video games.
This movie surprisingly made me laugh a good amount of times, mostly just due to the insanity of some of these characters and their decisions, and put into the perspective that it’s all just over a video game. One person in particular, Brian Kuh, always got a laugh from me, just due to some of his tactics or reactions to an event.
Kill screen coming up!
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is by and large my favorite documentary of all time, and for good reason. Its balance between a narrative-like underdog story and documentary information is sublime, and it’s just a blast to watch throughout.
Do a Shot: for each time a character is caught doing something bad.
Take a Drink: during each ridiculous character moment.
Do a Shot: for the kill screen!