There’s a moment near the end of documentary The King of Kong, showing on December 10 at the Filmhouse, when, in reference to anyone trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records the eight-year-old daughter of the film’s “star” states: “Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there”. Out of the mouths of babes…
Centring around the battle by US gaming legend Billy Mitchell and unknown rival Steve Wiebe to claim the title of Video Game World Champion for the arcade game Donkey Kong, this is a film about obsession and the desire to succeed. It’s also a film that’s very much on the side of the underdog.
Travelling to the centre of competitive gaming in Hollywood, Florida, director Seth Gordon gains access to a world of men (there are few women here) who consider the local arcade to be their equivalent of the Roman arena. With the potential to be a simple enough introduction to the uber geeky surroundings of the players, Gordon strikes gold with the David vs Goliath-style scenario that develops as the story unfolds.
Billy Mitchell makes a classic baddie, his long hair and dark clothes reinforcing the image. Mitchell’s apparant unwillingness to publicly challenge newcomer Wiebe gives the film its antagonist, cranking up the tension as the story gathers pace. To say much more would be to give away the ending, but it’s fair to say that each new twist makes that final scene seem less and less certain.
While Wiebe always seems genuine and the peripheral characters, each with their unique foibles, help create a fleshed out world, it’s the portrayal of Mitchell which is unsettling. Would one of the finest gamesplayers in the world really be so scared of a challenge from an unknown quantity? Are the constant dark glances and the odd behaviour accurate or is there judicious editing going on?
Whatever the reality behind some aspects of the story, this is still an enjoyable and engrossing film about a man who is willing to give his all to a project while trying to show that sometimes nice guys don’t finish last.
Preview by Jonathan Melville
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters screens at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh on Wednesday 10 December at 21.00 as part of the Illuminations season- visit the Filmhouse website for more details.
Here’s the trailer: