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Keeping The Kong Alive

Billy Mitchell, Gamer of the Century

Folks, opening this weekend is a great little movie you must see! It's called King of Kong: Fistfull of Quarters and it's set in the world of classic arcade gaming. You know the games, the ones from the 80's like Frogger , Pac-Man , and the king of the arcade jungle, Donkey Kong . Apparently Donkey Kong is the most difficult to play, and its masters the most revered. King of Kong tells the story of two of those gaming wonders, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe.

Billy Mitchell was named gamer of the century when he was 13 and is worshiped by the hard core classic gaming community. Billy has a mullet and wears tight jeans with a tie featuring a giant American flag. He has made a small fortune producing hot sauce. In the gaming community, he's the envy of all men and the desire of all women. This fame and glory derives from his reign as the highest score holder on Donkey Kong. No one has beat him, though many boys have tried. Billy whole-heartedly embraces and stokes his own mythology. He's his own hero, prone to saying things like, "not even Helen of Troy got this much attention" or "no matter what I say, it draws controversy. It's sort of like the abortion issue." One gamer, looking earnest and profound, actually says of Billy: "he is the closest thing we have to a Jedi."

Enter Steve Wiebe. Total nice guy. Clean cut, with boyish good looks, and always just shy of the big win, whether it be in high school baseball or the job market. He's married to a strong, supportive wife and has two bright children. In fact, Steve is very bright, as well as obsessive compulsive. He gets laid off and, looking to make his mark in this world, decides he can beat Billy Mitchell's record. To that end, Steve spends his nights, after the family has long been asleep, out in the garage playing Donkey Kong. Not even a screaming child begging to have his little butt wiped can tear Steve away. Yes, they got this parental misstep on camera and it's a memorable moment. All in all, Steve is an incredibly sympathetic figure, mostly due to his regular Joe, everyman qualities. If this were a feature film, you could easily cast Tom Hanks in this role.

The ensuing competition is surprisingly riveting, especially when you consider its dramatic high points take place in an arcade, sitting in front of a video game. The movie's other winning feature is an entire cast of secondary characters who seem to inhabit an irony-free existence, rare in modern culture. They are earnest, given to hyperbole, and nothing if not committed to their sport.

I loved King of Kong ! I promise, you'll have such a good time at the theater. As of now, it's playing for only one week at Landmark's Ken Cinema. We'll be talking about it today on Film Club of the Air , so tune in. Also, Beth Accomando , KPBS film critic will be reviewing the movie here on Thursday.

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