King of Kong, A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Rated: PG-13 for a brief sexual reference.
Length: 79 minutes
Grade: AB+AA=A
Budget: Unknown, but not much
Box Office: $678,000, but don’t let that fool you.

Directed by: Seth Gordon, who’s never made anything you’ve ever heard of.
Starring: Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Walter Day, and Brian Kuh

This is a documentary about the efforts of a recently unemployed former Donkey Kong player to beat the world record score held on the classic arcade game and then to play the holder in a live forum.

Entertainment Value: A
I love documentaries that bring bizarre little subcultures into the light, especially when they do so with a tender loving sort of tone rather than just for the sake of mockery. Spellbound is a fairly well-known version for spelling bees. Wordplay is another good one about crossword puzzle contests. But this is more than just a documentary. It’s legitimately gripping. The characters are fascinating, and there is real high drama involved in this particular story of competition, intrigue, manipulation, and pride. You won’t regret watching it.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality B+, Violence A, Language B, Illegality A
I was very surprised that this got a PG-13 rating because I thought it was so tame. There is one scene with some sexuality (I can’t explain it, you’d have to see it), and some mild profanity. I doubt young kids would care much to watch it, but this should not have been PG-13.
Significant Content: A This is essentially a movie about justice, fairness, and personal honor (of the good sort), and those themes are so overwhelmingly present and favored that it seems silly to mention anything else. Hypocrisy, lying, deception, pride, and manipulation are clearly shown as bad things. How can all this come out of a movie about Donkey Kong? You’ll just have to watch it to find out.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
I am blown away that they got so much raw and precious footage for this movie. I have no idea how they managed to get a lot of it, including being at the home of the official game records referee when Guinness Book of World Records called to ask him if he could submit some video game hi-scores for the next book. Amazing.

Discussion Questions:
~This movie moves you gently but powerfully toward nearly hating Billy Mitchell. Is this a healthy reaction? Is this a fair perspective on him? What do you think he thinks of himself when he watches this movie?
~Could you be close friends with both Billy and Steve, as Steve Sanders becomes? Is this ability to straddle both sides of this particular conflict a virtue or a defect? Could you say his ability to befriend enemies is Christian?
~Why do these records matter so much to Billy and Steve, and to so many other people? What is it about people, men in particular, that drives them to care so strongly about such competition over silly things?
~What do you think of Steve as a father? What if he had responded to his son pleading for help during the home game when he got the original score that beat Billy’s? What do you think of him as a husband? Do you (or your husband) have anything like Donkey Kong that drives you? Is it a defect to have this, or not?
~Video games are so addictive in part because they (deliberately) reward you with a sense of accomplishment which is often lacking in real life activities. Is the joy people can get from video games false or dangerous because of this?
~What does this movie have to say about personal integrity, trust, loyalty, and honor?
~Have you ever felt like an outsider trying to get creditability in the eyes of a tightly knit group of other people?
~Do you think Billy Mitchell ever cheated in this movie? Did he do anything skuzzy at all? Is there anything in him you admire?
Overall Grade: A
Seriously. Even my wife who has no interest in video games thought it was tremendously entertaining and compelling. See it. You won’t be sorry.

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