V.G. Movies #26: The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters.

[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]


At the beginning of this project, I briefly discussed the origins of Donkey Kong when I talked about the rare animated Mario Bros. film. To give a little more detail, the game was released to arcades in 1981 to much success in both Japan and the United States. It eventually got ported to home consoles, as well. It became so popular, it even spawned sequels Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3 (not to mention the aforementioned plumber-related spin-off).

In the summer of 1981, a man named Walter Day traveled to over 100 arcades, recording the top scores in games. He then opened up his own arcade in Iowa named Twin Galaxies and published the top score records, thus making Twin Galaxies the home of video game records. And anyone and everyone knew that if you wanted to hit the national scoreboard, you needed to either do a live performance at a recognized place such as Funspot, or submit a tape to Twin Galaxies, as its hometown became the "Video Game Capital of the World."

In 1983, Twin Galaxies created the U.S. National Video Game Team, headed by Walter Day, and included 6 original members--including a man named Billy Mitchell. Billy Mitchell is known for breaking all sorts of records. He was the first person to get a perfect Pac-Man score. He was also known for having the highest scores in Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., among other games.

And that pretty much leads us to the film. In the review, I will discuss both the film as entertainment and as a documentary. In the case of the latter, how truthful it is and the controversy behind some proclaimed editing tricks done to supposedly alter information and add bias towards and against certain characters in the film that might not have necessarily been true. So all that being said, let's get into it.


I actually reviewed this movie in this blog's early days... and going back to look at it, boy is it bad. So let's try it again. I'll start off by saying I'm not a big fan of documentaries. There are a handful I love, but I've never been big into non-fiction. When I first saw this film, I immediately fell in love with it. Not only due to the fact that it centered around video games, but because it actually had a story arch to it, something that most docs don't tend to have. Hell, it's basically a Hero's Journey. You know the Hero's Journey, right? The Monomyth? Those are typically your fantasy stories--Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. There are special situations the lead character must go through, and there are certain character archetypes that will most likely show up. And let's take a look at some of those, shall we?

The Hero. The hero typically is a rags-to-riches story, where a lowly individual rises from a farm, the Shire, the closet under the stairs... and becomes something more. In this case, we have Steve Wiebe, a man who grew up with a competitive nature but lost a lot... including his job (though he eventually became a junior high science teacher). This turned him to play Donkey Kong in his garage. Steve is incredibly easy to root for. He's an every man--somebody everyone can see part of themselves in. Unfortunately, he is undone by his association to The Fool--in this case a man who goes by Mr. Awesome and is known to want disaccreditation on Twin Galaxies. Mr. Awesome supplied a motherboard to Steve so that he could aim to break the current world record. And he's more of a self-serving douche than anything.

The Companions. The Hero can't make the quest without them. These are his family--wife, children, brother, etc. They are all completely supportive of Steve, even if they think he's going down the wrong path. And Steve isn't perfect, either, sometimes ignoring his children for the sake of a high score. There's a moment early on when his son needs him to wipe his butt, but he yells at him to stop whining and just wait a few minutes for him to finish up the game. It's a bit funny on first glance, but when you think about it... it's a bit of a put-off. But on the whole, he's a likable guy, even if his family, particularly his wife, clearly just want him to move on with his life. One might also argue that his daughter is more an Oracle, particularly with her line about people ruining their lives to be in a World Record book--easily the best and most telling line in the entire documentary.

The Villain. This world record, of course, is held by an elusive figure named Billy Mitchell, renowned in the arcade gaming industry as one of--if not the--best. Billy refuses to have anything to do with Steve. However, whenever Billy gives his pearls of wisdom and his personal code of ethics, there is often juxtaposed footage of himself blatantly going against his own code. He is shown to be a total and utter asshat and completely hypocrite. He goes against everything he says he believes in. He clearly cheats by sending in a faulty tape that has a supposedly high score on it just to stay on top of Steve's score without having to show up. He's a coward, too, refusing to show up and play Steve face-to-face, afraid it will damage his reputation. Overall, he's just somebody who you just really want to punch in the face. And every villain needs...

The Henchman. This particular man is known as Brian Kuh, a 30-something individual who basically worships the ground Billy walks on. He considers himself nothing short of Billy's apprentice and will do whatever his master tells of him. He's a guy who, as portrayed, needs a reality check, or at least a long, hard look in the mirror. He's the type of guy who is almost more annoying than Billy himself, and you could tell if Billy had shown up, Brian might have started humping his leg like a cartoon dog. In a similar yet better path, you also have a Messenger-type, who is Steve Sanders. He's a personal friend of Billy's and let's him know everything that's going on with Steve... but he has no qualms about being friendly with Steve, either, and legitimately respects the man and wishes him well. He's a middle man, somebody to help keep the peace. He sees the good in all people but really doesn't have the power to sway one way or the other. Still a good guy, though.

The Old Wise Man. Of course no Monomyth would be complete without our Dumbledore, Gandalf, and/or Obi-Wan. Walter Day is here with his infinite power and wisdom, but he's not without fault. He knows when he's screwed up and he apologizes for such. But he is also the one everyone looks up to or at least respects, both on the side of good and evil. His song interludes were cute, though his lyrics were terrible and I'm not sure they played a relevant part to the overall movie. I think some of the extraneous footage of Walter could have been trimmed down a bit.

The Quest itself is entertaining. Steve begins as the lowly, jobless family man wanting to make something of himself. He discovers he's good at Donkey Kong and hits his first empass--beating the score, but having it be unusable due to his association with Mr. Awesome. Then he goes to have a showdown with Billy at Funspot, but Billy refuses to show... still, it's a minor win over the lesser bosses like Brian Kuh. But that's when the second empass hits with the faulty video from Billy. This all leads to a climax in Billy's home turf for the Guinness Book of World Records title... which I won't spoil if you have yet to see this film. The story is totally engaging. It even keeps my attention during the closing credits with a little extra information tossed in there.

Unfortunately, not all of the information presented in this movie is 100% true. In fact, there's been a bit of controversy surrounding this film because of it. For instance, Steve and Billy are much friendlier than the film made them out to be. And in fact, they've actually played one-on-one against each other. There were other people involved that were never mentioned. Some say Billy isn't quite the douche he's made out to be and Steve isn't completely pure as he's made out to be. Even the film's director has come out saying he purposefully fictionalized some of the events through editing, mostly because it was just more entertaining that way.

Because if you haven't picked up on it yet... the Monomyth is the building block of fantasy, after all. And some really well put-together, vastly entertaining fantasy, at that.

Rating System.
Royale With Cheese


  1. Believe it or not, of all the films you have lined up for the Video Game series, this was the one I was most looking forward to you covering. See: Documentaries can be fun, too!

    For other documentaries that don't feel like stilted, bloated PBS specials: UP FOR GRABS (about the legal battle over Barry Bond's record-breaking HR ball), WHEN WE WERE KINGS (about the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle"), SUPERHEROES (about real-life caped crusaders) and, of course, BEST WORST MOVIE (about the cult appeal of TROLL 2).

    1. I actually have already seen BEST WORST MOVIE. Such a sad movie.

      Off the top of my head, here are some other docs that I've seen:

      -Exit Through the Gift Shop
      -Man on Wire
      -Waiting for Superman
      -Bowling for Columbine
      -Supersize Me
      -Confessions of a Superhero
      -Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (there's another I saw very similar to this one, as well, that I can't recall the title of)
      -Zombie Girl: The Movie
      -J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life
      -A couple Wizard Rock documentaries

      And I'm sure a few others. For the most part, I liked all of them. A few of them I loved, though.

    2. Are you thinking of American Grindhouse? That's a really fun watch, too.

  2. Nice job, Nick. Now I'm more intrigued about the untrue parts of the movie. I figured that some of the drama was cranked up for the entertainment value, but I hadn't heard that the basic facts were altered. I'll second Nolahn's choices of BEST WORST MOVIE and WHEN WE WERE KINGS, which are both great documentaries.

    1. They aren't necessarily untrue as much as "lies by omission" kinda things. But I think Walter Day put out a big post somewhere about all the inconsistencies from real events. And the film's director has said in an interview somewhere about some things, too.

      As for the other docs... would I enjoy WHEN WE WERE KINGS despite the fact I have zero interest in sports and don't know much about anything that happened or how the sport works?

  3. This is such an entertaining film. Billy does get the villain edit throughout, although I've seen him pop up in other films (Chasing Ghosts comes to mind) and he's kind of a douche there, too. Walter Day is sort of the unsung hero of the film to me. He seems like a guy who just wants to support something he loves.


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