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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Seth Gordon
Cast:
Billy Mitchell, Steve Wiebe, Mark Alpiger, Greg Bond, Walter Day, Craig Glenday, Brian Kuh, Robert Mruczek
Writing Credits:
Seth Gordon

Tagline:
Don't get chumpatized.

Synopsis:
In this hilarious, critically acclaimed arcade showdown, a humble novice goes head-to-head against the reigning Donkey Kong champ in a confrontation that rocks the gaming world to its processors! For over 20 years, Billy Mitchell has owned the throne of the Donkey Kong world. No one could beat his top score until now. Newcomer Steve Wiebe claims to have beaten the unbeatable, but Mitchell isn't ready to renquish his crown without a fight. Go behind the barrels as the two battle it out in a vicious war to earn the title of the true King of Kong.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$51.493 thousand on 5 screens.
Domestic Gross
$674.925 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish

Runtime: 83 min.
Price: $27.95
Release Date: 1/29/08

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Seth Gordon, Producer Ed Cunningham and Associate Producers J. Clay Tweel and Luis Lopez
• Audio Commentary with IGN Entertainment Editorial Director Chris Carle and i am 8-bit Founder Jon M. Gibson
• “The Saga Continues” Featurette
• Bonus Footage
• Extended Interviews
• “A Really, Really Brief History of Donkey Kong” Animated Short
• Arcade Glossary
i am 8-bit Music and Art Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer
• Sneak Peeks


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 21, 2008)

And here I thought Air Guitar Nation - all about the glories of mimed musical performances – would be the oddest documentary of 2007. Maybe it is, but The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters deserves consideration for that title, as it looks at a competition to claim the title of the world’s greatest Donkey Kong player.

Kong follows a pretty standard documentary format as we see the ongoing battle between longtime champ Billy Mitchell and upstart challenge Steve Wiebe. Mitchell set a seemingly unbeatable record of 874,300 points back in 1982 and has claimed the title of “World’s Greatest Gamer” since that time. However, Wiebe eventually topped this and even surpassed the magical million-point threshold. Some controversies follow this, and the movie investigates the whole competitive videogaming world as it looks at the Mitchell/Wiebe competition.

During the movie, we get interview segments with Mitchell, Wiebe, World’s Video Game referee Walter Day, Master’s Guide to Donkey Kong author Steve Sanders, Mitchell’s parents, folk singer John Farley, Wiebe’s wife Nicole, Wiebe’s parents, Wiebe’s brother Ryan, Wiebe’s friend Mike Thompson, Donkey Kong expert Brian Kuh, Twin Galaxies head referee Robert Mruczek, Wiebe’s students Sam Haynes and Andrew Vogt, MAPPY champion Greg Bond, Missile Command champion Roy Shildt, Twin Galaxies referee Perry Rodgers, Q*Bert contender Doris Self, Guinness World Record editor in chief Craig Glenday, Crystal Castles champion Mark Alpiger, and Billy’s wife Evelyn.

At the start, we get a sense of the guys involved in competitive gaming as nerdy but harmless. As the flick unfolds, however, things take a more sinister and downright creepy air, largely because of the smug, slimy Mitchell as his butt-kissing acolytes.

All of this makes what could’ve been nothing more than another ironic, tongue-in-cheek documentary ala the lackluster Air Guitar Nation but instead, it turns into a downright fascinating examination of a certain culture. How much of this is reality and how much gets played up by the filmmakers remains to be seen, though. They clearly want us to see Wiebe as the nice, sweet family man while Mitchell comes across as a royal prick.

Are matters truly that black and white? Probably not, mainly because Wiebe is likely a little more flawed than the movie makes him seem. Actually, to be fair, Kong does hint at his deficits. His mother thinks he’s mildly autistic, and in his least flattering scene, Wiebe ignores the needs of his crying kid – who apparently soiled himself – to continue playing DK. We can see the strains Wiebe’s obsessions causes in his family life.

Nonetheless, Wiebe is Ward Cleaver compared to the pompous, insufferable Mitchell. Again, it’s altogether possible the filmmakers play up that side of Mitchell, but he sure goes out of his way to hang himself. One look at the guy tells you much of what you need to know. With his long, romance novel hairstyle and his super-groomed beard, he looks like the 1991 ideal of a hot guy. I kept expecting the film to introduce him as the road manager for Color Me Badd. When we meet Mitchell’s wife… well, I don’t want to be mean, but she has exactly the aging casino cocktail waitress look you’d expect someone like Mitchell to wed.

It’s clearly a stark contrast between the slick, vain Mitchells and the pudgy, Middle America Wiebes, and Mitchell’s actions speak as loudly as his looks. For 23 years, he ruled the competitive videogaming roost, and this clearly went to his head. He’s totally full of himself and acts like he cured cancer, made peace in the Middle East and won the Super Bowl all on the same day. And in a horribly transparent effort to endear himself to people, he tells us that the initials he uses to sign his videogame high scores is “USA”. Funny – I thought it’d be “ASS”.

But a funny thing happens when Wiebe emerges to threaten Mitchell’s little nerd kingdom: the monarch goes into hiding – and sends his acolytes on the attack. The ruling bodies find a lame technicality to rule out Wiebe’s videotaped high score but accept Mitchell’s despite all sorts of strange anomalies. Mitchell declares that the only “real scores” are those done in public settings but refuses to participate, even when the competition is 10 miles from his house! Heck, when he shows up at a tournament, he won’t even return Wiebe’s “hello”.

The scenes in which Mitchell has to deal with this threat are probably Kong’s most entertaining. We come to hate this guy so much that it’s delightful to view his anxiety and pain. Actually, at those times, Mitchell looks like a schoolyard bully who finally has someone stand up to him. He’s stunned and sad and he doesn’t know what to do.

So he sends his peons to do his bidding. Kuh comes across almost as poorly as Mitchell. He plays Avis to Mitchell’s Hertz, though unlike the famously second-place car rental chain, Kuh doesn’t work harder; he just kisses more butt. Indeed, Kuh seems almost as threatened as Mitchell when Wiebe emerges.

Kuh clearly has latched onto his status as the world’s second-best DK player, and he’ll resort to devious means to retain it. He’s much more of the classic nerd than Mitchell, though the latter retains a lot of his nerdy core; Mitchell comes across as the geek’s comic book idea of what a cool guy looks like rather than someone who shows any real style of his own. Kuh is nerd to the core, which makes his attempts to psych out Wiebe all the more pathetic and transparent. When Wiebe arrives, you can tell that Kuh and the other gamers feel like someone has threatened their religious beliefs; they’re so sure that Mitchell is – and always will be – the man that they can’t live with any other notion.

I should probably stop here before I dig too deeply into Kong and ruin various surprises. Suffice it to say that this is an absorbing documentary that works much better than expected. Although one may anticipate a cutesy hipster take on a seemingly silly videogame competition, it turns into an interesting psychological portrait and a surprisingly compelling Rocky-style “root for the underdog” piece.


The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus B+

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Apparently shot on digital video, Kong offered inconsistent visuals.

Sharpness was erratic. Some shots showed very nice clarity and delineation, but many others could be soft and flat. There wasn’t much rhyme or reason behind this, though filming conditions definitely affected the visuals; outdoor shots looked much better than interiors, of course. Jagged edges and shimmering weren’t concerns, and I noticed no edge enhancement. As for source flaws, video grain popped up throughout the film, usually in darker shots.

Colors went with a natural palette that also seemed erratic. Sometimes the hues were pretty vivid and full, while other times they could be flat and messy. Blacks appeared decent though somewhat muddy, and shadows tended to be fairly dense. Again, all of these concerns were unavoidable results of the digital video format and the shooting circumstances, so I didn’t regard them as terrible flaws.

Similar thoughts greeted the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Kong. Not surprisingly, the mix usually presented a modest soundfield. Speech and music dominated. The dialogue came from the center and songs/score generally demonstrated good stereo imaging. That was true for material written for the film, but outside sources – such as the Cure’s “Pictures of You” – tended to suffer from mushier delineation.

Effects stayed in the realm of general ambience, so they didn’t add much. The surrounds were fairly passive as well. They contributed some mild atmosphere and reinforcement of music but I didn’t discern anything significant from the back speakers.

Audio quality remained decent. Speech could be a little edgy, and the recording circumstances sometimes forced the filmmakers to use subtitles. The dialogue was usually perfectly acceptable, though. Music varied depending on the source but seemed like a strength much of the time. The non-original songs could be a bit murky, but the material created for the flick showed nice range and power. Effects stayed a small consideration; they were reasonably accurate but nothing more than that. Overall, I thought this was an average soundtrack.

Despite its low profile, Kong comes with a pretty good roster of extras. We find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Seth Gordon, producer Ed Cunningham and associate producers J. Clay Tweel and Luis Lopez. All of them sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. We learn how they developed the project and got involved with the various participants. We also get notes on those folks as well as details about aspects of the shoot, editing, storytelling and structure, and other elements of the production.

This proves to be a lively and informative chat. We get good background about various elements of the flick and find out how it came to be. The guys maintain a loose and fun tone; they even teach us a good drinking game to accompany the flick! The commentary works well as it tells us a lot about the production and entertains along the way.

For the second track, we hear from IGN Entertainment Editorial Director Chris Carle and i am 8-bit founder Jon M. Gibson. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. For the most part, this piece takes a Mystery Science Theater 3000 vibe, as Carle and Gibson adopt an ironic tone and crack wise about the participants. They also chat about their videogame experiences, the history of Nintendo and related subjects.

You shouldn’t expect a lot of substance from this discussion, as it mostly consists of comedic banter. They don’t have any particular insights into the film, but they manage to make this a reasonably interesting piece. Hey, any guys who mock Billy as much as they do are okay with me; they even run through diagnostic criteria to classify him as narcissistic! (And I fully agree with that.) Though the look at Nintendo’s history is okay, there’s nothing terribly meaty here. The snarky tone gets a little annoying at times, but it’s a decent listen.

A brief piece called The Saga Continues runs a mere one minute and 48 seconds. In it, we get a text update on Donkey Kong high scores since the movie’s completion. I’m sad to say this is a revenge of the Sith situation, as evil Billy reclaimed his top score. I say the bastard cheated!

Next comes 51 minutes and 55 seconds of Bonus Footage. Across these, we get “Festival Q&As” (10:42), “Steve Sanders Reacts” (6:08), “The Stylings of Billy Mitchell” (2:29), “Roy Awesome Disinformation Clip” (5:33), “The Music of Steven J. Wiebe” (4:46), “Walter Day Profile” (8:16), “Video Game Wizard – Music Video” (2:58), “Twin Galaxies News Update” (1:30), “Steve’s DK Strategies” (3:07) and “Side By Side Gameplay” (6:23). The final one comes with commentary from Carle and Gibson as they discuss the DK techniques favored by Mitchell and Wiebe.

Some of this material could’ve been incorporated into the film and feels more like deleted scenes. Much of it comes from separate sources, though. “Q&As” and “Reacts” are post-release thoughts about Kong, while “Disinformation” and “Update” show archival footage. Boy, Roy Schildt really seems like a horrible human being, doesn’t he? He makes Billy look like a nice guy in comparison. Anyway, a bit of the footage is a waste of time – like the “Music Video” – but most of it is good to see. Will it surprise anyone when Mitchell’s teen stepdaughter tells us that he uses a ton of hairspray?

Extended Interviews fill a total of 41 minutes and 35 seconds. In these, we hear from Billy Mitchell (5:36), Steve Sanders (2:41), Robert Mruczek (4:31), Brian Kuh (7:47), Greg Bond (4:03), Joel Hedge (4:13), Dwayne Richard (0:59), Mark Alpigea (3:19), Todd Rodgers (2:55), Doris Self (2:36) and Abdner Ashman (2:51). The best parts here come from the material with the guys we barely see in the main documentary. I hate to say it, but man, are some of these guys weird! They so strongly fit the stereotype of what you’d expect from obsessive videogame players that they’re almost too good to be true. The footage is consistently interesting, though it’s easy to figure out why most of the material failed to make the final film.

At only 63 seconds, ”A Really, Really Brief History of Donkey Kong” Animated Short lives up to its name. It provides a quick look at the development of the game. If you already heard the story in the commentary, you’ll know most of this info.

A few gaming terms pop up in the moderately helpful text of the Arcade Glossary. 11 stills appear for the i am 8-bit Music and Art Gallery. This shows fan art created for the website along with some “beeps and blips” tunes. This may be the nerdiest DVD supplement ever.

As usual, some ads open the DVD. We get clips for Be Kind Rewind, Harold and Kumar 2, Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show, Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina and Justice League: The New Frontier. These show up in the Sneak Peeks area as well, and we also find the trailer for Kong.

I think 2007’s most hissable movie villain didn’t come from any of the summer action blockbusters. Instead, I’d nominate the arrogant and absurd videogame “champion” Billy Mitchell. As depicted in The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, he presents himself as the slimiest of baddies, and he helps make the movie quite fascinating. The DVD presents average picture and audio plus a strong roster of extras. This is a perfectly solid release for an absorbing documentary.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8947 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main