Saturday, April 9, 2011

The King of Kong and a Fistful of Quarters by Seth Gordon

The King of Kong and a Fistful of Quarters
Directed by Seth Gordon
Starring Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell
Run time 79 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Plot Summary: This documentary chronicles a battle between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell. They are battling for the high score in the arcade version of the video game Donkey Kong. As the documentary explains, Donkey Kong is a very difficult game that requires precise timing and skillful jumps. Gordon plays up the rivalry between Mitchell and Wiebe, potraying Mitchell as a hot sauce kingpin who seems to have a small following of goons and Wiebe as a mild-mannered friendly school teacher. The film follows each man as they go to arcades and try to get to the "kill screen," the final screen in Donkey Kong when the game ends.

Critical Analysis: Although The King of Kong and a Fistful of Quarters is about an outdated arcade game, Gordon does an amazing job of making the watcher care about the outcome of a video game score battle. Mitchell is the perfect counterpoint to Wiebe, a self-centered showboat versus the friendly nerd. Some criticize Gordon for playing this rivalry up too much since there's not much interaction between the two on film, but I got the impression while watching that Gordon performed the role of a documentary filmmaker and just let the people act as they did.

Gordon also does a great job of making this film accessible and inclusive. He explains the premise of Donkey Kong and a bit of the arcade craze to give a good background for the rest of the film. I think it can appeal to both gamers and non-gamers because of this. By adding in humor and clips of Wiebe and Mitchell during off the cuff moments, Gordon adds a human element and allows it to become more than just a film about two men playing video games.

Reader's Annotation: Billy Mitchell is the current record holder for the highest score in the arcade game Donkey Kong. Will newcomer Steve Wiebe be able to dethrone him?

Author Information: In addition to this, Gordon produced the documentary Freakonomics. Another of his documentaries, New York Doll, was nominated at the Sundance Festival in 2005. He has also made many charitable contributions to schools in Kenya.

Genre: Documentary, video games

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Why is the high score in Donkey Kong so important to Wiebe and Mitchell?

Describe the video game or other talent that you're best at.

Reading level/Interest age: 12-adult

Why I included this title: I'm a fan of documentaries and this is one of the better ones I've seen. As I said, it's inclusive and I think most anyone would enjoy watching it. "Video game people" are often sterotyped, so it was refreshing to see some of them portrayed as interesting and talented individuals.

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