It's kind of fitting that the first movie I watched upon arriving home from Sundance was, hands down, the best documentary to come out of last year's Slamdance Film Festival. It's unfortunate this film wasn't nominated for an Academy Award, but then again it doesn't feature anyone from Iraq, Michael Moore and/or a group of people who've been molested. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is, instead, a film about achieving your goals; about conquering villains and inner demons. It's about learning how to play by the rules and, subsequently, learning how to lose with grace and honor. I've recommended a lot of films in the past year, but The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is one you definitely must see. And heck, bring along the entire family -- this isn't just a film for the young at heart; it's for the young with heart as well.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters follows Steve Wiebe; an average dude living an average life with a wife and two kids. He's the kind of guy who's always had a hobby -- be it baseball or music -- but for one reason or another, has always come up short. A huge Donkey Kong fan from back in the day, Wiebe gets it in his head that he wants to try for the record -- a high score secured by the great gamer Billy Mitchell back in 1982. A score that remained on top for years and years and years ... until now. But it won't be easy; Mitchell is a celebrity in the world of gaming, as well as a self-made millionaire due to his line of hot sauce. He's a legend, who comes with a legion of fans and henchmen. Remember the Mantle/Maris home run race in 1961? Yeah, well this is even more intense.
Director Seth Gordon expertly edits the film in a way so that each character is clearly defined. Wiebe is the hero, Mitchell is the villain, and in between you have people rooting for both sides. There's the company (Twin Galaxies) in charge of documenting all high scores, and the corruption that may or may not be taking place from within. There hasn't been a doc that's been so ripe for a narrative remake in some time, which is probably why plans are already in place to turn The King of Kong into a big-screen based-on-a-true-story flick. The characters are there. The story arcs are there. And the universe is wildly entertaining. (Right off the bat, my friend and I feel John C. Reilly needs to play Mr. Awesome.)
But enough about the movie -- this is a DVD review, after all. And, folks, this DVD is literally packed with tons of awesome extras. It's a good thing, too, because The King of Kong is the kind of film you desperately want to see more of once the credits roll. Among the plethora of special features, you get one called The Saga Continues, which -- in true Star Wars fashion -- the events that followed the end of production scroll up the screen so that you're able to catch up with where the story is at today (however, I found the scrolling went way too fast and needed to read the thing twice). Another fun feature are the Q&A's from various festival appearances, featuring Wiebe, director Seth Gordon and even one that includes Steve Sanders (a fellow gamer who plays Mitchell's sort-of-henchman, but later seems to turn). One very cool feature is a side-by-side Kong comparison which shows both Mitchell and Wiebe's high-scoring videos with commentary from the director. These are videos we see bits and pieces of during the film, and so it's cool to see them both side by side to get a feeling for how each plays.
I absolutely adored the menus, which are set up to resemble the start menus of a classic arcade game (you can even view the DVD credits, which scroll up like the end credits of an old game). Additionally, you get two sets of commentaries -- one by Gordon, producer Ed Cunningham and associate producers Clay Tweel and Luis Lopez. The other features IGN's Chris Carle and i am 8-bit founder John Gibson. Speaking of i am 8-bit, there's also a feature dedicated to the unique art exhibit. Then you have a slew of extended interviews, lots more bonus footage, a really really brief history of Donkey Kong, an arcade glossary and trailers. And that's just on the DVD; there's also a bunch of stuff on CD-rom too. Oh yes, like your favorite video game, this DVD will keep you busy for hours.
It's a doc, so video quality is what you'd expect, and the audio comes in 5.1 surround (though it's rarely utilized). But this isn't a film you watch for the audio and video; it's a film you watch for the story, the human factor. Regardless of whether you love or ever loved video games, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters isn't really about gaming. It's about going after what you love by playing fair with respect and honesty. And how nice it is to watch a documentary where you actually feel good at the end. Buy this DVD tomorrow. Trust me, it's worth ever quarter.