Sunday, September 23, 2007

"King of Kong" not quite a spectator sport

My freelance review:
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I went to see the new documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Dollars."

And after seeing it, I'm not quite sure what to make of what I saw.

"The King of Kong" focuses on an aging sub-culture obsessed with arcade games of yesteryear -- games such as Frogger, Galaga and Donkey Kong. These folks don't play the games on their computers or TV. Instead, they play them on the original arcade machines that made the games popular, either at gaming arcades or in their garages.

Ultimately, the documentary focuses on the world's top two Donkey Kong players (Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe) and their battle for the top score. But first the arcade gaming sub-culture is examined in quite a bit of detail, some it directly relevant to the Donkey Kong top score battle and some of it not.

And throughout the film, there are "spectator-sport" close-ups of various Donkey Kong screens with challenges and near-deaths. Fortunately, director Seth Gordon intermixes light-hearted humor along the way via eccentricities and behaviors of the documentary's subjects.

As the documentary kicks into full gear, most of the background personalities and situations take a back seat to the two main Donkey Kong players. The documentary hones in on their lives, their families and their respective obsessions to be #1.

By this point, the film gets more black-and-white about the two middle-aged challengers, settling into a good-guy vs. not-so-good-guy battle. While I wanted to experience the thrill of competition, I wasn't quite fully engrossed.

Maybe video games aren't quite the ideal spectator sport for this reviewer.

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