Documentaries these days are borderline drama. Rather than strictly document, the filmmakers want to elicit some sort of emotive response. Unlike filmmakers like Ken Burns or Errol Morris, the filmmakers of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters want you to root for the heroes and boo at the villains. It feels more like an underdog tale than like a documentary about competitive video gaming. And is any of this a bad thing? Not at all.
The King of Kong follows the rise and fall of both Billy Mitchell, a fabled gamer who holds records in various games, and the lowly Steve Weibe who is unemployed, possibly autistic (at least his mother thinks that) and is your average Joe American dad. As Weibe rises to the top and beats the all-time high score in the classic Donkey Kong, a series of insane events, from people coming to his house to investigate his machine to Billy refusing to play a live match against him, it seems nothing can go right for the man. The life of Steve Weibe is the foremost interesting part of the film. The second thing that makes this documentary such a fun moviegoing experience is the insider look into the world of Competitive Gaming. The world of gaming goes well beyond every high school thug trying to be better at the latest Madden game. These guys, mostly 30 somethings who grew up with the original games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, compete for free to be the best. The coveted Kill Screen, in which the memory capacity for games ends and you automatically die, is their one true goal. The glory of holding a World Record is more important to most than fame and fortune.
Where the movie kind of lags is in the over-the-top dramatization of the story. Yes these are real people, but a recent A.V. Club interview with Billy Mitchell shows that maybe everything in the documentary isn't exactly documented with fairness. Whether you read this interview and agree with Mitchell or the filmmakers doesn't mean a single thing in the long run. Regardless of anything, The King of Kong is an inventive, fun movie that is one of the best popcorn films of the past few years. It's just a shame that it happens to be a documentary. This may mar the overall legitimacy of it, but by God if you don't watch it and find your self hooting and hollering for Steve Weibe to get that Kill Screen. The King of Kong is out on DVD so definitely check it out.