Monday, February 08, 2010

Favorite Movies of the Past Nine Years - #7

7. The King of Kong (2007)

I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to be the center of attention. I wanted the glory, I wanted the fame. I wanted the pretty girls to come up and say, "Hi, I see that you're good at Centipede."
- Walter Day, "The King of Kong"

Begin with the obvious. It's a movie, in large part, about video games. Specifically about Donkey Kong, the ur-classic arcade video game of most Gen-Xers' childhoods. For a self-professed gamer, that's one point in its favor.

Next up, there's a decent amount of history here. You might even consider it 'secret history', not because it's been hidden away, per se, but because most folks probably don't care much about it. But you can find out a lot about the pastime of competitive video gaming, as well as the founding organization that brought it into public view, at least for a moment in 1982: Twin Galaxies.

(I can also see in Walter Day, the founder of Twin Galaxies, an older version of a friend of mine who had a similar combination of organizational drive and desire to make a permanent mark on the world. Verisimilitude, then, racks up another point.)

Now, throw in a whole crap-ton of controversy:

  • The film itself presents Billy Mitchell, the man whom Twin Galaxies recognized as the world-champion Donkey Kong player in 1982, as the major villain, and Steve Wiebe, a former Boeing engineer and Redmond, Washington area school teacher whose quest to dethrone Mitchell makes up the dramatic heft of the film, as the main hero. The director, Seth Gordon, claims that he actually lightened up Mitchell in the film, using only those moments that would be applicable to the story he was telling, and that using more of Mitchell's actual personality would have resulted in a far darker film.
  • Walter Day, the founder of Twin Galaxies, has posted on the Twin Galaxies internet forum that he believes the film is dishonest with a number of facts regarding the Donkey Kong record, including the presence of a third player, Tim Sczerby, in the race for the title who does not appear at all in the film.
  • Blogger and pundit Jason Scott (who himself created a documentary about the early days of computer bulletin-board systems, takes the charge of dishonesty up another notch with a post on his blog, ASCII, claiming, among other things, that Gordon played so fast-and-loose with the facts that the reaction from sources for his own potential video-game-history documentary decided not to cooperate, fearing that Scott would manipulate their stories as much as Gordon is alleged to have done. (Scott doesn't claim the movie is bad, just dishonest and damaging to the genre of capturing the true history of early computing, including video games.)

So you can watch the movie on the level that the director intended, reveling in the 'sad sack mokes good despite conspiracy to defeat him' storyline presented there. You can look deeper and see more complex patterns not just among the principals, but between the filmmaker and those he's interacting with.

And of course, along the way, you can learn a crap-ton about a subject geekier than most of us will ever really want to know about; assuming, of course, that you end up trusting the movie after finding out about the online controversy.

What's not to love?

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