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Film / The King of Kong

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Oh, it's on like Donkey Kong!

"World record headquarters, how may I help you?"
Billy Mitchell, answering the phone.

The King of Kong is a 2007 documentary by Seth Gordon about the international top score of the classic arcade game Donkey Kong. The documentary follows Steve Wiebe in his attempt to overtake the top score set by Billy Mitchell in 1982. While following Steve's training regimen and attempts at a home arcade machine to beat the score, the film also goes into how classic arcade international top scores are collected and kept through an international agency known as Twin Galaxies.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Billy seems to be a very nice, patriotic businessman, who just so happens to be a great classic arcade game player; and you will think he's scum by the end of the movie.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: invoked There is discussion about Steve's tendency of becoming hyperfocused and delving deep into one thing that happens to catch his attention, and those close to him (including his own mother and friends) speculate that he may be either autistic or have OCD. However, no formal diagnosis is presented.
  • Arch-Enemy: Billy seems to think Roy Shildt is his, many other high level classic arcade gamers agree with him; Shildt, however, does not.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Inverted. The creators of the documentary intended for the film to get a PG rating, but a single use of the word "poontang" bumped it up to a PG-13. The creators tried to appeal the rating, since that was the only thing in the film that might warrant a PG-13 and for Donkey Kong being a family product, but the MPAA declined.
  • Big Bad: Billy spends the entire movie sitting on his couch directing his friends. He has no direct interaction with the hero of the story, but thwarts him at every turn from a distance using his resources, contacts and reputation until the very end.
  • Big Eater: Brian Kuh's breakfast order in his introduction is more than what the average person would consume.
    Brian Kuh: I'm going to have ten pieces of well-done bacon. I'm gonna have four hard-boiled eggs. I'm gonna have three pancakes and, hopefully play some great games.
  • Boisterous Weakling: Brian Kuh boasts at length about how he is competing at the very top of the arcade gaming world and that he's utterly dedicated to achieving the Donkey Kong world record. As portrayed in the film, however, his own high score comes nowhere near the actual record, his attempts at unnerving Steve Wiebe go nowhere, and he primarily acts as Billy Mitchell's lackey rather than actually gaming.
  • Born Unlucky: Family and friends all say that Steve is a genius at everything he does and had the potential to achieve big things. But for various reasons (including insecurities, injuries, and pure bad luck), he's never really been able to achieve his full potential.
    Billy Mitchell: If I have all this good fortune...if everything's rollin' my way...if all these balls have bounced in my favor...there's some poor bastard out there who's gettin' the screws put to 'im.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Roy Shildt attempted to build a career as a pick-up artist and selling his techniques to others. The film shows that he hasn't been particularly successful.
  • Challenge Gamer: Steve is presented this way as he wants to prove that it's possible to break 1,000,000 points in Donkey Kong. He meticulously maps every level and practices endlessly to figure out how he can maximize his score as the game approaches its kill screen.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Walter Day comes across as being a bit spacey, enthusiastically talking about how ideas come to him like bolts of lightning and how he doesn't concern himself with day-to-day things because he's a big-picture guy. Plus, there's the fact that he wears a referee's shirt all the time because it's a key part of his public identity as the arbiter of high scores.
  • Cursed Item: Robert Mruczek remarks that the Donkey Kong machine at Funspot is particularly difficult and that some gamers, including Billy Mitchell, consider it to be cursednote .
  • Despair Event Horizon: Steve crosses this while at Funspot, as Billy's tape submission shatters his elation shortly after he sets the Donkey Kong world record and reaches the game's kill screen.
  • Double Standard: Billy Mitchell repeatedly states that only live demonstrations should count as official world records, yet sends in a dubious tape to Funspot to reclaim the world record after Steve travels there and succeeds in beating his previous records. Twin Galaxies counts as this too, given that they accepted this score after previously rejecting Steve's video taped game, although they rejected it due to his board's association with Roy Shildt and not because the score was taped.
  • The Dragon: Brian Kuh acts as this to Billy Mitchell at Funspot. He provides Billy with udpates on Steve Wiebe's progress and carries out Billy's orders to make sure Steve doesn't hold the Donkey Kong world record for very long.
  • The Everyman: Steve is portrayed as this, as someone who pursues gaming as a serious hobby outside of a regular life. He stands in stark contrast to Billy Mitchell, who based his entire life around the reputation he built as a gamer, and Walter Day, Robert Mruczek, & Brian Kuh, who've more or less dedicated their entire lives to the classic gaming community.
  • Guinness Episode: Non-TV example where what spurs Steve on near the end of the movie is when Twin Galaxies gets a contract from Guinness that they will be now the official classic arcade score-keeping arm of their business and they're turning the record submission process into a contest.
  • Heel Realization: After meeting Steve in person and seeing him play live, Walter Day realizes that Twin Galaxies has treated Steve very unfairly and sincerely apologizes.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Brian Kuh wants to be the first person to reach the Donkey Kong kill screen at Funspot, so hebrings a crowd around Steve to try and psyche him out through performance anxiety. This actually helps Steve become the first to reach the kill screen because the electricity in the air pulls him out of the zombie state he had fallen into after playing the game for such a long stretch. Brian looks absolutely crestfallen afterward.
  • Kill Screen: A live one is shown during Steve's attempt at Funspot Arcade while he is getting a new record score.
  • Nintendo Hard: One of the early scenes of the movie explains how hard this game is by making a passing comment that most Donkey Kong games don't even last a minute, the first stage is incredibly difficult, and most players who do progress never make it past the game's third elevator stage (which is the 11th stage in the game overall).
  • Orcus on His Throne: Billy Mitchell and his skills as a gamer are spoken about in hushed and reverent tones. He's mostly seen going about his business as a restaurateur, hanging around his friends, and getting updates on Steve Wiebe's progress over the phone.
  • Pac Man Fever: Averted. Since this documentary is about people who compete to get the world record on Donkey Kong, they're all actually playing the game.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Brian Kuh attempts to do this at Funspot, remarking that at the very elite levels of arcade gaming, you might want to play mind games with those you see as rivals. He starts making thinly veiled comments about "luck" and "randomness" playing a role in Steve's run, staring over Steve's shoulder, and bringing a group of people to crowd around Steve and put the pressure on him. Steve, meanwhile, isn't fazed and becomes the first person to reach Donkey Kong's kill screen at Funspot. In fact, the pressure of the crowd is what gives him the energy and focus he needs to succeed.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Billy Mitchell speaks at length about what it means to compete at the highest levels of arcade gaming, and other characters wax poetic about how good he is. Yet, he never makes a public attempt at breaking his own record during the course of the film and only submits videotapes of his purported high-score gamesnote .
  • Rage Quit: A gamer at Funspot is shown angrily packing his things and throwing them in the trunk of his car before slamming the lid down so hard that it sets off his car alarm.
  • Scoring Points: Here, the points are worth a world title.
  • Serious Business: Classic gaming is almost life-and-death for those depicted in this film. Billy Mitchell built his entire reputation on his status as an elite gamer and Steve Wiebe finds himself going through a roller coaster of highs and lows as he seeks to establish himself and break the Donkey Kong world record.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Do That: Billy sends in a tape in advance to the Funspot arcade, where Steve is attempting to beat the world record to show off Billy's new high score. Billy's friend plays the tape and Billy's new record beats the score that Steve just completed.
  • True Companions: Mike Thompson sings Steve's praises and becomes quietly furious when his friend's high score is disqualified. He pays for Steve to fly to Funspot and prove his skills in front of a live audience.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Billy Mitchell's American flag tie. He even uses "USA" as his handle in arcade games.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Used to show that Steve later officially takes back the lead from Billy.