One would assume that a documentary based on video games would be very limited, both in substance and possible audience. However, King Kong: Fistful of Quarters, manages to be a witty and clever comedy that also encompasses the classic drama of a battle between good and evil, making it a likeable film for all ages. Its story is centered on the classic arcade game Donkey Kong and the competitors who vie for the title of the game’s best player.
The main characters of the documentary are Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, near-perfect caricatures of the notions of being good and being evil, respectively. Billy Mitchell, the “bad guy”, has been the record holder of Donkey Kong since 1982. Steve Wiebe, a family man from Washington, is the challenger that no one has heard of before. A classic struggle between David and Goliath is born, only this time the arena is that of an arcade machine. At first glance, the idea of two adult men on a quest to capture the world record of Donkey Kong seems like an absolutely absurd and pathetic plot. Even Steve’s daughter puts the story in its place: “The Guinness Book. Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there.” But director Seth Gordon does a tremendous job of introducing the viewer to the competitive video gaming sub-culture and making the story meaningful.
He also uses the character Steve as someone who people can relate to and someone that everyone wants to see succeed. In the end, in fact, it’s not important what Steve is fighting to achieve, but the way he goes about it and the challenges he must overcome along the way. The movie’s plot is really unimportant as the story’s essence is its characters. Steve is on a quest to dethrone the “evil” Billy Mitchell from his placed atop the Twin Galaxies leaderboards. Along the way, Steve trains and prepares for the competition, akin to the way Rocky Balboa does in the Rocky series. Yet time and time again, Steve is cheated out of victory and forced to continue his quest. By the end, Steve has gone through so many trials and failures that you literally need to see him finally win, regardless of whether the highscore of Donkey Kong has any meaning to you.