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King of Kong

Year: 2007
Production Co: LargeLab
Director: Seth Gordon
The King of Kong is director Seth Gordon's love letter to classic gaming. If you're not geeky enough to know what that means, it's the old stand-up arcade video games like Pac Man, Asteroids and Space Invaders rather than the 32-bit, online multiplayer games of the XBox and Playstation that look more like movies.

They still have a devoted following in the US, none more so than Donkey Kong, Nintendo's 1981 hit that pits the hero of the franchise - Mario - against Kong on various construction sites.

The film charts the battle between two of Donkey Kong's most devoted characters, culminating at the showdown of classic gaming in a four-day tournament at a shabby video game parlour in the Midwest.

Sitting down to watch King of Kong, you find yourself wondering what direction the filmmakers are going to take. Will they portray the diehard gamers in the story as losers or nerds or do they genuinely love the topic to the point where these men (they're seldom women) are virtually deified?

Soon, it's obvious the characters are going to tell the sordid story all by themselves. These grown men are tragedies of an epic scale. The director couldn't have made up more ridiculous characters.

There's the out of work Washington state suburban Dad Steve Weibe, so determined to win the title he pursues it in his garage every night to the detriment of his family. The sixtysomething grandfather of classic game officialdom Walter Day, who founded the Twin Galaxies 'referee forum' in the early eighties and still treats it as an Olympic sport.

There's the younger-Woody-Allen type Robert Mruczek, who takes his job judging videogame scores so seriously you'd think he was a military strategist in Iraq.

But larger than life is champion Billy Mitchell, classic gaming's alpha male and a successful hot sauce business owner. Mitchell makes you laugh just looking at him from his long, silky mullet hairdo and kitschy character ties to his implant-encumbered trophy wife and a stunningly deluded self-image.

Alone, Mitchell is funny enough. But when Weibe's rise threatens his lordship over such a hallowed honour, King of Kong turns into a battle of bitchy snobbery of epic proportions. Mitchell visibly seethes with insecure envy, turning his hateful stare on the hero-worshipping minions who orbit him like remora when they mention his rival's name.

It's hysterically funny the way Jerry Springer is. You can't believe yokels like this exist and (scarier still) vote for the most powerful political leader on Earth.

It's also sad for the same reason, and the nexus between the two comes from mouths of babes. When the Guinness Book of World Records comes calling, it sends the classic gaming community into a lather, everyone beside themselves at the chance for such media legitimacy.

Perhaps observing the effect this has, Steve Weibe's toddler daughter says from the back seat of the family car 'some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there'.

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