They've made a widely praised documentary about a bitter rivalry between the world's two best "Donkey Kong" players. If they could, they'd cast Johnny Depp as the world's most notorious "Kong" player and tackle an "Arkanoid" rivalry next.
Earlier this week, MTV News sat down once more with Ed Cunningham and Seth Gordon, producer and director, respectively, of "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," which chronicles the arcade battle between longtime top player Billy Mitchell and upstart Steve Wiebe. The film opens this weekend.
Over the last several months, the documentary has generated significant buzz, including stellar reviews from film festivals and praise from the likes of Eli Roth and Kevin Smith. Of the movies opening this weekend (see " 'Superbad' Wants Some Box-Office McLovin, In Projection Booth"), it is far and away the best-reviewed, scoring 28 positive reviews of the 29 logged on RottenTomatoes.com (at press time).
As hype for this sports-drama-style doc has grown throughout the summer, so too has the rivalry between Billy and Steve. "Billy has pushed some buttons in Steve that maybe other people wouldn't have pushed," Cunningham said.
There's been a lot of drama. "This thing has been going on forever," Gordon said. "We stepped in for a while. And it's continuing. And it seems like the same kinds of stuff as there ever have been."
In May, in an exclusive MTV News interview, Mitchell defended himself from what he sees as a documentary that vilifies him (see "Ex-'Donkey Kong' Champ Finally Speaks After Getting Bruised By New Doc"). In June, associates of Mitchell and the arcade world record-keeping organization Twin Galaxies spent part of the annual Funspot Classic Gaming Tournament scrutinizing tapes of Steve's runs for signs of foul play. In July — after telling MTV News he hoped the doc would silence critics (see "Donkey Kong' Record Holder Says New Flick Settles His Score") — Steve Wiebe played sessions of "Donkey Kong" at the San Diego Comic-Con to hype the movie and show off his undeniable skills. And, for those unafraid of clicking through to read a spoiler, this summer also saw the "DK" record established in the film toppled.
Cunningham and Gordon spent the summer polishing the documentary. They weren't able to include the latest high-score twist — that will be addressed in the DVD release. "There will be a 'But ... but ...' in the DVD extras," Cunningham said. "Maybe even a 'But ... but ... but.' "
While they never got to interview "Donkey Kong" creator Shigeru Miyamoto, Cunningham and Gordon did screen the film at Nintendo's U.S. headquarters in Redmond, Washington. "It was pretty surreal," Cunningham said. At the HQ, they met a longtime Nintendo engineer who claimed to have worked on every "Donkey Kong" machine distributed in the U.S.
They've also begun thinking about a dramatization of the documentary. The outline is approved and the film is eight weeks out from a first draft. "My first idea for Billy was Johnny Depp," Gordon said of the famously mullet-ed arcade legend. "Ed Norton I thought would be good. It's really not about the hair, it's about the eyes. It's got to be a real actor." For Wiebe, Cunningham said he's "partial to Greg Kinnear." Gordon suggested Nathan Fillion from the movie "Waitress."
Among their goals for the remake, the filmmakers want to show stuff they couldn't capture on film. For instance, there was a moment recorded only on audio when Steve was approaching a record on his "Donkey Kong" machine in his garage. As he hopped barrels toward glory, his young son was yelling, "Daddy, Daddy, wipe my butt," and hitting dad with a broom. "I think it will be pretty fun physical comedy," Gordon said.
Beyond the remake, Cunningham and Gordon would still like to stage an ultimate Billy vs. Steve matchup. Cunningham said they've considered pay-per-view. "We'd love to do that. The tricky part is how do you do it? You can't do two-player because they'd get out of their rhythm. They have to play one player. Is it first to a million? To get [the current world record, 1,050,200,] everything has to align."
And while Cunningham thinks he's a bit over 'video game docs' for now, and Gordon is focused on the remake, they admit there's a great "Arkanoid" story for them to tackle someday. The top two players in that classic arcade game include a man who's in prison and a Minor League Baseball reporter who claims to have caught more foul balls than anyone else in the world — and wrote a book about it. "It makes sense that a person who understands how to break all those bricks [in 'Arkanoid'] is thinking about angles," Gordon said.
The old games have been inspiring to Gordon and Cunningham. And they may have helped these filmmakers put together the rare film that won't disappoint gamers on the big screen. But did making a film about these old games make Gordon and Cunningham better gamers?
"I'm awful," Cunningham said. "I'm terrible." He thinks his top score in "Donkey Kong" is 35,000. Gordon can get 120,000. A heated rivalry theirs is not. Don't expect a film about their skills. That's what Billy and Steve are for.
Check out everything we've got on "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters."
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