Fantastic Fest 2021: Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest — Movie Review

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is screening as part of the 2021 Fantastic Fest.

Seth Gordon’s 2007 The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters has become something of a cult doc. It depicts a classic underdog story within the arcade gaming community. An unknown family man who plays a Donkey Kong cabinet in his garage at nights goes after the world record set by video gamings biggest name at the time, Billy Mitchell. (Mitchell was later accused of cheating and falsifying his achievements. His world records were temporarily stripped from him and ultimately reinstated in 2020. There remain open legal cases on the issue which have yet to be resolved).

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest, from director Mads Hedegaard, is something of a spiritual sequel to The King of Kong in its story of niche glory among average joes in the increasingly fading arena of the video arcade. But even more so it is an antithesis to Kong. Gordon’s film is framed around a fight between two seemingly superior individuals to achieve greatness. It is narrativized around a singular, almost savant talent.

Cannon Arm has its singular, savant-like figure in Kim “Cannon Arm” Kobke, who is preparing to beat the record for longest consecutive run on a cabinet (well, the record is 56 hours, but Kim is preparing to go for 100). However, the film is more concerned with the necessity for a supporting cast to complement this skill. Moreover, Hedegaard stresses that that central figure is not the most important member of this support team, but that each individual has their own full story and goals which are no less compelling and worthwhile.

Hedegaard’s focus tries to balance all of these figures, ultimately landing on a triumvirate of helping hands: Dyst, a poet and multiple world recorder holder in Puzzle Bobble; Carsten, a Donkey Kong player who works on music composition theory; and Svavar, a world record Tetris player and theoretical physicist. The film makes a point of moving outside of the Bip Bip Bar in which they play games to look at the things which intrinsically motivate them. The results are fascinating.

The challenge Hedegaard faces in capturing these subjects is that none of them are much for conversation, and when they are in their element playing their favorite cabinet the most you’re likely to hear is the occasional grunt of frustration or sharp expletive. The film even cleverly comments on this dynamic

To remedy this relative quiet, the film employs an almost never-ending voiceover. Until the film pivots to Kim’s world record attempt, the soundtrack is almost always filled with Hedegaard himself narrating. It trails off at times, drifting too far into its heady preoccupations. Frankly, it is pretty overcooked, doing way too much to try and counter-balance the visible casualness of the culture at this Copenhagen bar/arcade. One’s enjoyment of Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest may hinge on how one takes to this voiceover.

On the flip side, the world record run itself is narrated (visually, that is) in a dynamic way. For one, it is an inherently compelling subject matter to be capturing. But it is also edited in a way that emphasizes the group—again, the movie returns to being more about the whole than the one shiny part. The group becomes, through creative editing, a synchronous entity. When Kim is on a hot streak, his friends playing their games around him are hot, as well. When he’s down, so are they.

It is a clever way to extrapolate on the central theme, and it gives the film a triumphant conclusion (of sorts). Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is a feel-good doc with a lot of heart. Try as it might to be something more transcendent than that, this life-affirming focus on networks of support does suffice. I find it to be an even more compelling watch than King of Kong.

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest: B

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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