Video game adaptations are a notoriously difficult genre to get right. More often than not, they fail to capture what made playing them a source of such great fun and entertainment. Instead, it is often where films have deconstructed the video game style or genre that there has been more success, such as Jumanji, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, or even more recently, Free Guy.
The high scores (both critically and commercially) are reserved for documentaries about gaming. The unofficial leader board is currently topped by the incredible The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a 2007 doc which follows Steve Wiebe’s attempt to take the high score record for the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong. Now, player two has entered the game in the form of Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest.
Mads Hedegaard’s documentary follows the adventures of Kim “Cannon Arm” as he attempts to become the first player ever to play an arcade game for 100 consecutive hours. There are some who might scoff at the idea of breaking a world record for the longest time spent on an arcade game. To them, it isn’t in the same league as running the 100m race in less than 9.58 seconds, completing an Iron Man race, or winning the Premier League. Yet, to gamers like Kim and many others, this is their Super Bowl.
King of Kong highlighted how competitive players can be when it comes to setting records, and how rivalries akin to the Yankees and the Red Sox can be born from someone beating someone else’s Donkey Kong score. That is why Hedegaard’s decision to film the lead up to Kim’s record attempt in the style of a sports movie is an ingenious one.
The film quickly establishes that attempting to play a game for four straight days and nights is something that the human body is not built to do. One man attempting this alone would surely result in failure. However, Kim is not one man; just like a boxer preparing to go 12 rounds with the championship title holder, “Cannon Arm” has a whole team behind him.
His fellow gamers and friends develop a training programme for him, working out a timetable of when he can take breaks, putting together a nutrition plan of energy drinks, power bars, and more, and pushing Kim to receive a full physical exam from a doctor. With his training sequence soundtracked to 80s classics like Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero“, it really does feel like a Rocky-style underdog story. Complete, of course, with the obligatory, motivational montage: “We’re gonna need a montage!”.
It is not just physical and mental stamina that’s needed to complete this challenge. An arcade machine like Kim’s chosen game, Gyruss, was not designed to be played for that long. As the gamers explain, there is a limit on the number of lives (256) that can be accumulated before the game crashes. It is therefore vital for Kim to keep his number below the maximum: this also allows him to take breaks, by burning through lives.
As Kim begins the final game, it becomes very clear that Hedegaard has done a terrific job building to this moment. One is completely invested in the challenge and willing for our hero to succeed. No spoilers here as to the final outcome of course, but Cannon Arm and the Arcade Questis a testament to the notion that no man is an island. It might be a solitary game to play but to succeed, one needs friends in this life.
Cannon Arm And the Arcade Quest screened at the BFI London Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is TBA.
Read our interview with director Mads Hedegaard.