Touching the Void (2003)

Touching the Void is a 2003 docudrama film directed by Kevin MacDonald. The film focuses on the near-fatal climb of Siula Grande in the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes attempted by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates. The film was adapted from the book of the same name which was written by Simpson and published in 1988.

The film begins in 1985 with experienced mountaineers Simpson and Yates setting out to attempt a never-before-made climb of the Siula Grande in Peru.

However, disaster strikes once both Simpson and Yates reach the summit as a storm brews which results in a major fall where Joe sustains a badly broken leg. During this ordeal, both mountaineers attempt self-rescue by lowering Joe, however, Joe eventually drops over the edge and is left suspended by the rope, however, Simon can neither hear or see his friend, leaving him in a predicament of whether to cut the rope connecting the two or wait in hope of assistance.

After being unable to pull Joe back over the cliff and gradually losing his grip on the rope, Simon realizes that there is little chance for recovery for either of them at this point which ultimately leads him to cut the rope which connected the two. Simon eventually makes his way down the mountain and back to his and Joe’s base camp where he stays to recover before departing.

However, it is revealed that Joe, who is now trapped in a large crevasse, survived his fall. He manages to lower himself further into the crevasse where he finds an exit which leads to the base of the mountain. He then spends days making his way down the mountain, persevering through a broken leg, which he attempts to keep stable using various ties and padding, frostbite, and dehydration. An exhausted Joe eventually makes it to the base camp, battered and bruised, but alive, only a few hours before Simon had intended to leave.

Touching the Void has all the attributes in making a good documentary. It has a strong narrative and very proficient camera work and sound design and uses these in presenting the story of both Simpson and Yates.

The visual features of the film are very striking. The film combines a dramatization of the events along with interviews featuring the real Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, it may also be noted that prior to the making of the film, Simpson and Yates had not seen each other for 10 years. The dramatization sequences are very well shot and feature very proficient cinematography of the mountain which was climbed whereas the Interviews were staged very nicely using a backdrop to avoid any background distractions.

The sound design in the film is very high in quality, especially in the dramatization sequences where a lot of wild track had to be used for the storm, as well as Joe’s fall into the crevasse.

In conclusion to my review of Touching the Void, this is a very well made documentary which benefits from an incredible story and narrative as well as striking visual and sound design. I would recommend that this documentary is viewed by anyone who enjoys a good documentary as I believe you do not get any better than this.

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Talk to Me (2006)

Talk to Me is a 2006 short documentary film directed by British filmmaker Mark Craig and Chronicles Craig’s relationships over a period of 20 years using answer machine tapes and photos from the time which he collected and kept over time. The recordings, which were originally kept as a diary but eventually turned into the film.

The film is interestingly presented to the viewer through a Rostrum camera which focuses on pictures relating to the voice message which is being heard at the time. This is the very first time which I have seen a Rostrum camera being used and from what I have seen, it was used to great effect.

The soundtrack is featured as a nice touch to the feature. The film begins with a light-hearted tone, using heavier music from the time as Craig reflects on past friendships and relationships, however, during the part where it is revealed his father is diagnosed with cancer, the music switched from the 80’s metal to a more soft or sad tone of music as to work with what is being presented on-screen.

In conclusion to my review of Talk to Me, I would say that this is a very interesting take on a very simple subject. The narrative is strong and is simply detailing one’s life, however, the way it is presented visually may drive viewers away as this may come off as boring, however, I believe that it is the story being told that matters, rather than visuals.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

 The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is 2007 American documentary feature which focuses on the vastly popular 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong. The film was directed by Seth Gordon and follows the story of Steve Wiebe and his attempt to beat the world high score for the game, which at the time of filming is held by Billy Mitchell

The film begins in the 1980’s, where we are introduced to Walter Day, an authority in video game scorekeeping, who during that year founded Twin Galaxies, an organization which specializes in video game scorekeeping. The organization then rises to prominence and several of its high scoring players are featured in the media as a result, one of whom is Billy Mitchell who achieved the highest recorded scores on Donkey Kong during the 1980’s and due to this remains a video game legend as of this writing. Billy Mitchell is introduced as a successful business entrepreneur who owns several restaurants and even has a hot sauce line named after himself, as well as being a legend of arcade gaming.

On the other hand, however, we have Steve Wiebe, a man who has been, at the time of filming, laid off from his job, and is described by some of his closest friends and family, including his wife, Nicole, as an unfortunate individual who at every turn has come up short due to his lingering OCD, even though he is proficient in many different areas such as; music, sports, art, and mathematics. We are given a little more insight into the life of Wiebe, being told that he was once a successful pitcher in baseball, but due to an injury sustained, he had to call it quits and since then has worked to joining the workforce once again, even going to night school to obtain his master’s degree, and it is here we find out that he comes into the ownership of a Donkey Kong machine as a pass time for in-between studying

After some research on Donkey Kong, Wiebe discovers Mitchell’s world record and begins to work towards beating this record by using his knowledge of mathematics to uncover specific pattern and timing intervals within the game, to which he eventually achieves a score of 1,006,600 points, beating Mitchell’s record score. He then submits his tape to Twin Galaxies and becomes a local news story as the new world record high score holder. However, Mitchell being suspicious of Wiebe, sends over his protégé Brian Kuh, who after some inspection discovers that the circuit board of the machine that Wiebe has been using was provided by Roy Shildt, who for years has been nemesis to Mitchell due to Mitchell’s having Shildt’s high score being brought under inspection, which in turn prevented his record receiving official recognition by Twin Galaxies and based on Wiebe’s association with Shildt, the staff at Twin Galaxies being to suspect that Wiebe’s circuit board may have been tampered with and he achieved high record score through dishonesty.

Not accepting this, Steve Wiebe then travels to the Funspot Arcade of New Hampshire to perform a live high score for Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day and other high-ranking members of Twin Galaxies as to prove his achievement was not a fluke. Wiebe also hopes of confronting Billy Mitchell face-to-face and play a head-to-head game of Donkey Kong, however, Mitchell does not make an appearance, instead choosing to again send his protégé Brian Kuh, who observes Wiebe’s play and gathers a large crowd who witness Wiebe reach the kill screen and eventually make another record high score, beating the record made by Billy Mitchell, again. However, Mitchell sends a tape through to Twin Galaxies which depicts himself making a record high score of 1,047,200 points, however, despite protests from Wiebe himself that his original record high score wasn’t accepted due to the tape being un-supervised, Twin galaxies decide to acknowledge Mitchells score, in turn make him the record holder once again.

Nine months after the drama at the Funspot Arcade, Wiebe learns that Guinness World Records are publishing several of Twin Galaxies record, including the latest score which was made by Mitchell. Wiebe and his family then decide to travel to Hollywood near Mitchells residence and challenge him to a public competition to put to rest who the all-time high scorer truly is, however, Mitchell refuses and Wiebe fails to surpass a million points. However, on behalf of Twin Galaxies, Day finally acknowledges Wiebe’s achievements and gives an apology regarding how he was treated and presents him with a special award and welcomes him to submit more high scores in the future.

It is then revealed in the climax of the film that Wiebe, in his garage, achieved a high score of 1,049,100, therefore beating Billy Mitchell’s high score and becoming the record holder.

King of Kong, as I will call it, is a very interesting feature, touching on a subject which may not be of interest to the entire public, however, those involved make it work by creating this sense of good versus bad within the narrative through the subjects Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, Wiebe being the good and Mitchell being the bad, which is further conveyed through the actions of Mitchell such as when he begins to contradict himself by stating that record scores should be recorded live as opposed to sending in an unsupervised tape, to which he then submits an unsupervised tape and his continuous sending of his protégé to observe Wiebe rather than do this himself. It is little things like this which turn the audience towards Steve Wiebe and begin to root for him throughout.

Technical wise, the feature is of a professional standard, however, there are some things I would like to point out. The camera work for a star, although good, isn’t the best I have seen from a documentary, this can be seen throughout the film in many sequences, such as; interviews, which are shot in places where there are numerous background distractions and noise, as opposed to a staged setting, there is, however, more instances of questionable camera work throughout with the cutaways appearing very shaky, giving off a very amateur hand-held vibe which should not be apparent in a production such as King of Kong.

The sound design is very good and maintains its strength throughout the feature and very much overpowers the camera work in quality. The sound is, of course, apparent in all sequences including; interviews, cutaways, voiceover and even animation. The sound used in the animation, which I will eventually be discussing, is very well done, using actual arcade sounds through its arcade-inspired animations.

As previously mentioned, the feature makes very good use of its animation sequences seen at specific parts of the film. These animations depict ongoing arcade games being played through the screen and use very good sound design as to create a very creative piece.

In conclusion to my review I will clearly state that The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a very well made documentary film, featuring all the things required to make a feature good, such as; good visuals, good sound design, and strong narrative, however, with several parts of the film feeling staged or scripted, this takes away from the realism of the story, however, nonetheless, the documentary is one I would advise anyone, interested in gaming or not, to watch.