The King of Kong. There, I said it. As I talk to director Adam Cornelius at IDFA, the biggest documentary film festival in the world, it’s clear his film has been compared to the hit documentary about Donkey Kong a little too much. Doesn’t he get sick of it? Marilyn Manson got sick of being compared to Lady Gaga. Ok, I guess that’s totally not the same thing. But it must get annoying sometimes?
“No, we’re fans of King of Kong,” Adam explains. “And I’m a fan of Billy Mitchell. And I’m a fan of that era of gaming. Maybe I wouldn’t even have been brave enough to make this movie if not for King of Kong. To some extend we live in King of Kong’s shadow. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The movies play off each other a little bit, I think. Because people have this expectation, based on what they saw in King of Kong.”
As we later talk about how King of Kong was made. The manipulation of facts (my words, not his) and the whole Billy Mitchell villain concept, Adam argues his film is more like a real (objective) documentary. And he is right. Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters is a movie about Tetris more than anything. It’s about the game. The movie explains how it works. What the best moves are. And that’s because, Adam says, “Tetris is just a way better game than Donkey Kong.”
But there’s more to it than that. Ecstasy of Order — I’ll stop comparing it to King of Kong now — has some very colorful characters as well. Making it one of the more entertaining documentaries at the festival. Dana, who finds out you can actually turn blocks the other way around (after playing the game for over two decades). Alex, a computer scientist who is quite possibly also a genius, playing a type of Tetris with invisible Tetris blocks. And then there’s Thor Aackerlund, former poster boy for the game in the early nineties. A guy who says he made it to level 30 (actually level 00 in the game) by using a special skill. A claim questioned by every player as we follow them preparing for a tournament to find out the number one player in the world.
There’s a nice balance between the game and the characters in the film. The latter getting the most laughs. Because don’t be fooled by the trailer, there’s more humor in the documentary than you might expect. Some intended, some not, as Adam explains in the video interview. Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters is a documentary every gamer can enjoy. And anyone who ever played Tetris can relate to — hundreds of millions if you believe the statistics. It doesn’t have Billy Mitchell like the King of Kong. But it doesn’t need it, it has Tetris.