Movie Review: King Of Kong Meets Spinal Tap In Going For Golden Eye

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Video games and movies often make uncomfortable bedfellows; just look at the Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993 and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s equally risible Street Fighter flick. However, sometimes the combining of these two mediums can yield positive results; King of Kong is one notable example. Jim Miskell’s Going for Golden Eye has a lot in common with that 2007 cult smash, but it’s a “mockumentary” rather than a straight documentary and also takes a large dollop of inspiration from Rob Reiner’s seminal 1984 movie This is Spinal Tap, the film that arguably birthed the genre.

The film follows the (fictional) 20th annual GoldenEye World Championships, an event which has slowly seen its importance and popularity wane since the glory days of the Nintendo 64 as competitive gaming has embraced online play, and Rare’s ’90s classic has been superseded by the likes of Halo, Call of Duty and Overwatch. Clive (Terence J. Corbett), the ageing and rather unsettling organiser of the championships, laments the lack of interest and falling attendance in one of the film’s genuinely emotional moments. “Why don’t people care about GoldenEye anymore?” he forlornly utters to camera, articulating the sentiment of a many a Nintendo fan, we’re sure. Despite diminishing returns, the 20th anniversary event is arranged in earnest, and we’re introduced to Ethan (Daniel Bruce), dubbed “The Golden Child” thanks to his incredible skill with the N64 controller. He’s the winner of the 19 previous GoldenEye World Championships and clear favourite to scoop the title again.

Ethan’s character has clear parallels with real-life gaming champion Billy Mitchell, who was portrayed in a less-than-positive light in the aforementioned King of Kong. Ethan is arrogant about his talent, boastful of his achievements and – most importantly – totally oblivious to the fact that the world has moved on from GoldenEye. He has his own fitness video (on VHS, of course) and posters at the event proclaim that he was voted “Sexist Gamer” back in 1999. Ethan is a superb comic creation whose self-important speeches provide many of the biggest laughs. “The annals of history only remember winners…” he says in one scene, before naively challenging the camera crew to name the leader of Nazi Germany in World War II.

We’re also introduced to Ben (David Burnip), who assumes the Steve Wiebe role of the hopeless underdog; still living with his parents at the ripe old age of 33, he’s obsessed with the N64 to the point where he has put the rest of his life on hold (“These games don’t let you know like people do. Apart from sometimes when they don’t work and you have to give them a little blow”). While his friends have moved on to get married and have families, he remains locked in the past and looks to Ethan as a role-model and hero; he has followed his career over the past 20 years with awe. He is convinced to leave the comfort of his bedroom and enter the 20th GoldenEye World Championships in an attempt to make something of his life and step out of the shadow of the villainous Duncan (Brendan Barclay), who bullied him at school and is now dating Ben’s childhood sweetheart. Ben is accompanied to the championships (which are set in a small Yorkshire pub) by his larger-than-life friend Tom (James T. Daltry), who sees the trip as a means of escaping his family life; he also covets Ben’s beloved painted N64 controller, “Goldie”.

If all of this sounds a little too straightforward, it’s worth pointing out that scenes are peppered with hilarious dialogue, visual gags and impeccable one-liners which appear out of nowhere and leave you in stitches – just like Spinal Tap, in fact. There are countless quotable lines on offer here (many of which feature language which isn’t fit to publish here – this isn’t a kid’s movie, that’s for sure) and one moment which is equal in its comic impact to the infamous “tiny Stonehenge” in Spinal Tap (no prizes for guessing what the gag is, as it’s in one of the photos on this page). Ben’s parents (Ben Blackwood and Susan Woodard) and butch younger brother (Steven Hooper) also supply some amusing lines and throughout the film we’re given chucklesome soundbites from characters named after members of the original GoldenEye team at Rare.

Produced on a small budget by Miskell’s own independent production company, Going for Golden Eye is one of those rare projects which is borne out of love for a particular moment in time yet manages to entertain regardless; even if you have absolutely no idea what GoldenEye is and have zero interest in gaming, the humour on offer here is universal. King of Kong pulled the same trick a decade ago, presenting what was a very niche subject – video game high-score chasers – and dressing it in such a fashion that even those who had never picked up a controller could watch and appreciate it. Going for Golden Eye plays things for laughs but is no less successful when it comes to providing accessible entertainment.

Granted, the film’s tiny production budget does become glaringly apparent at points and there will be those who are irked by the fact that emulation is used for gameplay (let’s face it, straight capture from the N64 would have looked terrible) but the witty script, excellent comic acting and tight pacing (it’s under an hour long) allow it to overcome these limitations. Fans of the game will love it – there are loads of in-jokes which will instantly chime with anyone who remembers playing Rare’s classic all those years ago – but gamers in general will pick up the rich humour, too; everybody knows an Ethan in real-life, a player who takes themselves far too seriously. There’s plenty here for those who know nothing about ’90s gaming too, and who knows, those individuals may even seek out the original game off the back of this movie.   

Going for Golden Eye won’t get a major cinema release or attain the widespread global acclaim that King of Kong did, but that doesn’t make it any less deserving of your attention; we’ve not laughed so much during a film about video games since we watched Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead (only with this film, the laughs are intentional).

Going for Golden Eye will be available on DVD, Blu-Ray and video on demand later this year.

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