Quantum fields, death and resurrection, '80s arcade culture - it's a lot to process.
Kim 'Kanonarm' Købke is a Danish chemist and grandfather during the day, but at night, he is a world-class arcade player and is on his way to setting a record for playing 'Gyruss' for 100 hours straight. Together with a crew of fellow arcade players and misfits, Kim's quest to leave his mark on the world goes through some strange and wonderful pathways...
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said that "the task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted." This is true of fellow Dane Kim Købke. There is something truly weird about 'Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest'. In recent years, there's a spate of video game / arcade documentaries, such as 'King of Kong', 'Atari: Game Over', 'Man Vs. Snake', and 'Indie Game: The Movie'. Each of them zeroed in on a particular personality or idea. 'King of Kong' took in Billy Mitchell, a controversial Pac-Man player. 'Indie Game: The Movie' was about the artistic temperaments required to make a video game singlehandedly.
Yet, in 'Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest', the documentary feels closer to a kind of video essay that mixes together '80s arcade culture and philosophy. Ostensibly, the documentary follows Kim 'Kanonarm' as he attempts to set a new world record for playing 'Gyruss', an arcade shoot 'em up from 1983. If successful, Kim will play 'Gyruss' for 100 hours straight. With the help of his friends - which include a poet, a music theory researcher, and a publican - Kim will navigate the complex and often confusing parameters of the game. If he scores over a certain amount, he wins a huge number of lives, but if he overshoots it, the game is finished immediately. There are spreadsheets and management meetings between his friends to help organise it, yet Kim seems almost blissfully unaware and smiles absently at the camera through his thick-frame glasses and tosses his mullet over his shoulder.
All while this plays out, director Mads Hedegaard narrates in monotone, rattling off flat dialogue about quantum fields, patterns in music and data, and intercutting these with flashy montages of video from the arcade heyday of the '80s. Compared with any other video game documentary, 'Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest' is markedly different. The quest in the title almost fades into the background and is eventually lost in the dreamlike state that the documentary takes on. It's hard to know if this was intentional or not, as the story finishes in an anti-climactic fashion - almost to a point where you almost miss it happening.
There's a sympathetic angle on the world of arcade culture, and a real examination of how and why people like Kim choose to spend their hours on something others might label as pointless. Is it to leave a mark on the world that they themselves are separated from? If that is so, then why do it at all in the first place? Again, for a videogame documentary, it's dense stuff and the answers aren't always as clear and precise as a high score.
As a debut documentary, Hedegaard has done something quite unique - he's managed to make a videogame documentary with a lot of depth. Nearly too much, in fact. 'Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest' delves so deep that it eventually gets lost in a morass of its own making, spiralling off and up its own hole. Despite this, it's a fascinating watch.