Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007) Poster

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Billy Mitchell and Mr. Awesome are back at it again!
ElijahCSkuggs9 February 2009
I don't know what it is about these Video Game docs, but they entertain at really high levels. The King of Kong was a fantastic one driven by two amazing characters who excel at Donkey Kong. And with Chasing Ghosts it gives us a closer look into the lives of the past arcade champions.

In Chasing Ghosts you get to understand the intricacies of attaining a perfect game in Pac-Man, "realizing" that Missile Command was the manliest arcade around, discovering that some high scores are folly when it comes down to playing a certain game fairly, and even that Arnold Schwarzeneggar attained all his money by being a drug-dealin whore....I kinda had hunch about that one though.

Chasing Ghosts succeeds in many fashions, but the two that spoke to me most was seeing how good they actually were. There was one guy who was just flat out sick at Centipede. If you've played that game, you know how simple it seems to be, but when watching this dude play it's utterly jaw-dropping. And the other aspect that was truly memorable was hearing the background story to each of these gamers lives. Some had very tough roads, some didn't. Friendships were made, and some were lost. Celebrities on TV shows one day, nothing the next.

With a combination of great footage of the classic era and the portrayal of a plethora of unique personalities, this is yet another fantastic documentary on video gaming. Definitely see it if you enjoyed The King of Kong or if you have any interest in gaming at all.
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That's incredible!
JohnSeal2 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger made his fortune by selling drugs and working as a prostitute? That's perhaps the most surprising revelation of this extremely enjoyable documentary about the glory days of the video arcade. Focusing on half a dozen or so men who became temporary celebrities thanks to their prowess at such games as Frogger, Burgertime, Pac Man, and the most manly of them all, Missile Command, Chasing Ghosts features tons of archival footage and plenty of amusing interview segments. Most of these guys would happily be described as nerds, a few of them are totally over the edge, but their passion is undeniable, and who am I to criticize? After all, I spend all MY spare time watching movies--and there's even less reward for that than racking up a record score on Ms. Pac Man.
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I'm really not sure what to say.
bubblegum_brainiac7 September 2011
This movie made me laugh, sad, and look away in disgust. You all know the plot by now. Some of the people in this documentary are so over the top, it's hard to believe their real people. One guy has a mullet. A mullet! Who has a mullet in 2007? If you've seen King of Kong, you know who I'm talking about, and he's just as unlikable in this film as he is in King of Kong if you ask me. It could be the mullet that just makes me hate him though. Anyway, back to the movie, a few others have very, um, odd collections, to put it nicely. I won't ruin what they are, but they aren't things I would ever invest it. But don't get me wrong. Some of these guys seem to be normal people you would meet on the street and think nothing of. They all took their arcade gaming experience and made it either the high point of their life, their entire life, or just one thing they did in the past that it isn't really who they are now. You'll feel horrible for some of them, laugh at others, and see yourself being best friends with one or two of them. They may have been famous for similar things, but they are extremely different people.

Of course, a comparison to King of Kong is necessary, and while King of Kong is better, I still enjoyed this documentary all the same. 8/10 may be pushing it, it's probably more a 7.5. If you like documentaries, this is one to check out. If you like video games, this is one to check out. If you're really bored and want to watch a movie, this is one to check out. If none of the above apply to you, then. . . go on with your bad self.
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I'm getting older too
StevePulaski28 January 2013
Arcades are after my time, unfortunately. My only experience for years had occasionally been the scarce surviving ones that existed in those ma and pa pizzerias or in some local food shack that eventually removed it for whatever reason. They were the stereotypical "Mrs. Pac-Man." For years I never thought I'd play a game other than one that has become so iconic and archetypal you could almost visualize and play it fluently in your sleep.

Then came an arcade a close friend told me about a summer around two years ago. It was $15 to get in, and after that, "you're on your own," he told me. What he meant was there was a bright red button visible on most arcade machines that warranted a "free game" and all machines were rigged so that the button would be in effect. The second you walked in the place, you felt overwhelmed by the conglomerate of colorful, captivating electronic machines that offered cult favorites, such as the "Pac-Man" and "Donkey Kong" line of games, and those that went under the radar, "Elevator Action" (one of my new favorites) and even "TRON," based off the 1984 groundbreaker. The palace even featured tabletop arcade machines, newer machines housing the "Marvel vs. Capcom" and "Street Fighter" series, and provided their customers with a refreshment or an energy drink at little cost. It was a paradise I'm now itching to revisit just be typing this.

If that is the closest I come to a true arcade experience, then by God it was beautiful. On to the documentary at hand, Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade is a wonderfully engaging documentary that presents its subjects, arcade junkies with high scores on numerous games, with care and attention. Some of the faces we are acquainted, or even reacquainted with if you were fortunate enough to see The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, are Billy Mitchell, the "Mrs. Pac-Man" champion with a slick mullet, Joel West, possessing a high score on "Berzerk," Chris Steele, the king of "Centipede," Kent Farries, who painstakingly mastered "Donkey Kong" and "Space Invaders," and who can forget the referee of it all, Walter Day? We are told early in the documentary that the video game capital of the world is a place called Ottumwa, Iowa, which housed the Twin Galaxies arcade center where all these champions would hang out for afternoons on end and play their favorite games. Day declared himself the authority of video gaming high scores, saying the score would be official in his book if you achieved it on one of his prized machines. Day went on to publish a well-over seven-hundred page book, which he is shown writing here, that compiles the high scores on video games throughout years of playing. If he ever recovers from such a monumental effort, I'd love to hear how much money in quarters those hunks of metal made.

The most charming thing to hear from these indelible greats was probably their little tricks and primitive thinking that would go on to be pretty foreign to today's audiences. Chris Steele goes on to talk about how him and a friend would discover tricks such as the "double tap" on arcade machines, by placing a pencil's ends on two buttons and tapping the middle of the pencil back and forth, so as to hit the buttons at a rapid rate. Him and his friend would also label their high scores under the obviously ambiguous name of "WIZ," and remark with wit and humor how the question, "who is 'WIZ'?" would come up often in the arcade. It's the subtle, little welcomed things that we will miss from these establishments.

What struck me as a greater surprise was to discover how short of a lifespan arcades actually had. They were accompanied by a sudden rise in popularity in the 1980's, but by the later end of the decade, they were then met with the look of distaste. Home-gaming, made popular by Atari, but mainly Sega and Nintendo, was advancing in not only consumer-familiarity and recognition, but also stylistic and graphical attributes. Games became brighter, more vivid and fleshed out, as apposed to the redundancy of many arcade games. Not to mention, once you paid the flat rate, you could freely stay home, go to the bathroom, get something to eat, and pause your game without the fear of something happening. The moral here is that time makes you bolder, children get older, and I'm getting older too.

NOTE: Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade was released to video on demand outlets two weeks ago, but Hulu is offering the documentary in its entirety free of charge, Starring: Billy Mitchell, Walter Day, Joel West, Chris Steele, and Kent Farries. Directed by: Lincoln Ruchti.
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Reliving the glory days
Mr-Fusion29 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Setting its sights on a group of the nation's greatest arcade game players, "Chasing Ghosts" endeavors to shed light on the raging video game culture of the early 1980's. An '82 Life Magazine photo shoot brought together 16 prodigies, some of whom would go on to live in video game infamy. This film sets out to profile these men.

"Chasing Ghosts" was released at around the same time as the similarly- themed "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" [2007]; though this film doesn't have a good-vs-bad story arc, nor did it receive the exposure of the other documentary. The soft-spoken "other video game" documentary, if you will. The film is comprised primarily of recollections of those involved in that fateful Life shoot, and where they are 25 years later. Some have achieved great success, others not so much. And some have simply leveled off into a comfortable middle-age lifestyles.

The people interviewed wax nostalgic about their youth and flirtations with stardom, taking us on a nostalgic trip to the early '80s when the arcade ruled the neighborhood as a social hub. It's easy to disparage some of these men as nerds, but they were also achievers. They had the marked mental acumen and force of will to spend hours in front of a machine (usually on just one quarter) and succeed against an intimidating electronic opponent.

"Chasing Ghosts" works as a fascinating look back to an exciting period in American history. It's tailor-made for those who hung out at arcades in their youth, and still accessible to those that didn't. And it really helps to see this after having seen "The King of Kong", because it simply goes into more detail. You get to see archival footage of Walter Day, including a short clip of the man hosting Twin Galaxies (which aired on local TV). Not only that, but there's more interview footage of Billy Mitchell - and dare I say, he actually comes off here as a pretty decent guy (especially compared to the other documentary). There's even more time spent on Roy Shildt, who's an unbelievably bigger douche than Billy Mitchell's reputation would suggest. Staggeringly.

So while "Chasing Ghosts" may lack the good vs. evil drama of "Kong", it scores solid points for its in-depth approach.

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King of Kong is more interesting.
changedname18 August 2010
I agree with jfgibson73, at times it just seemed like all these guys clapping each other on the back and laughing. I thought The King of Kong had a bit more too it, and not just because of the sensationalising of parts of that movie. I had many suspicions over the accuracy of The King of Kong, it's normal for documentaries like that to exaggerate and I was aware at the time that there was probably no "maliciously taking apart his machine" etc.

I expected this to be better than King of Kong, but it just didn't hold the same interest for me. I think Walter Day came off better in The King of Kong, here he seemed a bit almost regretful of the time he's spent in videogaming. I think they were leading Mr. Awesome to say things, then cutting him off before he had a proper chance to explain what he meant.

The King of Kong glamourized the whole thing a lot more, like the guys maliciously breaking in seemed almost like something the FBI or KGB would do, you know, something that was extremely serious business. I think the whole "That's Amazing" world championship, for example, was lame and way too long. I mean it's segments like that that give videogaming a bad name. It also didn't help that some of them said they completely gave up videogames after their teens. There were some cool things about it, such as the guys showing their houses, collections, families, etc.

Overall, it was a bit like playing a couple of games at once without getting a chance to get into any of them too well. It was plot less and there was no excitement or "outcome" at the end, it was alright.
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Enjoyable and NOT Depressing Whatsoever!
gageken19 January 2014
My wife and I recently enjoyed watching this documentary. We love video game-related documentaries and collectibles, including King of Kong and Star Worlds Arcade: A Pocket Full of Tokens and I'm Heading to the Arcade. Chasing Ghosts was well presented and edited. Sure, there's no MTV-styled "reality TV" conflict set up, but this documentary is better for exactly that reason. The characters are real -- they are unique and lively individuals telling their gaming tales in their own ways. A reviewer suggested that this film is depressing because, in his judgment, the characters aren't living up to his ideals of the well-lived life. Who in fact does?

Plenty of video gaming footage. You'll enjoy riding a wave of 80s nostalgia with this one. And the icing on the cake here is the excellent music score! Break out star: Walter Day and his guitar. A fun and recommended film!
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A Look Back 30 Years to the Arcade Days...
gavin694225 September 2012
1982's Video Game World Champions share their philosophies on joysticks, groupies and life.

I enjoyed the discussion of how to make the buttons react faster by using an electric knife, a pencil, or the double tap. I cannot say I was ever so devoted to games that I felt I needed to speed up my response time. Is this devotion? Obsession? A waste of time? Hmmm.

I also loved Billy Mitchell's mullet, and the trash talking from the "Missile Command" champion Mister Awesome, who has an obsession with phallic objects. There is something seriously wrong with that guy. Mitchell may not deserve to be famous, but you cannot fault the guy for taking advantage of opportunities that come his way. Awesome, on the other hand, seems to have a warped sense of his own importance... the costume and comic book take any bit of respectability gaming might have and throws it away.
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An Overshadowed Documentary
UnknownRealmsDotNet10 July 2012
Video games. A multi-billion dollar industry. 30 years ago, only an elite few were playing the things. Chasing Ghosts takes a look at those 'losers' and props them up in all their geeky glory. A lot of fun to watch for those both in to games and not, CG evokes great nostalgia for those who grew up during the 80's. It's a shame this came out at the same time as King of Kong. Because this is a great documentary that captures the time and people it is about vividly. But KoK is an outstanding documentary on the subject matter that manipulates the audience with a deft hand. And so the victor goes the spoils, and the defeated be forgotten. A shame, because this is a good film.
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Nerd Exploitation, Mildly Entertaining, King of Kong kills this Doc
anchovyd23 March 2012
I decided to watch this movie since I totally dug King of Kong, but was ultimately let down by the way it was directed. The reason why King of Kong worked was because it was a documentary with a story. There was a hero, a villain and his minions, a showdown at the end the didn't take place but still some action happening.

This movie is a straight documentary that just shows us some old footage and photos, takes a peek into the current lives of these high scorers and shows us a lot of the Twin Galaxies guy who looks a lot like Ezra Cobb from the old 1970's Deranged movie.

My main problem is the direction of this documentary. It seems that the director thought that it'd entertaining just to exploit these video game nerds. He lets the camera linger while they laugh like nerds, shows us how most still live with their parents, one has hundreds of pet spiders and lizards, one has a mail order Mexican girlfriend. I think this all has been done before in Revenge of the Nerds but better. Here in Chasing Ghosts it isn't funny, it is disturbing and sad. It is really telling that there is not one normal guy here except for the old Berzerk / Ham Radio guy who is about 20 years older than all the other guys who were teens in the early 80's.

They really build up the suspense when they first show Billy Mitchell, the villain from King of Kong. Showing shots of his jeans, belt and hair before showing his face. He looks like more of a loser here, not as menacing as he did in the other movie although he does brag about how his restaurant was the first to bring hot wings to Florida.

Bottom line: the movie is watchable and a little interesting but more than likely you'll just come away depressed from watching how sad these people turned out. I'm sure the director thought that it'd be funny to show how nerdy these guys are and how most still live with their parents but in the end it is just sad and depressing.
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Doesn't dig deep
jfgibson7321 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I have seen a number of docs in the past year about different forms of gaming, and they have generally been pretty interesting. Part of the fascination is to look into someone else's life and compare it to yours, hopefully making you feel better about yourself. Most of the docs that I've seen don't go out of their way to emphasize how silly or odd some of their subjects may be--they are usually pretty respectful about presenting things objectively, although I am sure they edit the footage to show us the most ridiculous moments. King of Kong was the most successful of these because, I think, it was able to tell a linear story. It had some of the same story elements we are familiar with in fiction, such as exposition, and a climax. Chasing Ghosts is somewhat less satisfying because it just talks to several of the people who participated in a group photo back in the early 80's. Everyone in the picture was a "world champion" of one video game or another. Some of them still take gaming and their accomplishments pretty seriously. The movie seems content to just get by on showing us how geeky the kids grew up to be. I'm not sure what else I could have wanted; I just didn't think it was especially interesting.
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A Nice Companion To "King of Kong"
zkonedog8 March 2017
When it comes to documentaries about old-time video gaming, "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" is still the standard against which all others are measured. However, "Chasing Ghosts" serves as a nice little companion piece to "Kong" by explaining more of the history behind how the "Twin Galaxies" arcade helped video games "go national".

For a basic plot summary, "Chasing Ghosts" gives some background information on Twin Galaxies arcade by primarily focusing on the participants in the big video game championship in Iowa in 1982. Billy Mitchell (the "villain" from "King of Kong") is (of course) in on the action again, but this time surrounded by many other formidable arcade-style gaming champions who were truly the first of their kind back in the early 1980s.

For anyone who has ever experienced the thrill of playing a video game, this documentary gives some history as to how the industry became the billion-dollar mega-giant it has morphed into today. The arcades were a HUGE part of that success, with Twin Galaxies being the first arcade to recognize national champions, and "Chasing Ghosts" tells that story.

Be warned, however, that if you aren't "into" gaming at all then this is one you should probably stay away from, as without an appreciation of the industry all these guys will seem like complete losers, idiots, selfish jerks, or worse. Some of them may very well fit those descriptions, but only gamers can appreciate their extreme skill in such a specific area.

Overall, then, "Chasing Ghosts" should be watched right after "King of Kong" for some more background information on the "Arcade Wars" of the early 1980s. It doesn't have the gripping drama of "Kong", but it is at times informative, funny, and interesting.
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