Written by Paul Monopoli

Released 1989

By Universal

Starring Fred Savage, Jenny Lewis, Beau Bridges, Christian Slater, Luke Edwards

How do you sum up a movie that’s about a young boy who wants to go to California, & ends with becoming a Nintendo master? Well I guess I could say it’s about a young boy who wants to go to California, & ends with becoming a Nintendo master, but that would be repeating myself… The Wizard is an 80s memory for a lot of kids who grew up in that time, but a lot of people may not have seen it in years if at all. It hasn’t been released on DVD in Australia at the time of writing this, but I picked up the US version for $10AU on Ebay. BARGAIN!

So what are my thoughts on the movie? Timeless classic? Or major disappointment?

I’ll start by saying it’s not for everyone. Infact upon viewing the film, my girlfriend Danielle walked out & started doing something else part way through citing that she was bored. It’s slow moving in places, but let’s be honest, back in the late 80s the main reason kids wanted to see this movie was for the Nintendo factor & to catch a glimpse of Super Mario Bros 3.

The film begins with the police searching for a missing boy. This boy turns out to be Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards), one of the 3 main characters of the movie. The police find him but the only thing he will say is “California” over & over again. They take him home & his Mother dumps him in a mental institution as Jimmy is a bit loopy. A psychologist attempts to explain what she thinks is wrong & talk her out of sending Jimmy there but the Mother’s partner isn’t having any of it. Meanwhile his half brothers Nick (Christian Slater) & Corey (Fred Savage who was of course “Kevin Arnold” from The Wonder Years), who live with their Father (the parents are divorced) are upset about it, but the Father claims there is nothing he can do about it as the Mother has custody of Jimmy.

& yes that is Beau Bridges, Earl’s Father from “My Name is Earl”

Corey sneaks Jimmy out of the mental institution & they head to California, though Corey still has no idea why Jimmy wants to go there at this stage. On the way they meet the streetwise Haley (Jenny Lewis) who joins them on their journey. They discover Jimmy is a video game “Wizard” & Hayley suggests he enter the “Video Armageddon” tournament that is being held at Universal Studios (& yes this is a Universal movie).

Haley of course wants a cut of the prize money, so continues to tag along with them. Corey agrees so he can prove to his parents that Jimmy isn’t insane & doesn’t need to be locked up. They journey to the tournament by walking or hitch hiking, Jimmy practices his Nintendo skills, they gain money by betting on Jimmy winning games, & meet Jimmy’s future rival Lucas & his Power Glove.

Along the way we find out why Jimmy wants to go to California & the real reason Haley wants a share of the prize money. Jimmy & Corey’s parents are understandably concerned, so the Mother hires Putnam, a bounty hunter (though he is never called that) to bring the kids in, while the Father & elder brother Nick go after the kids on their own. Obviously this causes a conflict of interest, because if the Father brings them in then Putnam doesn’t get paid.

Putnam, the kids & parents all make it to Universal Studios. Putnam chases the kids around & nearly prevents Jimmy from making it to the stage for the finals. Jimmy does make it in time, wins the tournament by beating Lucas & another player & then gets to honour the memory of his deceased twin sister in California which was his whole reason for wanting to go in the first place.

That’s a brief synopsis. Now this movie has been criticised for years for not giving a terribly accurate representation of video games. Let’s deal with that now, because you can’t mention The Wizard without mentioning these “problems” with the movie. So here we go:

– “You got 50,000 on Double Dragon”

Honestly… it’s not possible to get that score in 5 minutes unless you’re using a Game Genie or Action Replay. Plus you see Jimmy playing 5 minutes later & on level 3 he only has 29,000 points.

– Lucas playing Rad Racer with the Power Glove

Seriously that has to be a mistake! NO ONE plays with a Power Glove this well.

– “That’s the magic flute. Use it, use it, it opens the warp!!”

& how do you even KNOW about warp whistles Haley? Mario Bros 3 introduced warp whistles & it was a brand new, never before seen game at the time.

As for the warp whistle, warping in Mario is not the way to get points. I say this because in the movie Jimmy gets a huge score boost for using the warp. If anything the fact that you’ve skipped a few worlds means your end score will be lower, but Mario isn’t about points so no one really cares about that.

I won’t even ask how he knew where the whistle was in the first world fortress…

– The Father playing the NES

Seriously… it’s not a fault per se, but it’s laughably bad acting. That man is NOT playing a NES.

– The announcer says the Jimmy died in world 2. OK… well how come this still looks like world 1?

The film itself tries to be a feelgood family movie, but it’s clearly nothing more than a movie length Nintendo commercial. Aside from the errors mentioned above, there are some other questionable things about the movie that irritate me such as:

How does showing you’re a video game master prove that you’re NOT insane? Back in the 80s most parents didn’t think very highly of video games, or having their kids play them so I have to question the logic here.

The story between the siblings or half siblings is confusing. I assume Nick & Corey are full brothers from a first marriage, while Jimmy & his twin sister are siblings from their Father’s second marriage, but it’s never really explained in full.

You find out in the end that Jimmy wants to journey to California to leave a lunchbox full of pictures of his twin sister inside a dinosaur gift shop? What, does he think it’s going to stay there? That no one is going to see it & think “Oh, that shouldn’t be there, what’s in here? Pics of a girl with no address, oh well that can go in the bin”. That’s what ran through my head when I first saw it as a kid & when I rewatched it recently I was thinking the same thing. Burying the box somewhere would have been better, at least that way there’s a chance it would have stayed there.

When Haley calls the Nintendo Hotline you see the support people with a NES & a TV next to them. Funny that all the games are playing by themselves…

When Corey & Haley are first discussing Jimmy’s gaming abilities in the cafe Jimmy is playing Ninja Gaiden. The screen gets covered yet Jimmy still keeps on playing it.

Maybe he really is a Wizard… On the subject of Ninja Gaiden, one thing they get RIGHT is the pronunciation of the name. The guy who signs Jimmy up for the contest does not pronounce it as “GAY-DEN”, but rather “GUY-DEN” which is how it should be.

Now, can someone explain to me how it took Putnam, the father & the kids DAYS to get to their destination, yet the Mother & her partner get there in what was probably less than half the time?

“A new game? That’s so unfair!”

In the preliminary rounds of the tournament the game was Ninja Gaiden. When the 3 highest scorers were announced it was mentioned that the final round would be played on a new game. Why does Hayley complain about this so much? Surely a brand new game means everyone is on the same level. I personally think it’s more than fair.

I have to mention that ridiculous scoring system again.

The score goes up CONTINUOUSLY. In any of the Mario games you don’t get points for simply jumping on platforms or walking like the contestants seem to here. Jimmy loses a couple of lives in the tournament which gives Lucas a massive lead for a while, but I don’t honestly see why. Maybe the scoring system has nothing to do with the Mario Bros 3 scoring system… that’s the only theory I can come up with. Even when I look at it like that though it still bothers me…

I think I need to mention a bit more about Lucas, specifically that immortal line: “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad”

I love that line, & yes Lucas, the Power Glove IS bad!! That of course is followed shortly by (in my opinion) the best line in the film:

“Just keep your Power Gloves off her pal”

You tell him Fred Savage!!

Notable mention has to go to Jenny Lewis who plays Haley. I had a childhood crush on her, & having seen recent pictures of her as an adult I can honestly say I’m crushing on her all over again.

I just had to mention that… Oh, & for the next video game tournament I enter I want THIS GUY announcing it:

The guy is an absolute legend. I also have to mention Frank McRae who plays Haley’s trucker friend “Spankey” (yes I kid you not, that’s his name in the movie) who also starred in my favourite Bond film “License to Kill”.

The whole atmosphere of the movie is pure 80s, from the music to the household decor. This was a time when Nintendo ruled the video game industry. It was an amazing time for a lot of people who are currently in their 30s & this movie represents a lot of the innocence from that era.

Before we close this review, let’s talk DVD extras for a second. There are none. Sorry, that might have been 2 seconds…

As a movie The Wizard is below average. As for it being a video gaming cult classic, well it’s definitely up there & is a record of the time that Nintendo were at their peak. If you love your video games, specifically Nintendo then you owe it to yourself to see this movie, regardless of the problems with it. At least it’s not as bad the Super Mario Bros movie. I can’t even bring myself to rewatch that piece of crap let alone do a writeup on it. I paid $10 for The Wizard & that’s about the going price on Ebay, so track down a copy & get ready for a nostalgia hit.

In 2008 there was a Wizard reunion. Yes, I kid you not, & yes Fred Savage was there, though Jenny Lewis sadly was not. There’s an excellent blog write up of this event at:

http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=8619004&publicUserId=4547783

It’s a good read, & I had no idea an hour of footage never made it into the film. Apparently it would have made some parts of the film less confusing. Here’s hoping for a director’s cut one day…

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