1989 was a good year. Bat fever was sweeping the world (literally the whole globe!) with the release of Tim Burton's phenomenal Batman, we got a look into the future (now the past.....*Sobs*) with Back To The Future II, the Ninja Turtles craze was at it's peak and the world of gaming took a step up with the release of Shadow Of The Beast on the Amiga. The 16-Bit home computers and the Sega Megadrive were starting to come in to their own but the Nintendo NES still had some mighty fight in it and a deal was struck between Nintendo and Universal pictures to produce a kids adventure film which would feature heavy product placement.
The Wizard was released in 1989 to some mixed reviews but has since become a cult classic for it's retro games theme and it's unusual stance of lightly tackling some taboo issues.
The adventure begins when Corey breaks Jimmy out of the institute and while running away discovers that his little brother, who does not speak except occasional uttering of "California" has a phenomenal talent for video games. After teaming up with bossy Haley Brooks played by now singer and musician Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley (not Kylo Ren!!!) fame they go on a cross America adventure to compete in a nationwide video games competition. On their journey they have to avoid a cruel child catcher who was sent to retrieve Jimmy and also escape the boys father and brother who are played by guest stars Christian Slater and Beau Bridges.
What the film does do is that it handles it with a surprising amount of charm. It's shot quite well, the pacing is good and overall it's a really fun adventure. Viewing it again as an adult it's easy to see the cracks. The child actors aren't great but they aren't particularly bad either becasue kids are generally annoying in real life and so it's really quite an accurate performance.
The Wizard has often been called "Rain Man for kids" as the plots of both films are extremely similar. It's not a deep film by any means (It is for for children after all) but one can't help but applaud the decision to include a focus on issues like mental health and the then largely unfamiliar concept of autism when the film could have just been a regular brats on the road fumble. There are a few other touching moments which deal with pain of divorce, abandonment and even struggle by the parents to cope after a separation which causes family tension. It's not handled in the most elegant or detailed of matters but the fact that none of it had to appear in the film at all is highly commendable. Director Todd Holland and writer David Chisholm should be applauded for putting actual effort and care in what could have been a real easy pay-cheque.
The film also has a surprisingly decent soundtrack and score with the standout track being Real Life's 1983 hit 'Send Me An Angel' used during a travel montage scene to great effect.
The Wizard has fallen into legend in gaming culture with famous quotes born out of the cringeworthy cheese wheel acting of it's child stars. Lines like "I love the powerglove.....it's so bad!" and "You got fifty thousand on Double Dragon!" have since passed into legend and there are even two present day musical projects called 'Powerglove' and 'Power Glove' respectively which are instrumental metal and 80's synthwave and are obviously influenced by the film.
It's one of those films I loved as a kid. I first saw it in around 1990-91 out of a rental shop with some friends when Super Mario Bros. 3 was just around the corner for a European release. It's a really good fun road adventure that bravely brushes some more serious topics faced by children which probably got overlooked by snobby critics.
The Wizard gets a lot of flak these days, even from some who liked it as youngsters. It's undeniably nonsense yes with some pretty bad acting but it's harmless and innocent enough. Unfortunately that makes it an easy target which I really don't think deserves and even judged on it's film making merits there have been far worse produced over the years. As an adult it can still be enjoyed as a delicious slab of pure nostalgia although it's appeal is almost entirely exclusive to people who actually saw it, enjoyed it and at the time that were heavily into Nintendo.
It's a fun reminder for a simpler pre-internet era when the only safe space you ever needed was a bedroom and a small white box with 'Nintendo' on the side.
Striding forth from his lair at Castle Stareskull one morning, Prototron decided to not reign down terror on the villagers, but instead go back inside, crack open a beer and load up Streets Of Rage 2. One hundred years later, he's still there. A avid music maker (of TERROR!) and retro gamer, he can be found whooping any and all heroes at all manner of SNK-based challenges.