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 also got a look into the future (now the past.....*Sobs*) with Back To The Future II, and the Ninja Turtles craze was at it's peak. The world of gaming also 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 so 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 the 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 by his stepfather, and also escape the boys' father and brother who are played by guest stars Beau Bridges and Christian Slater - some heavy names for such a niche film.
As for the film itself, make no mistake - the critics were spot on when they called this a 90 minute Nintendo commercial. There are products rammed in your face at every turn, and then they beat you over the head with them until you are little more than a stump of bloody tears. If they were to piss on you then they would probably try and spell out a yellow "Nintendo" font on your still twitching corpse, so that gives you an idea of how much product placement plays a role in the movie. As for the products themselves, the focus is solely on the Nintendo NES, with multiple games for the system appearing on screen, although some ill fated add-ons such as the Powerglove make an appearance. Even arcade machines in the film host 8-Bit NES games, with insult added to injury being that these were actually ports of real arcade games. However, the Nintendo Gameboy, which was released that same year, does not make an appearance, and this is likely due to product licensing limitations. Aside form that, if ever there was an obvious ploy to sell a brand to kids, then this is it!
What the film does do is handle 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. Kids are generally annoying in real life, and so it's a fairly accurate performance.
The Wizard has often been affectionately dubbed "Rain Man for kids". It's quite an apt nickname actually, 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. 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 ways, but the fact that none of it had to appear in the film at all is highly commendable, and it gives kids who may have been going through those situations some much needed representation. 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.
Quotes from the movie have fallen into legend within gaming culture, with famous lines 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 become quote staples, and there are even two present day musical projects called Powerglove and Power Glove respectively, which are instrumental metal and 80's synthwave.
The Wizard gets a lot of flak these days, even from those who liked it as youngsters. It's undeniably nonsense with some questionable acting, but it's also harmless and innocent. Unfortunately, that makes it an easy target for bearded Nintendo hipsters to shit over, which I really don't think it deserves as the move is from a different time, and they aren't the demographic. Judged on it's film making merits alone it's a tidy little piece, and there have been far worse productions over the years (and at that time too). 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 were heavily into Nintendo.
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 fun road adventure that bravely brushes some more serious topics faced by children which probably got overlooked by snobby critics.
Put simply, it's a fun reminder for a simpler pre-internet era - an era when your whole world was a bedroom and a small grey 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.