Review of The Wizard

The Wizard (1989)
Universal Presents "Nintendo 1989: The Movie"
19 August 2010
by Dane Youssef

"THE WIZARD" isn't any new moniker or fun new twist on the classic story of a little girl from Kansas who gets caught in a tornado and finds herself not only over the rainbow, but in a wonderland of Technicolor and strange characters.

Well, at least not exactly.

This "Wizard" dealt with kids in peril, feeling trapped where they were. Video games were their outlet. One boy so disturbed, he became mute and later committed after witnessing the death of his sister. The older brothers living with the father after the divorce. When a child is lost, a family is too.

"The Wizard" open with a small, determined soul walking along a long stretch of road in the pursuit of something. Some goal, some destination. Some form of escape.

There's something... he's looking for. He's on his way... somewhere. Somewhere special, somewhere important. Somewhere he needs to be. It fades in like a sunrise... where is he going? We don't know. This boy's name is Jimmy. And he has a goal. He tells us, "California..."

Jimmy, in a major institution, yet breaking loose again and again like the family cat. One day during a visit, big brother Corey takes little Jimmy and the two break loose--together. At an arcade, Corey first-hand witnesses Jimmy is Bobby Fisher's predecessor at Nintendo. They use his skills to play for money. And because it's a road trip movie, they have to pick up a woman along the way.

It's a PG flick for little kids (once again, Nintendo fans), so it has to a preteen like them--and they have to be just friend. Her name is Haley, an adolescent drifter. She claims to know the score... and she can raise the money to get them where they need to go.

And Halley is one sizzling hustler. Wait 'til she's old enough to develop sex appeal to add to the mix.

It was my mother who recalled that old song from the "He's A Pinball Wizard" by The Who and suggested maybe that's where the movie got its namesake. The little ditty of some soul who was a wonder at that one arcade game. It was his world. Whoever he was. Well, if anyone could relate to that...

'Would've liked to hear that on the soundtrack at maybe some point.

A lot of the world said that the "Wizard" is stuffed to the gills with commercials. But no, they were wrong. "The Wizard" WAS a commercial. For Nintendo and Universal.

If we'd gotten scenes where we see Jimmy's connection to these games, how he becomes Zen, there might have actually been some real significance. We're just watching video games being played. And... that's all we as kids wanted from "The Wizard."

No really powerful piece of cinema, but to just see kids like us running loose without parental supervision and Nintendo being our source of rebellion. Children as resourceful as can be doing incredible things with the toys we played with and loved.

Screenwriter/producer David Chisholm seems to have cobbled this together out of spare plot threads and gimmicks. Usually filmmakers do this when they're just doing the obligated rush hatchet job and don't have their heart in the project they're working on. And you can tell--Chisholm doesn't love this screenplay of his. This is no personal project for him. This is just a Hollywood crowd-pleaser designed to feed the cult masses.

The choir (us) loves video games, lives for them, thrives on them. But the makers of this movie don't. They don't care about any of this except--"Here, buy this. Spend your money on..."

For all of those who belonged to the mass cult of Nintendo, this was the third coming.

Seeing it again now with older, more experienced eyes... like an old man going back into his childhood home, the bedroom we once lived in, the bed once ours, looking over our own toys and photos... and, and... what the hell was I thinking? Was that even me? Who was that?

What is "Wizard"? A film of our adoration for Nintendo from our childhood, which weaved together our love of movies featuring us kids as the heroes and our undying love of the video games.

... Jesus, what were we thinking?

Fred Savage stands as one of the finest child actors there ever was. The Savage was just that--even better. And Luke Edwards is all right for what this role calls for--acting terminally shy at all times.

For a movie about the kids and their toys, "The Wizard" holds some surprisingly good adult performances. Steven Grives as the electrified Video Armageddon Announcer who's like a British Christopher Lloyd as the charged-up Master of Ceremonies. And Will Seltzer as one scummy bounty hunter who tracks down runaways.

Beau Bridges, commendable. Christian Slater himself, a fine actor, very fine. Like fine china. And he's given virtually nothing to do in his "eldest brother" role.

Hey, the kids don't care about Bridges or Christian Slater--they care about Nintendo. Well, there's not much Nintendo either.

For some reason, after seeing "The Wizard" again with older eyes, I just somehow didn't feel like video games for the time being. I wanted to get out and physically do something. Take some real action with my life. It was a few days before I picked up a Game Boy.

As I was playing my usual "Tetris" round and trying to break my old record, I was singing quietly to myself, "He's A Nintendo Wizard..."

--Still A Game Boy, Dane Youssef
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