In 1989, a movie was released that promised to be the ultimate film about the gamer. A movie where Fred Savage and his mentally impaired brother would fight against the powers that be (their parents) to become the video game champions of the world.
Where Nintendo would shamelessly flaunt every product they had, and at the end launch the most anticipated game of the late eighties. Where 10-year-old kids were able to travel across the country alone without ringing any bells. Where the Power Glove was king.
This movie was The Wizard, and I’m here to tell you how much it rocked. Please note, there are spoilers. Awesome spoilers.
Any retro gamer worth his salt has either heard, seen, or actually owns a copy of this flick. Next to the Super Mario Bros. Movie, it’s a classic representation of how utterly crazy people were about Nintendo in the 80s. But for those who haven’t seen this masterpiece, here’s the lowdown:
Fred Savage is Corey, a 13-year-old kid in a broken family. His half-brother, Jimmy, is autistic, and is about to be sent to a home after his parents separate and split custody of the kids.
Corey, being the headstrong kid that he his, decides to abduct his brother and run away with $20 to California, because that’s all his brother will keep babbling on about. Along the way, Corey finds out his brother is a video game genius and decides to enter him in the Video Game Championships at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, which conveniently begins in a week.
Unfortunately, the asshole side of the parents aren’t too happy with this fantasy and decide to enlist the aid of possibly the creepiest looking freak to track down Jimmy and drag him back home.
After a run-in with the freak, Corey’s dad and brother decide to take matters into their own hands and find the boys before this “runaway expert” gets his hands on them. Meanwhile, the two boys run into a young girl, Haley (Jenny Lewis, who grew up to become insanely hot), who decides to join them on their little adventure and get a piece of Corey.
Oh yes, sports fans, there is even a tiny, really awkward love story in this movie too.
Along the way, it’s mostly just kid movie slapstick – the freaky guy grabs the wrong kid at a lookout, the family learns to love Nintendo, the kids hitchhike in cake vans, there’s a camp-out in death valley, and they win money by placing bets on arcade games. It’s all quite stupid, but it’s watchable purely for the 80s hilarity factor.
That, and watching Corey’s dad getting all excited playing a NES; it reminds me of what my dad used to be like when he played Zelda. He also throws a shovel at a car. There are some classic scenes and great music. Also a lot of adults attacking children too. Very weird.
But, okay, I’ll admit the movie is pretty poor, (aside from the amazing soundtrack). The acting, plot, story, and dialogue are all laughingly dreadful, but that’s not why the movie was developed, nor why it has such a cult following. The main reason this movie kicks so much ass is because it’s a 1.4 hour Nintendo advertisement. From about 20 minutes in, everything in this movie is Nintendo.
Corey’s older brother and father are both seen in random, completely unnecessary scenes playing Super Mario Bros. 2 and Zelda 2. The scene when Corey discovers his brother’s epic gift is in a restaurant on a Double Dragon arcade machine (50,000!!). Haley is later blessed with the idea of the contest after watching him play Ninja Gaiden.
But really, it all comes down to one epic scene in the middle of the film. Some kid watches Jimmy play and remarks that he “was good, but he’d never beat Lucas“.
Apparently, Lucas is the Nintendo Kingpin of that particular desert town and brags to our trio that he has 97 games and is an elite at all of them. He even wore a black trenchcoast before Neo. Ahem. Lucas takes them back to his house where a shiny silver box is produced, garnished with Lucas’ full name.
The box is opened to display a Nintendo Power Glove. Now, it was universally known that the Power Glove was hands down the most useless Nintendo peripheral ever made. It killed the arm and wrist of the wearer, had pretty much zero advantage over a normal controller, and looked like a prop left over from Battlestar Galactica. But for Jimmy, it was his goddamn Kryptonite. Lucas kicks ass in Rad Racer with it and utters the words so famously associated with this movie.
“I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.”
I have no idea how he manages to say this with a straight face, especially while holding the glove to his chest like he’s being knighted. Pictures do it no justice; this part is a must see. In any case, Haley stares dreamily at Lucas while Jimmy turns and runs while being flanked by Corey. Lucas advises Haley that he will also be competing in the championships, to which she then walks off in a huff. Then, to be honest, nothing interesting happens till about the last 30 minutes.
Well, except for Christian Slater getting into an argument with his dad before going off to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In fact, it’s pretty much all he does in the movie anyway. His dad also has a go, playing like a spastic five-year-old while excitedly exclaiming how he got “the scroll weapon”. He later does the same thing when playing Zelda 2. Very strange. They also share a bed. I can’t even count how many extremely creepy moments are in this kids movie.
Just before they hit LA, there is a cameo by one of Nintendo’s famous Game Counselors. The trio realise that Jimmy needs to learn up to 70 games in 3 days if he is going to win the championships, so they contact a game counselor to give them all the hints and tips from a hotel phone. He’s extremely helpful for someone who speaks to kids on the phone all day.
How the hell Jimmy managed to master 70 games in three days, I have no idea, but all of them also seem to be in an arcade in Reno, Nevada. They also seem to have 13-year-old bar girls, too. For the record though, the most games in the movie feature in this part – TMNT, MegaMan 2, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Off Road, Contra, Operation Wolf, F1 Dream.
Creepy guy finds them at Reno, in which the second best line in the movie is uttered by Haley.
“He TOUCHED my BREAST!”
The cops arrest the freak. He somehow comes back to abduct Jimmy a bit later, but Haley’s trucker friends beat the shit out of him. He still manages to come back again to be a pain in the arse and punch Jimmy’s dad in the face.
Eventually the kids get to Universal Studios just as the competition is about to begin. After a super excitable guy dressed like Mario signs them up, Jimmy blitzes his way through the heats, with Lucas right on his tail. The tournament seems to work on a points system; whoever gets the most points in that particular NES game wins the round.
It doesn’t take long to get to the final round, where $50,000 is up for grabs, and the the unveiling of a new game. A curtain is raised and Super Mario Bros 3 comes up to complete awe. It’s worth knowing that SMB3 released soon after this movie opened in theatres, so it was exciting for everyone. I personally, being eight at the time, was thrilled.
Of course, Jimmy wins, they find out why he’s mental (dead sister, who is never mentioned or referenced in the entire movie, traumatized him) and they all live happily ever after. The one thing I want to know is how the hell Jimmy knew exactly how to get the raccoon suit and fly up to the top on the first world.
I didn’t even know how to do that. Prodigy my ass, he just got lucky.