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STUDIO: Universal Studios
RUNNING TIME: 100 mins.
• Goose Egg
“It’s for kids. And padding our obscenely large bank accounts.”
“It’s also like Videodrome, but without David Cronenberg.”
Fred (“that dude from TV”) Savage. Jenny (“that girl from Rilo Kiley who I saw in the bank once”) Lewis. Beau (“I was in Sidekicks … and your nightmares”) Bridges. Christian (“I cop and feel”) Slater. Luke (“Jeepers Creepers II”) Edwards. Will (“I auditioned for Star Wars”) Seltzer. Jackey (“Power Glove”) Vinson. Lee (“I’m in Pirates of the Caribbean 1 and 2 and you didn’t even notice”) Arenberg. Tobey (“Uncredited, third from left”) Maguire.
Two boys go on an adventure – “California.” Journey takes them into the videogame parlors of the Southwest, where they parlay the young silent type – Jimmy Woods – and his gaming skills into pocket change for their trek. In a destitute Bus Stop, they meet Jenny Lewis’ tomboyish Haley, who then tags along with her innate know how of small-time grifting and a new objective emerges – that of a video game haven in Los Angeles. Various trials of Nintendo occur, with the montages culminating just in time for Video Armageddon, a popular conquest in which several men enter, one man leaves. Throw in bright, cheerful colors, a large pulsating synth score, and copious product placements while realizing that you haven’t bought enough Nintendo games. Or Wonder Bread.
"If you don’t cut that out I’m gonna put you in
a hole in the ground next to E.T."
The Wizard is a small film that resonates today, I suppose, more because it was about the thing that made young boys hearts aflutter – yes, Nintendo. While the infamous quip – “will you play Nintendo with me?” – was light years and one distinct Joel Silver away, the genesis of such a film holds a soft spot in many deflated groins. I suspect you or your friends will be purchasing (or have already purloined) The Wizard for the dastardly, tricky nostalgia alone. Honestly, that’s what instantly guided me towards the disc like the chalice that held the blood of Christ did to the Crusaders. Except that this disc isn’t going to cure lepers or be, you know, like the son of fucking GOD.
It will, however, illuminate you. In both good and bad ways. Like any childhood film, your approaching criteria is going to differ than mine. Back in the late eighties the things that were good to me – like Ghoulies, Golan & Globus, and Gremlins – informed more to my being that any other. The Wizard quickly attached onto that and helped shape my socially awkward self. I’ve changed a lot since then and it mostly hasn’t been remotely worthwhile. In all seriousness, I’ve expanded my own cinematic bubble into the realm of everything I can get my hands on. Back then, my world was something along the lines of bootleg VHS’ of HBO late-night pornography and Tenth and Main. I was a little bit leery jumping back into such a beloved title, even if it could have been false love.
"I HATE Lifeforce!"
Thankfully it’s, as mentioned, a little of both. David Chisholm’s script contains the necessary beats as a skewed homage to Rain Man with a little bit of Ninja Gaiden for good measure. Laughably bad clunkers puncture throughout. I’m reminded of the opening scene at the dinner table. “Jesus, Corey, you’re so thick!” It’s conspicuously out of place, a line delivery rendered with such oddness. “He has to find Zelda, you have to find a house. Same difference…” is another example of the clunky deliveries that ring out throughout the film like your excitement for Turbografix-16. The flip side to this is in a scene that knows it’s over-the-top. During the end, the Video Armageddon announcer bellows “children, siblings, ANIMALS” and it balances the right amount of cheese and schlock. Probably because you could tell he was having fun with it. It’s contagious.
Coincidentally, that’s primarily what everyone in the film seems to be doing (“sit down and have fun, DAMMIT”). Fred Savage, for all of his quirks and his good looks, is instantly approachable, affable even. As a parable for the immortal Twilight Zone series, The Wizard has a lot of things in common with the early First Season episode: The Prime Mover. Savage’s character is more or less the one with the plan who institutes things. Jimmy is the one with the otherworldly abilities – in this case, it’s the synergy to meld his mind into the games with little effort. He could also be autistic, or possibly “just shy.” Haley can more or less be seen as the threat (at first) to Savage’s plans, considering she is also a Grifter with grand plans of her own. It’s when the two collaborate that they ultimately become one, using their plans to engage Jimmy into their newly formed scheme. The duo keeps demanding more and more out of Jimmy until it all comes down to a head. Naturally Jimmy wants to keep playing, but it takes an emotional arc to reach this conclusion. Like The Prime Mover, his character has a whole set of goals in which to endure that gets waylaid for the more pressing environment set upon him.
I don’t think Savage knew how prophetic this scene was about to become.
There’s the scene when Jimmy gets captured. Savage’s frustration is palpable and it’s one of my favorite moments of the film. Standing there, the entire frustrations of childhood – not being able to drive, punch crotches or even shoot a 357 magnum – register on his face; the idea of these outside forces being larger than your powerless self. But there are also those moments of counter-balance, like when a cadre of muscular beefy leather-wearing Bikers picks up the kids and the entire movie glosses over the ramifications of them driving these children around without any second glances. Or even the irrefutable harm these kids are causing their parents by up and vanishing into the night without a note. What selfish pricks. Add to that the scenes where Todd Holland’s film hits the necessary and predictable peaks and narrative valleys; you’ll be able to check them off from your movie cliché list. First comes a heart-to-heart realization, a “you’re a quitter!” scene, the “we gotta do this!” moment, and even a little TMNT bomb diffusion. God knows we’ve seen enough of that last part.
As a Director, Todd Holland has been involved in much better (Wonderfalls, Amazing Stories) and worse (and Moses sayeth unto them: KRIPPENDORF’S TRIBE). The Wizard stands somewhere in between. Using a typical amount of coverage, Holland’s film sometimes gets bogged down in conventional back and forth. It’s those moments of true excitement, Video Armaggedon’s reveal of Super Mario Brothers 3 for the prime example, that he truly shines, using a juxtaposition of sight and sound to raise one’s blood level. Unfortunately, during the climatic end battle, one of the things Holland does is effectively ruin the illusion of King Kong on the Universal City tram ride. For some reason it hit me hard as a fledgling hooligan. Revisiting the film, that bravura scene is not a puissant example of how to correctly construct a chase sequence, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t make it move full of excitement. In the end, Holland does a good job moving from point A to point B with narrative economy (credit for some of this surely has to go to D.P. Robert Yeoman, ASC, who’d go on to help out Wes Anderson) and a little help from “I live by the Groove.”
Speaking of music, one of the first things you’ll notice about The Wizard is the massive amounts of pan flute. It flutters, it dodges, it swings back and forth through the lush melodies provided by J. Peter Robinson. One wonders what possessed J. Peter Robinson to schedule the correct amount of flute scattered through his leifmotifs, but it miraculously works in conjunction with the story unfolding. The second thing you’ll undoubtedly notice is the voracious amounts of eighties pop hits that explode with all of the tact of a man arrested for racial slurs in Malibu. New Kids on the Block shows up not once, but twice – with Hangin’ Tough and You’ve Got the Right Stuff. They might even be in there a third time. Bobby Brown gets his prerequisite song, Don’t be Cruel, and even Send Me an Angel graces the audial tracks of the film during one of the more traversing entrails. They all terribly date the film and stamp it: 1989.
Aside from that, the small moments are what’ll stick with you. When Lucas fires up his Power Glove (and we all know “it’s so bad”) and has to input the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The videogames – like Rad Racer, Excitebike, TMNT, Super Mario 3, Contra, Metroid, Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, Zelda, Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon – and the fact that Lucas owns “all 97 of them.” Looking at the Video Armageddon HQ and noticing that it’s essentially the Hill Valley clock tower dressed differently. Spanky and his Truckers. Nintendo Power’s Tipline and their cabal of shoehorned, caffeine-infused programmers (this is naturally, the understatement of the year, since in reality it’s a sly subtle hint to call them for tips, tricks, and cheats). If I’m jumping around it’s because this is how I remember the film, primarily in its small scenes, even if it happened to call its main character Jimmy Woods. Somewhere, the real Jimmy Woods is smiling. And collecting some sort of skimpy residual.
The Wizard surely isn’t the masterpiece that some claim it to unrightfully be. It just happens to be topically entertaining and succeeds well … as an advertisement for Nintendo. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for from a film that demands “hey dorklips, why don’t you make yourself useful and get me a cold drink.”
Scant. Not even Scene Selection. No trailer. No featurette on the movie’s significance to the gaming industry. However, if you watch the credits, you’ll learn that there was a Power Glove advisor and its name was Novak. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image is passable and clean enough. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is exactly in conjunction with the image – adequate. Nothing special. Wishful thinking, but if only they’d had included a custom ¾ scale R.O.B. with every disc.
As a title that’s been requested for as long as digital hit the mainstream, The Wizard should and could have come with more. But it doesn’t. We might all scream that it touched our breasts, but only if we keep fooling ourselves that we don’t.
"Screw the Power Glove, what the hell is that kid thinking?"