There are a lot of ways I could approach this review. On one hand, this film came out in 1989 which, for some reason, really stands out to me as being one of my “better” years as a kid. Not that I had a lot of bad ones, but we did move around as a family and 1989 was one that saw some stability for me. Well until I found out that we were moving once again, but that wasn’t until later. Another perspective is that I, like many other kids, played a lot of video games. I was also a big fan of the television show The Wonder Years. Add all that up and you get…not a lot of material. All that said, I’d never seen The Wizard. It’s just one that slipped through the cracks. And, let’s face it, it was 1989 and everyone was abuzz with Tim Burton’s Batman. I was there on opening night. Nevertheless, the film seems to have a cult following, so I decided to take the plunge – three decades later.
We meet a deeply traumatized Jimmy (Luke Edwards) who may or may not be autistic, is institutionalized, his older brother, Corey (Fred Savage) kidnaps him. Jimmy has a dream to go to California and the two set off on a cross-country trek (ok, they start in Utah). They’re pursued by an older brother (Christian Slater) and the father (Beau Bridges) along with a sleazy “children’s runaway tracker” (Will Seltzer). The boys meet a little fireball, Haley (Jenny Lewis) and she and Corey managed to deduce that Jimmy is a, wait for it, “wizard” at video games. The trio decides to exploit his skills and make it to the “Video Armageddon” out in California.
Times have changed in the three decades since this film came out. Evidently in 1989 it was ok for a couple of kids to walk down the highway. Now I pass a bus stop and see a mom with her arms crossed looking to pounce on anyone who dares look in that general direction. The film is eerily predictable, but pretty fun as well. I found that the entire thing is essentially a promotional film for Nintendo which didn’t then or now, needed the help. I’ve posted a few facts about the film below, but I also find it odd that both Christian Slater and Beau Bridges would go onto make much better films in 1989 (Heathers and The Fabulous Baker Boys, respectively). Suffice it to say the film has gone onto achieve cult status, but I’m not really sure why. If this movie is up your alley, this Blu-ray is what you’ve been waiting for. If not, I doubt you’re reading this.
Video: How’s it look?
Having never seen the film before, I had no idea as what to expect. Films from the late 80’s (1989 in this case) can look great like Batman or they can look extremely dated. But this is a Shout! Select title and they have, admittedly, given it their all. This is a good-looking transfer that was sourced from a new 4K master. Colors are bright and vivid, I didn’t see a lot of noise and about the only thing that really dates the film are the outfits. Black levels are strong as is contrast and the movie has a nice sheen to it, that gives it a more film-like quality. This is a top notch effort and it paid off.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 track won’t blow the roof off the place and most of it is dialogue-driven. It’s a limited range when it comes to sound and that’s ok. Vocals are fairly good, though I always felt like Fred Savage was out of breath when saying some of his lines (and that translated to his role on the TV show that made him a star, The Wonder Years). Again, I had nothing to go on, but I was satisfied with the way this sounded. You will be too.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Audio Commentary – Director Todd Holland adds his comments on the film. Honestly, I didn’t care too much for the film so I didn’t want to dedicate another 100 minutes of my life listening to what he had to say. I did some samples, though, and it’s a nice, informative track. I’m sure fans will be pleased.
Deleted Scenes – Nearly 40 minutes’ worth are showcased here, though they’re not divided into sections or named scenes. It’s a bit hard to navigate through.
The Road to Cali-forn-ia: A Look Back at The Wizard – The film’s most robust feature is this new documentary with some principal members of the cast and crew (Fred Savage is audio-only). Director Todd Holland, producer Topolsky and writer David Chisholm along with a few “familiar faces” look back on the film, how it was pitched as a Karate Kid type of film centering around video games and the like.
How Can I Help You?: Confessions of a Game Play Counselor – Yes, believe it or not, they actually used to have “game play counselors.” We get some input from Greg Lowder, who used to be one. He also shares the Nintendo hotline and I’m guilty of calling it a few times – in it you’d call and they would share how to beat the video game you were having a problem with. I’m sure they charged for it, but I was too young to care.
A Clinical Analysis of The Wizard – Clinical psychologist Andrea Letamendi tries to break down the character of Jimmy based on what she’s seeing via his performance. It’s a valiant effort, but maybe a little too much. I mean, the kid was only 7 years old. She’d have been better off looking at Dustin Hoffman’s performance in Rain Man, which came out a year prior.
Let’s Play Gaming Expo 2019 – We once again meet the holy trinity of Luke Edwards, David Chisholm, and Ken Topolsky as they reflect on the film and answer some questions.
Post Screening Q&A – The same trio as above, only this time they’re at a bar – the Alamo Drafthouse where they field more questions.
Photo Gallery – Some of the older marketing materials used for the film.
The Bottom Line
The Wizard is a film I don’t think I’d ever seen. I knew of it. And, admittedly, it hasn’t aged that well. I do have to say that the cast is pretty top notch with the likes of Beau Bridges, Christian Slater, Fred Savage and, yes, even a mulleted Tobey Maguire. Shout’s done an amazing job with the film, bringing in new supplements and improving over the lackluster transfer put out by Universal a few years ago. For fans of the film, you’ll be in NES nirvana!
Ten Facts about The Wizard
During the final Video Armageddon scene, the last game used was “Super Mario Bros. 3.” It was meant to be revealed in the movie before it was released on the NES. The first time we got to see the game was when the film was first released in theaters.
Several NES games appear in the arcade scenes. In the late eighties and early nineties, Nintendo had an arcade cabinet called Play Choice Ten. These cabinets would allow the gamer to choose between a number of NES games and alternate freely between them until time ran out. The gamer would have to insert another quarter after they ran out of time.
The translations of some of this film’s foreign language titles include Joy Stick Heroes (Germany), Sweet Road (Japan), The Wizard of Videogames (Italy and Brazil), Videokid (France), The Little Wizard (Spain), Gameboy (Sweden), Game Over (Finland), and The Child Genius (Canada; French language).
The truck that Spanky Frank McRae borrows from “Old Pete” in the movie is the same truck driven by Sylvester Stallone’s Lincoln Hawk character for most of the movie Over the Top (1987). You can even see “Hawk Hauling” on the door as Spanky climbs of the cab during the rescue of Jimmy from Runaway recovery expert Putnam.
The sounds made by Lucas’ Power Glove as he punches its keys are the five classic tones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Participating theaters distributed issues of a pocket-sized version of “Nintendo Power” magazine called “Pocket Power.”
They don’t mention exactly what mental disorder Jimmy Woods suffers from in the film, but it’s strongly implied that it’s autism. The filmmakers decided not to mention autism by name in the film to avoid comparisons to Rain Man, which was released one year earlier.
The woman in the film who says “Roger, it’s them again” is the same woman who dies trying to get off the bus in Speed.
Jenny Lewis, who plays Haley in the film, went on to become the lead singer of the indie rock band Rilo Kiley.
A young Tobey Maguire can be seen as one of Lucas’ friends in the scene just after the three finalists for Video Armageddon are announced. He is on the far left with the mullet hair cut (see below).