The Wizard (1989)

The Wizard

Nowadays, the term video game movie connotes something rather different than in the past. We hear video game movie and we instantly think of terrible adaptations of classic video games like Street Fighter, Doom, and pretty much anything made by Uwe Boll. Rarely has there been a movie inspired by video games about video games. That sounds strange, but somehow director Todd Holland’s The Wizard manages to fit and not fit that description accurately.

Fred Savage, of Wonder Years fame, stars as Corey, the older brother of Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) who has been living in a special home for the past two years. Jimmy hasn’t acted “normal” in two years and says just two words: “California” and “Jennifer.” Their parents Sam (Beau Bridges) and Christine (Wendy Phillips) are divorced and their older brother Nick (Christian Slater) has taken to disobeying Sam regularly and drinking.

While everyone thought Jimmy might be getting better since living in a special home, things hit the breaking point when he (again) randomly walks out of the home and the police have to pick him up miles away on the highway. His stepfather talks of sending him to an institution, to which no one seems to care but Corey. This gives Corey the idea to break Jimmy out and embark on a random trip, just the two of them.

To Corey’s unknowing surprise, everyone is upset at the notion of the two traveling alone. Their mom hires a private investigator who specializes in finding child runaways. Their dad and older brother also set on their own quest to find the two boys, much to the annoyance of the private eye as they share more than a few run-ins.

Along the way, Corey discovers Jimmy is incredibly adept at playing video games, even though he’s never touched a controller before. Seeing this as his way to prove to everyone that Jimmy doesn’t need to be institutionalized, he sets on a journey to Video Armageddon, a video game tournament in Los Angeles, California with a grand prize of $50,000. On the road, they are aided by a young travel-smart-girl-who-knows-truckers named Haley (Jenny Lewis).

It seems easy enough for the three kids to get to L.A. in three days; all while getting Jimmy enough practice to learn all 97 NES games in preparation for the tournament. But, the three get robbed at least twice and resort to using Jimmy to swindle unsuspecting video game enthusiasts out of the money they need to just get to California. All hope seems lost on more than one occasion.

Watching this movie for the first time in ten years brought back incredible memories. The NES stole thousands of hours away from my childhood, and looking back at the great games shown in the movie — Contra, Super Mario Bros, the incredibly hard Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Metroid — reminded me of how that time was proven well spent.

As a child, I probably saw The Wizard as a showcase for video games. Now, I realize the real story of the movie is the strong relationship between Corey and Jimmy, how they both really love each other. Their family, broken apart by tragedy, mends itself while looking for the two. Who would have thought video games could fix families when all fingers pointed to them breaking families up?

It’s a coming of age story, although not in the same vein as Stand By Me or Explorers. As a road movie, Corey learns about the importance of friendship and never giving up while traveling the open road, albeit via walking and hitchhiking. Three is a charm, and everyone gives each other the strength to keep on going. Although, it’s funny how the writers figured out how to throw a love triangle into the movie.

The Wizard drips with pure 80s nostalgia — from the jokes to the music to the clothes.

The DVD includes the movie in 1:85:1 widescreen, but unfortunately has no special features. It is worth noting that this movie first showed Super Mario Bros 3 in any public form.

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