A video game movie… about video games?! The Wizard Review

In an attempt to watch video game movies , except for the in universe ones, (as in they exist besides the games as part of the same universe)  I wondered. What counts as a video game movie. BloodRayne was up next but I could not stomach Uwe Boll right now. So instead I looked for something more innocent, a road trip movie about a boy and his autistic brother, wanting to travel to California.. for unknown reasons. That is right I watched 1989’s  The Wizard.

But Pinkie! The Wizard That’s Not A Video Game?!

How Astute of you.. my dear Island guests.. or me pretending to be an Island guest! That paragraph title is Correct! The Wizard is not a video game movie in the classical sense as we do not follow the story of a video game… not that any video game movie does that ..but I mean … non of the characters in this movie is a video game character.  Instead this is a movie about video games. A boy playing video games to be exact. One could call it a 90 minute Nintendo commercial. It has received.. a fairly poor reception. Having a Metacritic Score of only 2.3 and a critic approval rating of 32% on Rotten tomatoes. With an Audience Score of 60% and a 6,1 on IMDB.. this however promises to be one of the better watches I get in all 43 video game movies I counted.  It scores less than Postal on Rotten Tomatoes though.. which is absolutely wrong. I enjoyed this movie… .okay enjoy might be a big word.. but I certainly did not hate it.

The movie was made in 1989 and directed by Todd Holland. It stars Luke Edwards as the autistic  young Jimmy Woods, who later gets the nickname the wizard. He is in an institution for his heavy form of autism. His family has broken up after his sister died a few years ago and now the boy constantly tries to run away from home to go to California. One day after his father played by Beau Bridges, kinda distances himself from the boy his brother Corey played by a young Fred Savage breaks him out angry at his father for ignoring Jimmy’s wishes. Together they travel to California but they discover.. they need money. A young girl named Hayley joins up with them and convinces them to let Jimmy play Nintendo games ..in arcades.. for money! They can use the money to travel.. when they discover that in California there is a big video game competition with a big cash price.

Divorced mother and now involved with the owner of the institution Christine hires a professional Child returner/kidnapper. This angers Father Sam who sees the error of his ways of neglect and travels along with his eldest son, played by Christian Slater in order to find his two boys!  While they travel Nick.. the Slater Characters, brings along an NES and father and son bond over playing video games like Mario 2 and Zelda 2.  While also playing a very hillbilly esque cat and mouse game with the Childnapper guy. Who finds Jimmy first.. and can he make it to California, will he win the elusive tournament or will it go to the almighty gamer Lucas.. who wields THE POWER GLOVE? All these questions as well as why Jimmy wants to travel to California will be solved in a hundred minute movie. 

Nintendoes

First of all it should be noticed that the movie has a fairly competent cast which already is a good sign. Secondly a big name to Nintendo is connected to this film. I don’t mean in the way like “yeah go ahead and make a movie about us” either. This movie was the World Wide reveal for Super Mario Bros 3 of all things. One of my all time favourites if not THE favourite Mario game.  So there was some confidence in this movie.  We also see the movies antagonist Lucas use The Power Glove, a peripheral/weird controller I talked about in the past. It’s so bad.. and hey.. that line is in the movie!  We also take a peek inside Nintendo Power magazine in america.. or the Nintendo Hotline for tips and tricks! I am not sure if it’s one and the same back here in the Netherlands it was so I assume it was a similar type of deal.  We get this type of movie we don’t really see anymore. Three kids on the road..united by friendship. It takes inspiration from movies like Stand By Me which came out three years before.  For those who don’t know that movie.. well  remember that first screen in Pokémon when you click on the tv? “Four Boys walking on a railroad.. time to get rolling myself?’ Well that’s the movie they got that from! As a result the movie has this solid “frame” to build itself onto. Which benefits it.. it does feel fairly focused..which is hard to do for kids travelling across America. 

It is also not afraid to do it’s own thing where Stand By me is very set in the wilderness this trip of the Wood Boys and Hayley is much more suburban, which comes with a different set of challenges. Challenges this movie handles fairly well. They have to deal with people wanting their money back after a lost bet, they have to deal with robbers, using their tiny statues to get what they want easily, they have to deal with stuff like.. wanting to gamble for money..but not being allowed to play in a Casino so.. having to arrange a mule. It shows Universal Studios theme park.which is funny because that later became a video game on Nintendo,, and has a few interesting choices. The kids in this movie for the most part act like kids.  For example how Hayley lies about how awesome her life is .. only to later reveal her father left her because her mom had a gambling addiction. The skills she have stem from having a gambling mother and a trucker father not from some form of greater intellect. Jimmy being so autistic he easily sees patterns in video games is a bit iffy.. but hey he’s kind of like Nintendo Rainman that’s kinda enjoyable. 

The kids deliver a fair performance and the whole being unable to communicate with your little brother thing and that sometimes they have to guess what Jimmy is feeling makes the kids part of the journey very fun to watch. It is funny so see classic NES games like  Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon and the first Turtle game  be played on camera.  While there are plenty of movies of games.. movies about gaming are fairly rare.. the only other ones that come to mind are Ready Player One, Gamer and Pixels.  All the others are exaggerations though.. this one has no superpowers, no virtual treasure, no aliens.. no this is just a story about a boy who is talented at video games. It’s “romanticised” enough to be entertaining bu in the end all this movie is about is how video games can strengthen your bonds and a trip that started because a family was unable to communicate. In it’s own way it is kinda cute! For a lost 100 minutes it isn’t even that bad. …. However…………

Ninetendon’t

Unfortunately this movie is plagued by a myriad of flaws as well. The most glaring one is that the movie is not written by a gamer. “Wow Jimmy you got 50.000 points in Double Dragon” sounds a bit cringe.A beat them up is not about points it is about survival.Later they even do points in Mario and Ninja Gaiden.. and while it is true that Championships do mention points there is a clear dissonance here. You can tell the team here doesn’t understand video games.  A lot of the writers and the actors don’t understand video games. Why does Cristian Slater have to hold a controller that awkwardly and instantly tab buttons when playing Mario 2.  The gameplay doesn’t match his hands.. how hard is it t to actually make him play or at least learn him how a video game works.. even if you then use a pro all he has to do is understand the controllers and you make him do the actions he sees on screen.. then you put that shot a second or so earlier in your timeline and voila. But no people feel rather like incompetent games..even the amazing Lucas seems to make way too many button clicks for a game he is playing. It does seem like he knows how to use a Power Glove though! So maybe he is just that BAD.

That brings me to a second element of this movie that isn’t great. It has aged incredibly poorly. It has been written with a fairly “hip” language for 1989.. but we do not talk or dress like that anymore. While that can be a hilarious time capsule effect this time it affects everything. Where for example Sentai are a timeless concept so a time setting just gives it body.. like an aging wine..only not persé as good.. more like a distinguished flavor kind of thing. Yet in this movie, it’s the lingo people speak in, the games that are being played, the way that tournaments are being held, the way plot devices work and in fact the whole complete type of storytelling. Gaming isn’t as strange anymore so 90% of those who watch this these days will be able to tell you  gaming is not about score.. that is the gaming of a generation before. The way they say Mario works.. “You gotta score points Jimmy score points”  doesn’t work and the fact that they know.. how an item works in an unreleased game is odd at best. Finding a Warp doesn’t give you more points! Back then.. you could pull that stuff “Mew Under the truck”  was a thing. The lingo sometimes makes characters hard to understand. Bad was good back then.  The whole running away story would not work these days.  As a result the focus on the movie becomes.. how different were those days which takes you out of the movie.

While that point gives the movie a positive point as well, a new angle to watch it from doesn’t fully work with how the adults in this movie work. Which in my opinion is the greatest weakness. For some weird reason, they always end up in exactly the right places in exactly the right towns. One would assume that the kids may find themselves unable to travel in a straight line, because they are dependent on hitchhiking. They might travel to the west but have to settle for moving a bit more up north?! Yet both the kidnapper guy and the father and son keep up ending up in the right towns. Where then they are able to run in each other’s cars and attack each other with shovels without consequences. Weirdly enough it’s the Adult scenes and not the kid scenes that show we have to deal with a movie aimed at children. The adults go to a car repair shop and hook up their Nintendo to their tv.. while waiting for their car to be repaired. The Kidnapper ask a towing guy.. “do you want to make a quick 50 bucks.. tow my friends car away”.. which is fine.. some tow goes would that. I can accept that.. but then they bring it to a scrapyard that immediately begins to disassemble it?  Jumping the shark a bit there. Beau Bridges not wanting to stop playing Zelda II is a funny joke.. because we as kids did not want to stop playing games.. but he is trying to rescue his son from a sure to be traumatic experience…you are just turning him into an asshole by making him want to get another item in Zelda first.

Nintendo’s Entertainment System

Comedy in this movie is great.. but some jokes really do not land. Haley getting the Kidnapper guy in trouble by repeatedly yelling “He Touched My Boob” every time he almost captured Jimmy is good for a chuckle.. She is creative and cunning in this and it both works for the plot and would actually be helpful to draw attention…so when he hears truckers tell him “so you touched a young girl’s breasts you pervert” and we see him sigh we can chuckle. It’s lowbrow and will make a kid chuckle as well. Even the awkward kiss between Corey and Hayley which is a stereotypical childish joke works and it’s great.All comedy from Beau Bridges and Christian Slater however ….DOESN’T work.  They are needed in the movie but they should have been made more caring. It’s nice to see father and son bond on a journey and it would not even be that bad to make them bond over something Jimmy enjoys like video games..  yet almost all their scenes feel disconnected because Nintendo just had to make the old man enjoy games as well… at the cost of his sons!   The whole Power glove scene in fact is quite redundant as well.. we already know he cant use it at the tournament.. so it is just a tad too commercial. This scene is better now that it has aged because of how BAD it is yet somewhere along the way it feels as if this movie is having an Agenda.  

This movie can be compared to something like Ice Age. The story of the human baby being taken ot a certain location is the main plot. Jimmy has to be delivered by two caretakers to a certain location. Along the way is a lot of child friendly humor but also a heartfelt journey with people becoming friends for life and really bonding. Then there is Scrat. You know that rat thing that wants an acorn and just ends up getting hurt? Imagine taking those scenes out of ice age and replacing them with Ola Ice Cream product placement. We see Ice age baby humans looking for him.. but when a Scrat scene would show up they get distracted by Ola Ice cream. In the end you will be a bit upset that the baby finds his way back. The ending of the movie makes up for this a bit tying the desire of the boy together with a deep trauma and making him hug his father for the first time in forever. His father needed to be there at that moment.. things needed to be broken for things to heal yet to me he will now always be the jackass who thought getting through Death Mountain in Zelda 2 is more important than finding his kid. Up to a  point where I almost found that the movie failed because it wanted to promote gaming for adults.. cause Nintendo makes such addicting games you forget your family?!…

I was gonna visit my mom.. but then I saw this scene in the movie! Now I don’t know who she is! I just wanna play Contra.

I do think that the critics are too hard.. but The Wizard is a series of odd choices which leads to a conceptually strong enough movie. How good this movie actually is  depends on how forgiving you are as a movie go-oer. Let’s compare this movie to Star Wars Episode 1. It is a very different story than what we are used to from Video Game/Star Wars movies. Yet that can be good or bad. It is catered at a slightly younger audience and while it certainly had some great revelations.. it makes some very stupid choices as well. If you are the type that thinks.. JarJar ruined that entire movie.. than this  will also be a movie that you are going to hate. If you take everything face value that one broken element breaks the entire movie.  If you are more like me though you can see that other element as just an element. “They tried to make a comical character, it did not work out, let’s take that at a loss but judge the movie on the merits it has. If you are like that you can have an enjoyable time with this.. if you at least have an affinity with old timey games.  Then there is the type like my friend Bean thats like.. “It’s meant for kids writing doesn’t need to make sense’  Then I think a little bit less of you.. movies should always be for everyone no matter who your main audience is.. but heck as long as you have an affinity for old games and love to dig around in time capsules this movie will be your jam.

It’s a movie with just one very broken element and to come to a correct judgement I  will compare the show to a car you want to buy. The engine .. in this case , the story is fine, the steering wheel is fine, the movie goes where it needs to go and addresses relevant story points and it feels paced fairly neatly..though it tends to drag at some points. It isn’t very user friendly.. the car makers didn’t know much about driving so your direction indicator has some super colourful flashy symbols and kinda makes a lot of noise and your car horn is a jaunty tune making the car a bit more tacky. However your brakes.. are completely broken.  The handbrake works fine but you only apply that when you have come to a stop already.  Sure you can throw out a land anchor or just install new brakes.. but you would not pay full price for this car. Nor would you say it’s a star on the road. You wouldn’t even call it very good.  If you get a hell of a discount it can be fine if you really want to drive this particular car.  If you have other options this one will just be okay.. and if you are a nag.. this car is clearly sub par.
I had a fun drive.. and when it comes to video game movies.. being forced to use a land anchor is the least of my worries! But you have been warned!

So my quest to watch all Video Game movies goes on! Next week I probably should watch BloodRayne, now I just have to find the courage to put it on! What is your favourite Video Game Movie? Which movie should I watch next?! Let me know! Have you played NES?! Are you some sort of video game Rainman I can bank on by making you go to tournaments?! Very important questions being asked here! Speaking of making bank! I also have a Kofi. If you want to help out please click the cute picture! However I also really appreciate likes and comments all the same! So let’s have fun interactions together! Have an amazing day and I hope you’ll visit Paradise again!

13 thoughts

  1. How come, as a fan of all things 80’s, that I have never heard of this film before? That’s so weird. It must have slipped under my radar for some reason. That said, I want to thank you for writing this review, because now I’m going to make it my mission to track this one down. While it has the flaws you describe, humor that sometimes falls flat (never been a huge fan of Slater and Bridges in the first place) and not consulting a proper gamer to make sure the videogame talk is accurate, this does sound like my kind of movie! I love these kind of 80’s films! Thanks again for this review: it was awesome! 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You haven’t?! If you are a fan all all things 80’s I can say this is something you have to see! It just has that super retro feel. If you watch it as 80’s cheese you will have a great time with this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly why I’m really glad for this review, because for one thing I haven’t seen this film, and for the other: I had a feeling this has that super retro feel to it😊 Looking forward to it!😀

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe yeah I have been planning to watch this one for a while but it slipped past me each time! I had a great time with it so have fun watching it yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My older brother, sister in-law and I all watched this fairly recently and, while I can’t say it’s good, there were some fun parts. My brother remembered seeing this movie in theatres and being blown away by the reveal of the Super Mario Bros 3 game. It’s really nostalgic for him for that reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t say it’s good either. I enjoyed myself with it in like a just above average kinda way. It just has a cute charm. I can get how the Super Mario Bros. 3 reveal would be hype. This is one of the first big game reveals of all time so it had some significance so if you were there I bet this is quite special

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If you are on a video game movie rampage, be sure to check “Brave Father Online: Final Fantasy”
    It is super expensive to get a hard copy right now, but it is soooo worth it!
    Let me know what you think when you watch it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s interesting how it didn’t really take long for video-game movies to become a thing. It’s also not terribly surprising that many of them weren’t really good considering many of them didn’t really have stories, and it was clear that the companies that made the films were banking off getting the brand rather than hiring actual writing talent. I do think The Wizard makes the right call by making the film about video games as a medium rather than about a specific game. In that regard, it may be worth watching to get a perspective of how much influence the NES had on pop culture, though I find as an actual movie, it’s too dated and cheesy to be a straight recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would love to see a modern Wizard in e-sports or something, heck even make it about Smash to keep it Nintendo themed.

      I liked the movie as a time capsule indeed, fun to go retro and look at how we have grown how Nintendo from what it was there and with people not knowing about games to everyone knowing who Mario is and what Nintendo is. It doesn’t hold up as a movie, but as an 80’s movie its somewhat enjoyable

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually think the 1980s was a better decade in film than most critics give it credit for. I think it tends to get looked down upon because, when you’re examining it through the lens of the kinds of films critics typically (or, perhaps better put, stereotypically) like, it didn’t give them what they wanted. It was, however, a great decade for both comedies and science-fiction. Since film critics tend not to think highly of either genre, it’s not terribly surprising they’d consider the 1980s a wasteland based off of that. Granted, if it is one thing I’ll grant them, it’s that the films from that decade that haven’t aged well, *really* haven’t aged well – possibly to a greater extent than in any decade leading up to or following it.

        And I could easily see a film about e-sports being made; I think it would need a very specific kind of talent to pull off, however. It needs to be written by someone who has a genuine respect for video games, which is not something I think most filmmakers have (or most game critics, for that matter); I find they tend to either see it as competition or an inferior medium not worth taking seriously.

        Liked by 1 person

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