Equal parts family drama, road movie and full-length Nintendo commercial, Todd Holland's The Wizard (1989) will bring back plenty of warm fuzzies to anyone who grew up during the 1980s---and by "grew up", I don't mean "learned about the harsh reality of young adulthood", I mean "ate sugar cereal and watched Captain N". Back then, we didn't care about the undertones of family togetherness, we just wanted to check out footage of Super Mario Bros. 3 before it hit store shelves. Seeing The Wizard in theaters was a rite of passage for any self-respecting fan of video games---if there is such a thing, of course---but that's the last time I saw it, having skipped the nostalgia phase altogether during the VHS years. With this 17-year gap between first and second viewings, could this shameless promotion of all-things-Mario hold its own weight?
Short answer: you betcha. The Wizard is chock full of unintentionally hilarious moments, shameless one-liners ("I love the Power Glove...it's so bad"), a dash of mawkish sentimentality and, of course, ridiculous product placement. Yet, somehow the formula works, keeping things entertaining and light under the weight of a few heavy-handed story elements. At times, you'll wonder if The Wizard isn't two different movies trying their best to (*ahem*) one-up each other, yet it all comes together in the end. In short: a movie like this shouldn't work, but it does.
Here's a quick synopsis: Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) is a shy little kid, though we're not sure early on if this is due to mental illness or otherwise. He's about to be placed in an institution, so his older brother Corey (Fred Savage) packs him up and heads for the wonders of the West Coast. The family's been through some tough times---including a divorce---that led to fights between their dad (Beau Bridges) and their older brother (Christian Slater). With next to no money and/or bright ideas, Corey soon discovers that little Jimmy is a wizard at video games. They eventually cross paths with Haley (Jenny Lewis, who's grown up to be the lead singer of indie rock group Rilo Kiley), a like-minded runaway who tells them about the upcoming Video Armageddon Championships in Las Vegas. They might not ever have a stable family life---though Mom and Dad eventually see the light---but at least they'd get 50,000 smackeroos for winning.
Of course, The Wizard raises all sorts of glaring questions when viewed as an adult. How would a bunch of kids score a $50,000 prize without a guardian present? Why do they keep getting robbed and harassed every fifteen minutes? Most importantly, how did Jimmy know about the freakin' Warp Whistle in Mario 3 before the release date?!? It boggles the mind how such flagrant inaccuracies could make it to final cut. Either way, the occasional screen shot of a pixellated NES game, off-handed quips from the Power Glove-wielding Lucas (Jackey Vinson) and a glimpse of young mullet activist Toby Maguire (on the far left) are but one of many highlights during The Wizard. Sure, a couple of gee-whiz moments stick out like sore thumbs, but this family-friendly drama has actually aged pretty well. In short, it'll stand tall on your DVD shelf next to other 80s guilty pleasures like Flight of the Navigator and
Speaking of the DVD, it finally makes its proper debut courtesy of Universal. Anyone looking for a robust Special Edition will be sorely disappointed, but at least the technical presentation is up to par. All things considered, it's pretty neat to have the darn thing on disc at all. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, The Wizard actually looks pretty darn impressive for a film of its age and budget. Colors are crisp and bold, black levels are solid and only the old NES screen shots look primitive by comparison. Digital problems, such as edge enhancement and compression issues, don't seem to be an issue at all. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and certainly holds its own. There isn't an enormous amount of low end, but the dialogue and music come through nice and clear. Optional captions are provided for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Menus for this release are pretty basic, featuring static promotional photos and simple navigation. The 100-minute main feature is divided into a generous 18 chapters---though a chapter index is not included---and no layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes no inserts of any kind. The cover artwork isn't as cool as the original poster design, but fans shouldn't be too heartbroken.
Disappointingly, no extras are included here...not even a trailer! I'd have certainly enjoyed a retrospective featurette or two, as well as a few deleted scenes or promotional artwork galleries. Bummer!
Though aimed squarely towards a limited audience, it's safe to say that anyone who grew up clutching their beloved NES controllers should get a kick out of The Wizard. Even without the nostalgia factor, it holds up fairly well as an entertaining family movie with a liberal dose of good old-fashioned cheesiness. The barebones DVD package by Universal may disappoint those hoping for a more thorough presentation, but the excellent A/V quality and rock-bottom price certainly make up for it. If you don't already have this one already, do yourself a favor and check it out. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, pwning NES games and writing things in third person.