The Wizard

The Wizard. Universal Pictures 1989.

Before watching the movie:

One hears a lot about this movie online, or at least in the circles I move in. It’s pretty universally reviled as “a feature-length commercial for Nintendo/the Power Glove.” But while the characters are playing with the toys, they have to have something to do. Home Alone 2 isn’t worthless because it heavily features the TalkBoy. I’ve seen some clips brought out as examples of how bad it is, but anything can be stupid out of context.

I defy this movie to make me join its hatedom, and demonstrate how a movie about playing video games can be not dull, but still actively a waste of time.

After watching the movie:

Jimmy Woods, a very young boy, has been traumatized by his twin sister’s death over a year ago. He’s now been put in an institution by his mother and stepfather, and his half-brother Corey is outraged by this and breaks him out to go to California, which is the only thing Jimmy can say. It randomly turns out that Jimmy is good at video games, which is good because they don’t have the money to get to California, but unaccompanied minor Haley suggests that she can get them to a video game competition in Los Angeles in exchange for a cut of the $50,000 grand prize. Meanwhile, Beau Bridges and Christian Slater make a bid for older viewership as Jimmy’s father and other half-brother, trying to find Jimmy and Corey before the sleazy runaway-hunter does.

This movie is almost on par with other 80s child comedies. Kids who know better than the adults, villains who are evil for no reason, and an overproduced finale. All of those variables can go together to produce a memorable favorite. This movie put them together in the wrong proportions.

At the film’s start, Jimmy’s parents (well, mother and stepfather) have decided to put him in an institution. There’s nothing wrong with that decision. They’ve most likely weighed all the options and decided that the home can help him better than anything else. Corey decides what Jimmy really needs is to go to California and prove that he doesn’t need to be institutionalized. The film does not do much to persuade the audience this is so, but there’s another ninety minutes to go, so one may as well accept it.

I understand why the runaway hunter has to be vilified. He’s the responsible one, trying to catch the unaccompanied children and return them to their guardians. The first thing he says about his work is already over the top. He asks the family members not to go after his quarry because he only gets paid when he brings the children in. That’s too reasonable a position for the main bad guy, so he says, “so don’t get in my way.” Additionally, some truckers take over a hundred dollars off the children simply because they’re children and easily overpowered, and some teen bullies react to being hustled in exactly the way one would expect.

The finale takes place at Universal Studios Hollywood. I’ve seen movies set at theme parks that do a lot better job of advertising the park, so I don’t mind it. Instead of showing off the rides, it shows off the area behind the scenes of the rides.

As far as product placement goes, this is hardly a theatrical advertisement for Nintendo. The plot comes before the product, for the most part. I’d say that less than half of the movie has anybody playing games, and it happens to be Nintendo games because they provided the games. Normal product placement. The Power Glove scene, however, actually is more about showing off the goods than about the story. It shows up once, the rival has a music montage showing it off, says that “I love the Power Glove,” and then we never see it again.

There are a few other individual moments where I find the humor in bad taste, but you’d find that in almost any movie. On a positive note, the kid playing Jimmy is very good at portraying a closed-off savant. There are some powerful emotional moments, and most of them work well. Some may even cry when it’s revealed what “California” means to Jimmy. Critics may say this film is about Fred Savage exploiting his half brother for financial gain, but one could also see it as a story about video games bringing a broken family back together.

Watch this movie: and if you suddenly buy every piece of Nintendo hardware in production, it’s your own decision.

Don’t watch this movie: and take it seriously about how video games work, ironically.

2 thoughts on “The Wizard

  1. Valerie Wood December 27, 2010 / 10:29 am

    so you’ve neither joined the hatedom nor the fandom but have ideas for a remix?

    • temporalparadox February 10, 2011 / 8:39 pm

      It has some definite things wrong with it, but it’s not great or terrible. I didn’t feel like it was an ad except for the power glove scene, and in retrospect, the montage with calling the Nintendo game walkthrough helpline was probably product placementish, as I hadn’t known Nintendo ever did that.

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