I was thinking the other day about how when growing up in the 80’s, early 90’s, one of the best things to do to pass the time was having some friends over and playing Nintendo. Yes, indeed there was nothing better than watching your bad-tempered friend lose it and smash the controller when you would beat them at a game of good old Super Mario Kart.
Then, I got to thinking about the movie The Wizard.
The movie The Wizard is directed by Todd Holland and it follows the story of a boy named Jimmy Woods who is played by Luke Edwards. Jimmy suffers from a mental disorder that seemed to have appeared after his twin sister Jennifer drowned in the Green River two years previous. Jimmy is an interesting character who doesn’t like to interact with anyone and he always carries his lunchbox with him. Since the accident, the only word he has ever said is “California” and it is implied that he wants to go there.
Jimmy has two older brothers who are played by the great Christian Slater as Nick Woods and Fred Savage as Corey Woods. Due to his condition and from the trauma of Jennifer’s death, the family is in a broken up state. Jimmy lives with his mother and stepfather and his brothers live with their father Sam who is played by Beau Bridges. After living with his mother for only a short time, Jimmy is sent to an institution since she can no longer handle him and his behaviour.
Once his brother Corey finds out, he breaks out Jimmy and the two run away, hoping to make it to California. Jimmy’s mother and her husband then hire a bounty hunter for runaway children to find the boys. Sam and their brother Nick also decided to go and try to find the boys and before long they are competing with the bounty hunter, Putnam and both trying to sabotage each other’s efforts.
On the way to California, the boys meet a girl named Haley who is played by Jenny Lewis. Jenny gets to know the boys and she learns that Jimmy is video game prodigy. She nicknames Jimmy the Wizard and tells Corey about “Video Armageddon”, which is a video game tournament with a $50,000 cash prize. Jenny agrees to help the boys get to Los Angeles to enter the tournament for a cut of the money. The boys hope that if Jimmy can win the tournament that will prove he doesn’t need to be in an institution.
The trio hitchhikes across the country, using Jimmy’s skill and appearance to hustle people out of their money by beating them at video games. Also along the way they meet an older kid named Lucas Barton. Lucas is extremely confident and a bully who also owns a Nintendo Power Glove. Lucas shows them all his skills at Red Racer and he also is a very talented player. Before the three leave, they hear that Lucas is entering the competition in Las Angeles as well, which isn’t good news for them after seeing his skills.
Jimmy, Corey and Jenny finally make it to Reno. They spend time training Jimmy on some more games in the Reno arcades using Nintendo PlayChoice-10 machines. While they are doing this, Putnam the bounty hunter finally finds them.
The tournament is being held at Universal Studios Hollywood, but with Putnam now in town, as well as Jimmy’s mother and her husband plus Jimmy’s dad and brother, will Jimmy make it to the competition? If he does, will he be able to beat Lucas? Will he be able to win the whole competition and therefore not have to go back to the institution? Will he ever get over his sister’s death and the trauma from it? Well, I guess you’ll have to watch it, to find out!
Watching the Wizard today, the movie may seem a bit cheesy and not as exciting as it was when you were a kid but it’s definitely a movie that will bring back some memories, well, if you were a Nintendo nerd like me it will anyway. Regardless if you weren’t a Nintendo nerd, it’s a movie that you should at least try to watch. I bet you will be pleasantly surprised as well.
Here are some cool facts about the movie for you:
- The director Todd Holland did not play video games at the time he started filming, he thought that fact would make him the perfect director. He thought that if he could make a movie about video games interesting to himself then the movie would be interesting to anyone.
- Christian Slater took the role of Nick because he was interested in working with Beau Bridges.
- Despite the story starting in Green River, Utah, the whole movie was filmed only in Nevada and California.
- Jenny Lewis, who played Haley, went on to be the frontwoman for indie rock group Rilo Kiley
- The word “Nintendo” is only heard twice in the film.
- The set for the Video Armageddon competition was inspired by the movie Aliens.
- Tobey Maguire’s first feature film appearance was in The Wizard. He briefly appears with Lucas as they walk out of Video Armageddon.
- Roger Ebert, the late film critic considered The Wizard one of the worst films of 1989.
- Todd Holland would later win three Emmy awards for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series for his work on the hit TV sitcom Malcolm in the Middle and The Larry Sanders Show.
- After the movie, Jackey Vinson, who played Lucas seemed to disappear for awhile until 2011 when he was discovered on a list of registered sex offenders.
- Several NES games appear in the arcade scenes. 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. To keep playing if you ran out of time, you would insert another quarter.
- 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 theatres.
- The sounds made by Lucas’ Power Glove as he punches its keys are the five classic tones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
- The mental disorder that Jimmy Woods suffers in the film is never actually revealed, but it’s strongly implied that it’s autism. To avoid the movie being compared to the movie Rain Man, the filmmakers decided not to mention autism by name in the film.