After spending many years on sub-par DVD releases and in basic limbo for a new release, “The Wizard” is given a much overdue Collector’s Edition that treats the cult classic the way it deserves. Is it a glorified Nintendo commercial? Sure! Is it a glorified ad for Universal Studios? Definitely! Is it fun? Oh god yes. “The Wizard” is a movie that might appeal to you more if you have nostalgia attached, granted, but on its own it’s a solid kids adventure film that’s also ahead of its time in the way it digs in to the video game tournaments and how much mental and physical prowess they demand.
After his little brother, Jimmy (Luke Edwards), is put in a mental institution, Corey (Fred Savage) breaks him out and the pair run off together to California. On their travels, Corey meets a girl named Haley (Jenny Lewis) and discovers that Jimmy is a master at playing video games. With talents like his, he could easily win the top prize of $50,000 at Video Armageddon. While the three travelers hitchhike to the competition, the boys’ parents hire a bounty hunter to track them down. Meanwhile Corey’s dad and big brother (Beau Bridges and Christian Slater) races to find the brothers before the bounty hunter finds them.
Director Todd Holland’s 1989 kids’ film is a surprisingly serious and dramatic movie revolving around a trio of children all with their own familial trauma. The big consolation and bright spot in their lives are the video games, and their quest to beat the video game competition becomes their ticket to finding more opportunities out of lives involving absentee and overbearing parents. While played for drama, “The Wizard” is also great fun, a movie that mixes coming of age themes, road trip adventures, light comedy, and endless Nintendo plugs for an entertaining, engaging event.
Nintendo and Universal take every chance to plug their products in the narrative, resulting in some of the best moments in cult cinema that are pure camp but still universally loved. Whether it’s Jimmy proving his worth in a “Double Dragon” arcade, or video gamer Lucas who demonstrates the pure futuristic abilities of the Power Glove, Nintendo is so blatant and that’s why the movie is so widely celebrated. Holland channels Spielberg’s Amblin aesthetic well, supporting the admittedly convoluted narrative with great turns by the colorful cast of eighties regulars, all led by Fred Savage. I’m still a big fan of “The Wizard,” even without the rose colored nostalgia glasses.
Featured on the two disc edition, there’s a commentary with director Todd Holland, and a slew of deleted scenes clocking in at thirty eight minutes in length. Deleted scenes include the original opening act, which went deep into Corey’s home life, following his adventures with friends and his playful antagonism of Nick. There’s more with Christine and her emotional issues, Jimmy’s introduction to video games is also offered, exploring his fascination with the NES, and more, as well as the extended ending. Finally, there’s the original theatrical trailer.
Disc two includes the forty minutes “The Road to Cali-forn-ia: A Look Back at ‘The Wizard’,” an official making of for the movie which includes interviews with director Todd Holland, writer David Chisholm, producer Ken Topolsky, and actors Fred Savage (audio only) and Luke Edwards. Co-Star Lewis does not appear. All featured discuss the origin of the picture, which was pitched as a “Karate Kid” with Nintendo, and the green light that depended on the hiring of Savage, who was one of the top child actors in the eighties.
“How Can I Help You?: Confessions of a Game Play Counselor” is a five minutes brief summary of employment from Greg Lowder, who (along with offering thoughts on “The Wizard”) shares the history of the legendary Nintendo game play hotline. He discusses company policy when it came to actually giving out solutions, and hints to game puzzles and its legacy. Lowder also discusses the rise of save points in video games and the height of the call center’s popularity, when 600 people were manning phones and sharing answers with rabid NES players. “A Clinical Analysis of ‘The Wizard'” is an unusual thirteen minute attempt to understand the character of Jimmy with help from clinical psychologist Andrea Letamendi. She tires to interpret the character’s behavior in the film, filing through his back story and physical movements.
It’s a good effort to add psychological depth behind the movie, but it’s mainly just pure novelty. “Let’s Play Gaming Expo 2019” is an hour long extended panel interview with Luke Edwards, David Chisholm, and Ken Topolsky, as they share production stories and highlight the increasing love for “The Wizard,” celebrating its 30th anniversary during the expo. There’s a twenty four minute Post Screening Q&A from the Alamo Drafthouse, where Edwards, Chisholm, and Topolsky field questions from a small audience of “The Wizard” fans. Topics include the legacy of the movie, production stories, and Edwards shares his idea for a possible sequel. Finally, there’s a full ten minute Photo Gallery that gathers film stills, publicity snaps, BTS shots, and poster art.