Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Friday at the Movies: The Wizard

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Video games and movies, you would think the two would go hand-in-hand, but unfortunately given that the film medium is a passive experience and the gaming medium is an active experience, the hybrid of the two usually goes horribly (and laughably) wrong.  This segment will be our weekly realm to appreciate the more “classic” medium of film (thanks to the large number of hits my Prometheus review received).  Of course, whenever possible I will review a “video game” movie.

This movie poster is exactly like the gaming magazines fo the time, busy as hell.

Oh, The Wizard, how I love you so despite what anyone tells me.  Sure, it’s nothing more than a big commercial for Super Mario Bros. 3 and a blatant ripoff of Rain Man, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love this movie to death.  Before the Internet, we gamers would soak up any and all forms of information on video games and due to the lack of content available to us (magazines cost money, you had to be registered for newsletters, and we couldn’t linger in the gaming area of Sears forever).  I had a subscription to Nintendo Power and I knew that SMB3 would eventually grace our shores, but Japan got the game a whopping year and a half before us!  As soon as they revealed that the game was going to be featured in the movie, it was an instant must see for my friends and I.  It’s pretty hilarious too, because in the movie the big reveal is that the finals for the Nintendo World Championship would feature this game and everyone goes crazy given that it’s a never before played game.  As an audience, we all knew the game would be in there and shredded through the first 90 minutes of exposition to get to that point.  When Jimmy played those legendary first few levels of SMB3, though, the entire pathetic journey was well worth it.  For fans of the film, how the hell does Haley know everything about this “unseen” game as Jimmy plays along, including what the flute does?

That’s not to say that the end is the only reason to watch The Wizard nowadays, heck no.  The reason to watch now is because it’s like a time capsule of the late 80s gaming world, where you get to see things you can’t possibly imagine in today’s gaming space.  Lets start with the movie’s lead, Fred Savage, whom few would recognize today but back in 1989 was a huge child star with the success of The Wonder Years.  I’m sure Christian Slater and Beau Bridges wish this film weren’t on their resumes and fellow child actress Jenny Lewis is even relevant today as the lead singer of the band Rilo Kiley, but in those days they were just people playing roles that no one cared about.  Also featured in the movie is a killer soundtrack that includes songs like Hangin’ Tough by the New Kids on the Block and a personal 80s favorite of mine, Send me an Angel by Real Life (which is featured heavily in the movie’s road trip montage sequence).  Now that I think of it, that scene is probably the only reason I like the song at all.  Kidding aside the biggest draw for me these days is seeing all the classic games and gaming conventions we had to deal with back then.

We meet Lucas Barton early into the film, sporting a lavish logo t-shirt with a splash of pink neon and some killer shades, who owns “all 97” Nintendo games (yes, back then that was the North American library) as well as the “so bad” (“bad” meant “good” in the late 80s) power glove.  To be clear, the power glove doesn’t work at all like it’s described in the film (and we covered it and all the NES accessories here), but I forgive Universal for lying to me in a movie, it’s what film studios do.  You also notice that the only way the kids find out about tips, tricks, or even a Nintendo World Championship (which didn’t exist at the time and would later be implemented) is through gaming magazines in truck stops and restaurants.  Yep, that’s how it worked in those days and just like few revealed in the movie imply, it was such a busy cover you just skimmed the pages until you saw something you liked.  Later in the film they actually call the Nintendo help hotline, which actually existed, although I don’t think they were paying the $2.99/minute that we did at home.  There’s also a ton of games in the film including: Double Dragon, Ninja Gaiden, Rad Racer, OutRun (arcade ver), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the brutal original NES one), Zelda II: Adventure of Link, and of course, Super Mario Bros. 3.  Not only that, this is probably the only movie to keep everything authentic in terms of gaming – all smoke and mirrors regarding the power glove aside.  Normally in movies when you see someone playing a video game the game, sounds of the game, and even console and controller of a game are incorrect.  Re-watch Fear sometime and notice that in one scene the kids are playing Super Street Fighter II on SNES with the sounds of some early arcade game coming out and holding Playstation controllers, it’s hilarious.  In The Wizard, you actually see them play the true NES version of Double Dragon, complete with a section that had us all frustrated and the sounds from that moment in the game intact.  Shocker, they actually simply captured the game and used it.  Granted, it is a video game movie, so you have to wonder how hands on Nintendo was and also why they weren’t quite as hands on with the Super Mario Bros. movie.

Not only is the retro gaming a draw, but this film is loaded up with all the politically incorrect content of the 1980s.  Throughout this romp you will see scenes involving the benefits of running away, death of a parent, social insensitivity towards autism, benefits of hitchhiking, teenage drinking, kidnapping, teenage gambling, and for good measure they throw in a little child molestation humor.  I mean c’mon, who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned “he touched my breast!” joke in their video game movie for kids?  I guess in closing what I can say is that you absolutely have to see this movie once, if only for the time capsule nature of it. Unless you’ve never been on theKing Kongride at Universal, then you have to get your hands on this right away.

Written by Fred Rojas

June 22, 2012 at 3:23 pm

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