by Dane Youssef
For those precious few of you who are reading this and don't know--I know I'm preaching to the built-in choir here, but there's always a few who may be a little unclear, vauge or just got the wrong address.
"THE WIZARD" isn't any moniker or fun new twist on the classic story of a little girl from Kansas who gets caught in a tornado and finds herself not only over the rainbow, but in a wonderland of technocolor and strange characters.
Well, at least not exactly.
This "Wizard" dealt with kids in peril, feeling trapped in where they were. Video games were their outlet. One boy so disturbed, he had become mute and later committed after witnessing the death of his sister. The older brothers living with the father after the divorce. When a child is lost, a family is too.
"The Wizard" open with a small, determined soul walking along a long stretch of road in the pursuit of something. Some goal, some destination. Some form of escape.
There's something... he's looking for. He's on his way... somewhere. Somewhere special, somewhere important. Somewhere he needs to be. It fades in like a sunrise... where is he going? We don't know. We don't even know who he is, but we want to go with him. This boy's name is Jimmy. And he has a goal. He tells us, "California..."
Jimmy is in an institution and has been ever since he lost his sister. Yet he seems to break loose again and again like the family cat. Is there some unlocked door sans security at this loony hatch?
One day during a visit, big brother Corey takes little Jimmy and the two break loose--together. At an arcade, Corey first-hand witnesses Jimmy is Bobby Fisher's unacknowleged love child at Nintendo. They use his skills to play for money. And because it's a road trip movie, they have to pick up a woman along the way.
It's a PG flick for little kids (once again, Nintendo fans), so it has to a preteen like them--and they have to be just friend. Her name is Haley, an adolescent drifter. She claims to know the score... and she can raise the money to get them where they need to go.
They're hard-up for money. But Halley is one sizzling hustler. Wait 'til she's old enough to develop sex appeal to add to the mix. Looking back on all this, I was expecting Halley to try raising money by "tit-for-tat." You give us a ride, and I'll give you..."
It was my mother who recalled that old song from the "He's A Pinball Wizard" by The Who and suggested, well.. maybe that's where the movie got its namesake. The catchy little pop ditty of some soul who had nothing else in his life but was a wonder at that one arcade game. It was his world. Whoever he was.
Well, if anyone could relate to that....
'Would've liked to hear that on the soundtrack at maybe some point.
A lot of the world said that the "Wizard" is stuffed to the gills with commercials. But no, they were wrong.
"The Wizard" WAS a commercial. For Nintendo and the Universal Studios Tour.
If we'd gotten some scenes where we see Jimmy's connection to these games, how he becomes Zen with them, there might have actually been some real significance. We're just watching video games being played. And... that's all we as kids wanted when this thing came out.
Not so see a really poweful piece of cinema, but to just see kids like us running loose without parental supervision and Nintendo being our outlet source of rebellion. Children as resourceful as can be doing incredible things with the toys we played with and loved.
Screenwriter/producer David Chisholm seems to have cobbled this thing together out of a lot of spare plot threads and gimmicks. Usually filmmakers do this when they're just doing the obligator rush hatchet job and don't have their heart in the project they're working on. And you can tell--Chisholm doesn't love this screenplay of his. This is not a personal project for him. This is just a Hollywood crowd-pleaser designed to feed the cult masses.
"The Wizard" was written out of scraps of other movies, like the Oscar-winning "Rain Man"--which still remains one of my all-time faves. And the pumped-up showdown finale is right out of "Rocky" and nearly every sports movie ever made.
The choir (us) loves video games, lives for them, thrives on them. But the makers of this movie don't. They don't care about any of this except--"Here, buy this. Spend your money on..."
For all of those who belonged to the mass cult of Nintendo, this was the third coming.
Seeing it again now with older, more experienced eyes like an old man going back into his childhood home, the bedroom we once lived in, the bed once ours, looking over our own toys and photos... and, and... what the hell was I thinking? Was that even me? Who was that guy?
What is "The Wizard"? A film of our adoration for this piece of cinema from or childhood, which weaved together our love of movies featuring us kids as the heroes and our undying love of the video games.
... Jesus, what were we thinking?
"Wizard" claimed itself later once released on home video (B.D.D.--before DVD) as a "warm-hearted family" film. But no, no, no, no, no and no. God, no. Hell, no. F--k, no.
It was anything but. It was specifically for the children--the children who wanted to leave the home and burden of their families and go play Nintendo somewhere. And the kids were astoundingly resourceful, like they had their own little underground black market.
The adults were the utmost of bumbling fools, almost mentally retarded--as they tend to be in a lot of kiddie movies.
Fred Savage stands as one of the finest child actors there ever was. Shirley Temple and Macaulay Culkin had more fame, but the Savage was just that--even better. And Luke Edwards is all right for what this role calls her--acting terminally shy at all times. Jenny Lewis as the "mover and shaker"... Good Lord, I don't even think I believed when I first saw it. But maybe we're not supposed to. I think the whole dramatic plot point of Haley is she's not what she pretends to be.
For a movie all the kids and their toys, "The Wizard" holds some surprisingly good adult performances. Steven Grives as the electrified Video Armageddon Announcer who's like a British Christopher Lloyd as the charged-up Master of Ceremonies. And Will Seltzer as an especially scummy bounty hunter who tracks down runaway kids.
Beau Bridges, commendable--but he has that role that literally ANY ACTOR could sleepwalk through. Christian Slater himself, a fine actor, very fine. Like fine china. People make too much of his resemblence to Jack Nicholson--but he's no celeb impersonator. He's solid gold on his own. And he's given virtually nothing to do in his "eldest brother" role.
Hey, the kids don't care about Bridges or Christian Slater--they care about Nintendo. Well, there's not much Nintendo either.
For some strange reason, after seeing "The Wizard" again with older eyes, I just somehow didn't feel like video games for the time being. I wanted to get out and physically do something. Take some real action with my life. It was a few days before I picked up a Game Boy.
And as I was playing my usual round of "Tetris" and was trying to break my old record, I was singing quietly to myself, "He's A Nintendo Wizard..."
--Still A Game Boy, Dane Youssef