I went to the movie store yesterday to see what kind of movies they’re making for kids nowadays. The movie that was being promoted was WALL-E, a cinematic masterpiece that preaches against the evils of consumerism, warning people not to spend so much money on material goods.1
Of course, with such a soul-touching message, the movie could not help but make over $500,000,000. This figure does not include the profits made off of movie tie-ins like t-shirts, books, videogames and the like, of course. Apparently, the people who made WALL-E didn’t actually see the movie.
So I moved over a few titles in the “W” section, where I found a copy of The Wizard, a 1989 film about videogames. The movie got good ratings in this month’s podcast, so I figured I should check it out for some good fun.
One of the most well-known scenes in the movie.
The plot of The Wizard is that a boy named Corey (Fred Savage2) runs away with his emotionally-disturbed brother Jimmy to save him from being sent to a mental hospital. They team up with cool girl Hayley, and once they learn that Jimmy is a videogame wizard, they decide to go to Los Angeles to have him compete in the national videogame championships. They make it through various hazards, including a bounty hunter, in order to win the $50,000 grand prize and help Jimmy get past his psychological problems.
Now, critics like Roger Ebert—who, I’m guessing, doesn’t play videogames—say this movie is a piece of crap, a blatant advertisement for Nintendo and the Power Glove. That was the question I asked myself when I put in the DVD—”Is this movie going to be good on its own, or is it just a big commercial?”
To test the movie’s quality, I watched it with my mom and little sister, neither of whom play videogames, and who know nothing about the NES or the Power Glove.3 If they could enjoy the movie, that means there’s more to the movie than just advertising videogames, right? Right. So let’s start off with what my mom and sister had to say about The Wizard:
Sister: “It’s okay. It’s a little better than kids movies they do nowadays, with the scary bad guy and the swearing.”
Mom: “In your review, don’t forget to mention that the Dad has bushy eyebrows.”
So there you have it. The Wizard is an okay movie, even to people who don’t play videogames. And it has a dad with bushy eyebrows.
As for me, I say The Wizard is your average family-friendly sports movie. You have the underdog heroes who don’t stand a chance of winning a single game, especially since they’re pitted against the evil superchamp who has a posse of thugs,4 shows off his god-like skills, and makes a move on the hero’s girl (if applicable). After an initial defeat, the heroes go through a training montage and make a spectacular come-from-behind victory to win the championships.5
It just so happens that, in this movie, the sport happens to be videogame competitions.
I think this is my main impression of the movie: it’s your standard family-friendly sports movie. It’s not a blatant advertisement for videogames. Sure, there’s a scene where Lucas the Bad Guy shows off his Power Glove, but that is only ONE SCENE, less than five minutes long, and the genre demands that the Bad Guy has to show off his mad skills in an attempt to scare the hero. The Power Glove is never seen or mentioned again in the movie. If this is supposed to be an advertisement for the Power Glove, it’s a mighty poor one.
Sure, the finale of the movie shows off the gamers playing Super Mario Bros. 3, but that’s because it’s supposed to be a twist—the gamers are testing their skills by playing a game they’ve never played before. And Super Mario Bros. 3 is still the best-selling game of all time, so it makes perfect sense that it’s used as “the big game” for the final round of the championships. As for claims that the movie gratuitously shows off the game, that’s nonsense. If you’ve played Super Mario Bros. 3, you’ll notice that 90% of the footage of the game shown in the movie is from the first level. When you want to show off a game, you don’t limit yourself to showing clips from the first level.
Wow, I just ranted about how The Wizard isn’t a videogame commercial.
As for the movie itself, it’s halfway decent. The funny parts are pretty good—especially the ones where the bounty hunter gets in over-the-top fights with the bushy-browed father. And like my sister said, some of the material is a little more risqué than they put in kids movies nowadays—including minor swearing, the word “breast” and the whole plotline of how Jimmy is emotionally disturbed after seeing his twin sister die. Overall, I give it a “B” for “Bushy Eyebrows.”
3. In the movie, there’s a training montage where Jimmy plays through dozens of games. My mom recognized two games by name during this montage: Super Mario Bros. 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So technically, she does know about the NES, but still, she doesn’t know a whole lot about it.