Nine-year-old Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) has never really gotten over the devastating tragedy that left his parents and family divided. He hardly speaks, and spends a lot of his time alone, just stacking things. When he does say something, it’s usually just the word “California” as he wanders off outside of the house on his own, seemingly trying to make his way out West. Jimmy’s mother (Wendy Phillips) and stepfather (Sam McMurray) don’t know what to do with him anymore, and decide to have him institutionalized. However, this doesn’t sit well with 13-year-old half-brother Corey (Fred Savage), who decides to break Jimmy out and finally take him on that trip to California he’s always trying to make.
Shortly into their trek, the boys meet street-smart Haley (Jenny Lewis), a girl Corey’s age who notices that Jimmy is a natural at video games. She calls Jimmy a “wizard” and suggests that he has the skills to win an upcoming Video Armageddon video game competition in California. Corey believes that winning that contest could convince Jimmy’s parents that he doesn’t belong in an institution. However, the boys don’t really have enough money to make it all the way to California. Haley offers to join them on their cross-country trip—she will help them get to their destination and along the way help train Jimmy on the games he isn’t familiar with, and in exchange, she wants a cut of the $50K prize money should Jimmy win. As they make their way to California, the trio often stops off in diners and arcades to prey on unsuspecting patrons, conning them with Jimmy’s gaming skills to raise money. However, in addition to running into some bullies and other unsavory characters along the way, the brothers also have a ruthless bounty hunter on their tail. Jimmy’s parents have hired a man named Putnam (Will Seltzer) to track Jimmy down and bring him home, and since he only gets paid if he personally returns Jimmy, Putnam isn’t going to let anyone or anything get to the kids first. This includes Corey’s father Sam (Beau Bridges) and teenage brother, Nick (Christian Slater), who are also on the road looking for the runaway boys.
At its core, The Wizard is a family drama with a lot of heart, but its also a fun road trip movie. Corey cares for his half-brother, and really wants to do the best for Jimmy—he sees this video game competition as a way to help prevent his brother from being locked up in an institution. The family tragedy and subsequent divorce left Corey’s family divided, and this trip is also a way for Corey to reconnect and spend time with his brother who no longer lives with him…plus, he may have a bit of a crush on Haley. After the divorce, Corey & Nick’s father kind of checked out, not really caring for or spending time with his sons like he used it. As Nick joins his father on this road trip to find Corey and Jimmy, the two get a chance to finally confront the situation, bond, and have fun like they used to. However, the film is not all serious and sappy—these characters all have a lot of fun during their respective journeys, and Putnam is like a cartoon villain who is constantly getting beaten and blown up (not literally) but never wavers in his mission. He is constantly clashing with and getting into literal scrapes with Sam and Nick.
The Wizard was originally released in 1989, and definitely looks and feels like a product of its era, though that is also part of its charm. It’s a simpler time when people didn’t all have cell phones and GPS, and needed to rely on good old paper maps when trying to make their way cross-country, or rely on word of mouth when trying to track someone down. The film also feels strangely ahead of its time as the kids compete in this big video game competition—this is esports decades before it became such a huge thing! However, at times the film does feel like a big ad for Nintendo, and not just during the game competition climax. During their journey, the trio crosses paths with Lucas (Jackey Vinson), a snobby rich kid (whose “cool guy” wardrobe screams 1980s) who’s a video game expert and also on his way to the competition. At one point we see Lucas pull out his Nintendo Power Glove from a special locked brief case. After demonstrating his mad skills at Pole Position, he exclaims “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad”. We also see Nick constantly hooking up his Nintendo NES during to pass the time whenever they stop off at garages or motels.
I first purchased/saw this film on Laserdisc back in college and watched it so many times (we didn’t have all these streaming services back then!). It had been more than a decade since I last revisited it, but I still found to it be as entertaining as ever, filled with not only fun, nostalgic moments, but also with a lot of heart.
Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release features a new 4K transfer from the original camera negative, and the film looks better than ever. The picture is so crisp and clean, with a pleasant amount of film grain. The colors are bright and beautiful, and the level of detail is excellent. This doesn’t feel like a film that’s over 30 years old. The audio track is just a stereo track, so there’s no immersive feeling, but the dialogue is clear, and there are some great ’80s tunes on the film’s soundtrack. The release is split across two discs, which are loaded with lots of excellent new bonus material that is sure to please longtime fans of the film. The feature disc includes the film’s trailer, a brand new audio commentary by director Todd Holland, and a whopping 38 minutes of never-before-released deleted scenes! If that wasn’t enough, the bonus disc includes a photo gallery and another two and a half hours of interviews, panels and featurettes with the cast and filmmakers. (Though some of these interviews get a bit repetitive.)
The two Blu-ray discs come packed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a slipcover, and no digital copy is included. Like many other Shout Select releases, the insert inside the cover is reversible, giving the viewer a choice in how to display this title in his or her collection. The alternate view for this title can be seen below:
- 1080p / Widescreen 1.85:1
- Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
- Subtitles: English SDH
DISC ONE: FEATURE FILM
- Commentary by Todd Holland (1:40:19)
Director Todd Holland provides an entertaining and informative new feature commentary for this release. He starts off by praising the fans for making this 30th anniversary release happen, and then goes into a more standard behind-the-scenes commentary. He remarks at some of the standards and safety protocols that have changed in the past 30 years, such as swearing in a family film, some of the special effects and filming techniques, the lack of seatbelts, and so on. He also talks about the casting of the film, the sets and locations, the music, changes that were made from the original script, scenes that have been cut out, ADR changes that were made to give the audience more info, and so on. There are lots of great behind-the-scenes stories.
- Deleted Scenes (37:54)
Collection of 27 never-before-released deleted scenes. A large chunk of the scenes come from the beginning of the film, with Corey hanging out with his friends (apparently he has some), and sneaking Jimmy into the Woods home when they discover he can play video games. Some other scenes find Corey and Haley dancing in the diner, kids challenging Jimmy to play against them, and Nick and his father arguing about his lack of attention to his sons and who to blame for Jennifer’s death. Also, more Reno scenes, such as meeting Spanky, the truckers dealing with Putnam, jumping the park gates for the championships, Spanky getting a speeding ticket, Christine seeing the kids coming down in the elevator and asking Jimmy what he wants to do, more competition gameplay, the reading of the final scores, the check presentation where Jimmy has an incident that rekindles Christine’s concerns for her son, Haley pushing Putnam into a wishing well, and leaving the dinosaur park and trying to figure out the car situation. While some of these were interesting or fun, ultimately I think the film was better off losing the majority of these scenes.
- Trailer (2:02)
Presented in 4:3 full frame format.
- The Road to Cali-forn-ia (40:45)
An entertaining retrospective look back at the making of the film with the cast and filmmakers. They talk about the cast, shooting locations, the music, video games, the original ending, and more. The participants also share lots of fun behind-the-scenes stories. Includes behind-the-scenes photos, and all new interviews with writer/producer David Chisholm, producer Ken Topolsky, director Todd Holland, and stars Fred Savage (“Corey”, voice-only) & Luke Edwards (“Jimmy”). Some of Todd Holland’s remarks are a bit repetitive to his commentary track. Also includes some testimonials from fans.
- How Can I Help You? Confessions of a Game Play Counselor (5:52)
In this brand new interview, Greg Lowder, a Nintendo Game Play Counselor from 1988-1993, shares stories about his job training, playing games, dealing with customers, and the depiction of his job and the games in the film.
- A Clinical Analysis of The Wizard (12:48)
In this brand new feature, clinical psychologist Andrea Letamendi, Ph.D., writer/producer David Chisholm, and star Luke Edwards talk about the grief that Corey and Jimmy are dealing with in the film, and the possibility that Jimmy has autism. This felt way over-analyzed, and retconning things into the movie that were probably never there in the first place.
- Let’s Play Gaming Expo 2019 Panel (57:10)
The entire 30th anniversary celebration panel for The Wizard from Let’s Play Gaming Expo 2019, moderated by Christian A Deitering and featuring panelists actor Luke Edwards, writer/producer David Chisholm, and producer Ken Topolsky. The participants discuss the history and legacy of the film. While some of this is repetitive to the previous interviews, there are some interesting stories and discussions.
- Post-Screening Q&A (24:09)
Star Luke Edwards, writer/producer David Chisholm, and producer Ken Topolsky answer audience questions following a 30th Anniversary screening of The Wizard at Let’s Play Gaming Expo 2019 at the Alamo Drafthouse. The audio is a little wonky, and some of the stories are a bit familiar after watching the other interviews, but some of the audience questions provide fun new responses.
- Photo Gallery (10:37)
Slideshow of production & behind-the-scenes photos, publicity shots, and the movie poster that auto-advance every 5 seconds.
DISC TWO: SPECIAL FEATURES
The Wizard definitely feels like a product of its era, but it still holds up remarkably well over 30 years later. Shout! Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray is sure to please fans with a stellar picture and hours of brand new bonus material, including a director commentary track, interviews with the cast and filmmakers, and a plethora of deleted scenes. This is a Must Own for die-hard fans of the film, and highly recommended for anyone else who was alive during the Nintendo NES era.