Release Date(s)1989 (March 24, 2020)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout! Factory/Shout Select)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
Several kid’s films from the late 1980s didn’t fare so well upon their initial release, many crashing and burning with audiences and critics, but finding cult lives later on home video. At the same time, the video game market had been reborn, thanks mostly to Nintendo, but also due to a thriving arcade scene. These roads converged in 1989 with the release of The Wizard, a film that managed to reach a lot of people on a personal level, despite its vicious critical takedown.
Jimmy (Luke Edwards) is a child of trauma and divorce, saying very little and unable to communicate, much to the upset of his mother (Wendy Phillips) and stepfather (Sam McMurray). He longs to go to “California,” but they feel that he needs psychiatric care instead. His natural father Sam (Beau Bridges) and half-brothers Corey (Fred Savage) and Nick (Christian Slater) are somewhat out of the picture, though Corey feels a sense of responsibility for Jimmy. One day he sneaks Jimmy out of a children’s asylum and hits the road for California, meeting the plucky but resourceful Haley (Jenny Lewis) along the way. Sam and Nick take off after them, as does hired bounty hunter (Will Seltzer). Along their route, Corey and Haley realize that Jimmy has a knack for video games and enter him into the video game championship at Universal Studios while continuing to evade the adults and trying their best to put up with each other.
While the critics of 1989 would like everyone to believe that The Wizard is one of the worst films of that year, it’s far from bad. Instead, it’s an odd time capsule of an era when Nintendo ruled the home gaming market, and everyone from kids to teenagers to adults were playing video games collectively for the first time, which is reflected in the film. As a framework, the story of The Wizard is about a broken family dealing with the aftereffects of a major tragedy, but having to come together in the end due to unexpected circumstances. However, the relationship between the main three kids—Jimmy, Corey, and Haley—is ultimately what matters most.
That all said, The Wizard also has its moments of cringe, including, but not limited to, the infamous Power Glove scene. The video game competition itself is so over the top and outlandish compared to the real gaming world that it’s laughable. The performances are fine, particularly from all of the child actors, and it’s competently made, but The Wizard is not all that accessible outside of those looking at it through nostalgia goggles. Many long-time fans found the film relatable when they were children themselves. It’s why it managed to find a second life in the first place, which in retrospect, is not a bad thing.
Shout Select brings The Wizard to Blu-ray for a second time in a new Collector’s Edition release. Though Universal released the film on disc themselves utilizing an older master, Shout’s disc sports a new 4K transfer from an unknown element (though it’s likely an interpositive). It bests all previous home video presentations of the film by a country mile. Grain is well-refined and an enormous amount of detail is on display, though it tends to soften during moments featuring video game footage on vintage TV sets. There are a variety of bold colors on display, getting the most out of the many landscapes, buildings, and locations, including a romp through the now defunct King Kong ride at Universal Studios. Black levels are deep with excellent brightness and contrast. The presentation is also relatively free of any leftover damage, though a random bit of speckling pops up now and again. It’s also an entirely stable presentation as well.
The audio is provided in English 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s not a powerhouse stereo presentation, but there are frequent moments of panning and ambient activity to be found, particularly during cross-country moments which feature passing cars and open vistas, as well as the boisterous crowd at the video game competition. Dialogue exchanges are clean and clear, but the score doesn’t get much of a boost. However, the music selection has a large amount of clarity and presence, more so than the other elements. Sound effects have decent heft, particularly video game sounds, and there are also no instances of leftover damage.
The following extras are also included on each disc:
- Audio Commentary by Director Todd Holland
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 37:54)
- Trailer (SD – 2:02)
- The Road to Cali-forn-ia: A Look Back at The Wizard (HD – 40:45)
- How Can I Help You? Confessions of a Game Play Counselor (HD – 5:52)
- A Clinical Analysis of The Wizard (HD – 12:48)
- Let’s Play Gaming Expo 2019 Panel (HD – 57:10)
- Alamo Drafthouse 2019 Post Screening Q&A (HD – 24:09)
- Photo Gallery (HD – 146 in all – 10:37)
The audio commentary with Todd Holland goes a quiet a bit too often. He’s very enthusiastic and offers some nice information about the making of the film, his appreciation for the actors, and the footage cut out of the final film, but the track could really have used a moderator. Alternatively, the deleted scenes are fascinating. Since the film originally clocked in at nearly 2 1/2 hours once it was assembled, a lot had to be cut to get it down to 90 minutes. Most of the beginning came under the knife, including Corey’s and Nick’s relationship with each other, their situation with Sam, Corey attempting to teach Jimmy how to play video games, and Corey and his friends going to the arcade and squeezing Nick for cash when he attempts to sneak out with Sam’s truck. The rest comes down to tiny moments throughout the film that were best left on the cutting room floor, including an additional moment of family drama after the video game competition, but one can’t help but feeling that the film should probably have been closer to 2 hours. The Look Back documentary features writer/producer David Chisholm, producer Ken Topolsky, Fred Savage, Todd Holland, Luke Edwards, and Nintendo game play counselor Greg Lowder talking about their experiences with the film and their heartfelt appreciation for the fans of it. How Can I Help You? speaks to Greg Lowder a bit more about his experience as a game play counselor. Clinical Analysis features Andrea Letamendi, Ph.D. discussing the film’s psychological aspects when it comes to its story and characters. The Panel and Q&A footage features Luke Edwards, David Chisholm, and Ken Topolsky speaking to fans of the film. And finally, the photo gallery offers 146 behind-the-scenes stills, on-set stills, promotional photos, and the film’s poster.
This Collector’s Edition of The Wizard is a long overdue gift to fans of the film who have been waiting years to hear from its creators about the making of it, but also getting the chance to see all of the deleted scenes, which offer an interesting look at how the film was shaped into its final form. The A/V quality, as well as the main documentary and other extras, make this release a real treat, even for casual viewers. Highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons