Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Warp Whistle

Yesterday saw an important event in the world of videogames and largely unjustified nostalgia. I'm speaking of the DVD release of the Fred Savage film and notorious Nintendo vehicle The Wizard.



It's not a good movie. In fact, it's not even a particularly engaging bad movie. It's really quite routine and dull, outside of a few wonderful scenes: the Power Glove's sole moment of greatness, Christian Slater and Beau Bridges reluctantly bonding over an NES, the future lead singer of Rilo Kiley falsely accusing someone of molestation in an arcade, and, of course, the insanely extravagant unveiling of Super Mario Bros. 3. Once you get past the stupid kick of seeing a film that revolves around Nintendo games, there's not much else to do, other than point out the script's parallels with The Who's Tommy and spot Tobey Maguire's first on-screen role.

But it's an important movie, dammit. If you grew up in the shadow of Nintendo and were any sort of normal kid around 1990, there was surely a moment when your ambition in life consisted of trekking across several states, meeting a cute redheaded tomboy (or being that plucky tomboy, if you were a female Nintendo brat), and taking your quasi-autistic kid brother to the fictional equivalent of the Nintendo World Championships, all in the glorious name of videogames. It may not have lasted long, but that moment was there. Don't deny it.

For those film history nerds among us, The Wizard also concluded the short trend of '80s movies that dealt with videogames as a wondrously juvenile subculture. Like Wargames, The Last Starfighter and the legendary Joe Don Baker satire Joysticks, The Wizard envisions a world where playing games, getting high scores, and beating Mecha-Turtle will somehow help you overcome your crippling insecurities and change your life for the better. As the ‘90s started up, this fantasy gave way to films that occupied themselves with the actual games instead of their broader implications. It wasn't a change for the better, perhaps because it's easier to make a cohesive film about young game nerds hitchhiking to Los Angeles than it is to turn the backstory of Double Dragon or Super Mario Bros. into any sort of decent movie.

So it doesn't really matter that The Wizard's DVD release is astoundingly bare-bones, lacking any special features, trailers, or commentary tracks where Christian Slater gets drunk while Jenny Lewis moans about the film and Brooklyn Bridge robbing her of a childhood. It's enough that the now-grown Nintendo kids of 1990 can watch their youthful ambitions played out in some Reagan-era fever dream, where a large corporation could back a film just to show off Raccoon Mario and kids could apparently catch rides across Nevada without ending up in shallow graves by sundown.

It's still a lousy movie, but I think that's the point.