The Wizard (Universal Pictures, 1989)

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There have always been product placement in movies. It’s just a matter of how those products are shown in the movie. Some products are just an element from everyday life, and are presented as such in the movies, like cereal or soda. Other examples are more blatant, with the audience being assaulted by various products up close and personal. Just watch any major Sony movie from the past decade, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

What I am going to talk about today is one of the most unique forms of product placement I’ve ever seen, “The Wizard,” or “Nintendo: The Movie.” This is just an odd movie all around. I really can’t think of any other movie quite like it. It is a fairly rote story, but presented in Nintendo packaging, aimed directly at young kids. Take all Nintendo references and products out of it and it would not be remembered today, but the fact that it is wrapped up in Nintendo products insures that the movie is remembered as a nostalgic movie for old Nintendo fans such as me.

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The movie is basically a drama with Nintendo elements added on. The plot is about a damaged boy named Jimmy who is mostly silent when not saying, “California.” He is intent on going to California for reasons that are left mysterious until the ending. After he tries to run away from home and is put in and institution, his older brother Corey, played by Fred Savage, decides to break him out and take him to California. Attached to this plot is that Jimmy is a “Rain Man” style savant that kicks ass at all video games. Together with a runaway girl named Haley, they use Jimmy’s skill to win money by hustling people in video game bets. It all ends up at a massive video game tournament in Los Angeles, where the winner gets $50,000.

The movie plays into certain tropes of many 80s movies I remember. The movie has 3 kids in the main roles, and they are on their own, going on a trip without adults. Movies like “The Goonies” also played into this, having kids going off on their own without parental supervision. Ignoring that pre-teens off on their own in the real world are in major trouble, there is a certain wish fulfillment to this narrative. Most of the adults in this movie are portrayed as idiots, but the “kid bounty hunter” is especially egregious. You would think someone that is hired to find missing kids would be a decent person, but in this movie he is an incredibly cartoonish villain.

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What makes the movie really unique is that it is pretty much a product placement movie for Nintendo. If you name a Nintendo game from the late 80s, chances are you’ll see it in this movie. You can relive the frustration of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES game along with Beau Bridges and Christian Slater! The crown jewel of the movie comes at the big competition at the end of the movie – the debut of Super Mario Bros. 3. Putting aside the fact that Jimmy somehow knows how to find the first warp whistle during his first time playing the game, this is pretty awesome. The movie makes this game a huge deal, and stoked anticipation for everyone who was looking forward to the game.

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An infamous scene in the movie is a scene in which Jimmy meets his match with Lucas, a rival gamer who has apparently the greatest NES product of all – the power glove. There is a scene that is only there to show how cool the power glove is. I never had one myself, but I’ve heard that the movie is, to put it nicely, exaggerating its effectiveness. The scene is so corny that it is awesome. Who can resist the line, “I love the power glove, it’s so bad”?

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The movie makes it seem like Nintendo is one of the most important things around. I mean, how many people were actually betting on Nintendo games at the time? It seems like everywhere they go, they run into people that they can win money from playing video games. I could understand it if Jimmy was a master poker player or something like that, but Nintendo? When Jimmy hits a road block, Haley calls the Nintendo Power Line for help. The movie makes it look like the Power Line is in a bustling office with people working around the clock and constantly receiving phone calls. I somehow doubt this was actually the case.

In the end, I can’t hate this movie. I mean, if there was a movie today that pretty much existed to promote a product, I would be annoyed, but this movie hits me right in the nostalgic part of my brain. I imagine this movie works best for Nintendo fans. This movie is made for people already inclined to support Nintendo, so if you’re not a fan of Nintendo, avoid this movie. If you’ve never seen it, I recommend it for the thrill of reliving the early age of video games.

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