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Official Article

Nintendo Is a Wizard at Product Placement

Recently, my friend Ashley and I went to see TransFormers: Age of Extinction. In between director Michael Bay's trademark explosions, the smoke cleared just long enough to ensure that the audience had crystal-clear views of products like Bud Light, Mountain Dew, General Motors, etc.

Product placement has long been an aspect of movies, with the more shameless examples naturally being in the summer blockbusters that need some way to pay off their massive budgets. Lately, it has gotten more and more obvious, going from subtle and somewhat clever background placement to hit-you-over-the-head, front-and-center placement that positions the brand more in-your-face than a Super Bowl ad.

Back when we were kids, however, there was one movie whose terribly noticeable product placement was not only something we gleefully absorbed, but actually anticipated. The movie?

As Fred Savage's star rose on The Wonder Years, Hollywood cast him in more and more movies, with varying success. Macaulay Culkin was also around at this time, but Home Alone had yet to strike gold at the box office, so some child star needed to be exploited.

Savage had memorable roles (such as that of the grandson in The Princess Bride) and quasi-forgettable roles (in fare like The Boy Who Could Fly and Little Monsters) when The Wizard was released. While the movie wouldn't exactly tentpole Savage's career, we kids loved it because of who--or what--Savage's co-star was:
Years before the Resident Evil, Pokemon, and even Super Mario Bros. movies, it was extremely rare to hear our beloved video games even mentioned in motion pictures. The Wizard changed all of that, over stuffing the running time with lengthy, if inaccurate, video game references and imagery. Loogaroo of the critical gaming site The Bloog highlighted several such mistakes.

The "Wizard" in question is not Savage, but rather a young Luke Edwards, who plays Jimmy, the autistic younger brother of Savage's character Corey. Traumatized by the drowning death of his twin sister and the devastating effects it had on the family, he turns his focus inward to video games.

Eventually, he and Corey decide to run away to try out for the ultra-awesome video game championships in Los Angeles (what better goal could a disturbed child have than a corporately-sponsored event that won't matter to anyone in 5 years' time?). Once their divorced parents receive word of this, the movie quickly turns into a chase/road trip picture, littered with video game plugs.

Take, for example, the villainous Lucas, who beats the crap out of our young hero (in a game) using the Power Glove, whose use is about as subtle as a refinery explosion.

Something is bad, but it certainly isn't the Power Glove (well, actually that was pretty bad too).

Each summer, my family made a 6-hour trip across Pennsylvania to visit my dad's family in Ohio. To a young kid like me, this journey felt a lot more like 6 years because the route is just so boring. The Wizard gave me hope that such road trips could actually be substantial (meaning filled with video games at every turn), rather than endless interstate cutting through rural areas. 

The Wizard lied to me.

While it didn't set a new standard for road tripping, it did manage to produce one great thrill. This thrill, which was captured in the movie's trailers, was what the entire movie (and its Nintendo-affiliated investors) was building up to. The hell with the dysfunctional family nonsense; this is what we really knew was going to put *sses into seats.

Somehow, Jimmy and the other contestants all knew exactly how to play the as-yet-unreleased game, even knowing about such secrets as the Warp Whistles.

While The Wizard certainly didn't go down as a timeless, cinematic classic, it certainly did develop a cult following, largely due to the too-obvious product placement that was inserted to make up for an otherwise lame plot. As the years went on, it also resonated with those of us who grew up on old 8-bit Nintendo games, longing for the days when games weren't these super-involved, multi-platform deals whose secrets are a mere few clicks away on the Internet.

Sadly, the product placement is the only thing that hasn't retreated into history.
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Fulton4V Posted on Aug 28, 2014 at 05:32 PM

Wizard was one of my favorite movies growing up. I remember being very excited about mario 3 at the time and thought the kids playing were so lucky. I havent watched it in a long long time. Good movie.

Benjanime Posted on Aug 25, 2014 at 03:42 PM

well the avgn DID point out that the wizard was one big advertisement, mostly for that power glove, and just to make everyone in the U.S. go nuts over super mario bros. 3 before it got released in the states

Vaporman87 Posted on Aug 25, 2014 at 02:43 PM

I might catch some flack for this, but I have NEVER watched The Wizard. I've known about it for quite some time, but wasn't interested in it when it was released in theaters, and never was able to build up any interest in it thereafter.

As has been discussed here in the forums (see: http://retro-daze.org/site/thread/456 ), 1989 was a huge year for movies, with Batman taking the lead. This film never stood a chance to earn my movie ticket money.

But now, with the nostalgia factor of it increasing every year, I think it's time I give this movie a viewing. It's a long time coming, but it's time to scratch this one off my bucket list. :)

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