OK, so I’m a huge fan of The Wizard, the 1989 film starring Fred Savage (otherwise known as that kid from The Wonder Years and The Princess Bride) where he takes his younger brother across the country to participate in an epic video-game tournament.
You’re probably thinking OK, what millennial isn’t a huge fan of ‘The Wizard’? If you grew up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, then it’s likely you: (a.) owned the original Nintendo and played it obsessively; (b.) watched The Wizard and pissed yourself when they unveiled Super Mario Brothers 3 at the end, and; (c.) begged your parents afterwards to buy you a Power Glove. Because, as the villainous character Lucas proclaimed, “it’s so bad.” (Which turned out to be an accurate description for many a disappointed Power Glove owner.)
Arguably, The Wizard’s not so much a feature film as it is a 90-minute commercial for Nintendo. Nevertheless, its awesomeness remains unparalleled. And by “awesomeness,” I mean its cheesy nostalgic factor, its threadbare plot, and its random insertion of video gameplay in a blatant attempt to sell Nintendo consoles.
But The Wizard holds a special place in my heart, because at its core, it’s all about me.
Seriously? No, not really. But my life does share a lot of eerie connections to the film, starting with the obvious:
- I’m about the same age of the main characters, Corey (Fred Savage) and Jimmy (Luke Edwards).
- I grew up playing Nintendo obsessively.
- Corey and Jimmy’s dad (Beau Bridges) is a landscaper. My grandpa and uncle are landscapers.
- The movie was filmed in various locations around Northern Nevada. I grew up in Northern Nevada.
- In one scene, there’s a poster of Tom Pretty’s “Full Moon Fever” album. I owned “Full Moon Fever” growing up.
- Four minutes into the movie, Jimmy is shown in a playroom that contains a blue elephant slide. I owned that exact type of slide when I was a kid.
OK, I admit: No. 5 is sketchy, and No. 6 is borderline obsessive. Maybe it’s best to scratch those from the list, to preserve some semblance of sanity.
But No. 4 is cool, because I can watch the film and point out to other viewers where most of the scenes take place. (Which I know is disruptive and annoying, but it’s not like you’re going to miss out on the plot, so bear with me.)
Speaking of the plot, I wont go into a synopsis here. The Angry Video Game Nerd and The Nostalgia Critic have already done stellar reviews. What I want to do is to mention a couple of the filming locations I instantly recognized when I first watched the film.
Some of the locations are obvious, including downtown Reno. (Las Vegas may be the marriage capital of the world, but Reno’s where you go to undo the damage.) The film features the famous Reno Arch, which also makes a prominent appearance in such cinematic masterpieces as Sister Act and Father’s Day.
Other scenes are more memorable to me, because when I first saw them and recognized the location, it was like getting a double dose of pure awesomeness. Not only was I watching a movie about Nintendo, but it had been filmed in my very own hometown. (And coming from a rural hometown, we had very few things to get excited about … except for maybe the prospect of leaving one day.)
During the “Send Me An Angel” music montage, for example, there’s a quick shot of a black Volkswagen sculpture. I used to drive past that sculpture all the time, and it’s still there to this day. It’s located along Highway 50 in Mound House, just east of Carson City. In fact, directly across the highway is the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, the world-famous legal brothel. (But for obvious reasons, the brothel does not make an appearance in the film.)
Throughout the movie, Jimmy and Corey’s dad (played by Beau Bridges) and their older brother (played by Christian Slater), are trying to track the kids before they’re picked up by Putnam, a bounty-hunter-like character (played by Will Seltzer) who makes his living finding runaways. The father and brother clash with Putnam in a few funny scenes, one of which was filmed in historic downtown Dayton, Nevada.
Dayton is also located along Highway 50 east of Carson City, not far from Mound House. In this particular scene, Putnam and the father smash their vehicles into one another. Putnam ends up with a crushed rear end, but at least he’s able to drive away. Bridges and Slater, on the other hand, can only watch as steam hisses from their crumpled engine.
While Dayton has almost completely transformed since the late 1980s, historic downtown Dayton looks pretty much the same as it did in the movie. You can still see the Fox Hotel in the background, as well as the intersection of Highway 50 and Dayton Valley Road. As of 2015, the traffic light shown in this scene is still the only one in town.
An interesting tidbit: Parts of the 1982 Clint Eastwood movie, Honkytonk Man, also were filmed in historic downtown Dayton. If you watch both Honkytonk Man and The Wizard, you’ll see the exact same landmarks, including the Fox and Union hotels. Even more interesting, the spot where Beau Bridges and Christian Slater are standing after Putnam wrecks their truck is the exact spot where Clint Eastwood is standing when his character gets arrested in Honkytonk Man.
Another interesting tidbit: My grandfather’s 1926 Dodge was featured in Honkytonk Man, and my then-13-year-old uncle, John, served as a temporary snack-server when the crew filmed in Genoa, Nevada.
It’s a shame I wasn’t aware of the The Wizard being filmed, because I would have loved to have visited the set. Maybe I could have hung out with the cast and impressed them with my badass Nintendo-playing skills. (Well, maybe not so much “badass” as just plain bad, as I never could beat the rooftop level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.)
But apparently, some things never change, as I also wasn’t aware of the Channel Awesome crew filming near Reno. And seeing that production would have been even more awesome than seeing The Wizard. So that’s two epic fails on my part. (Unless you want to count me missing the filming of Sister Act and Father’s Day … which trust me, I don’t.)
So if you’re a fan of The Wizard and want to visit some of the filming locations, start with Reno and make your way to Dayton. I believe other scenes were filmed in Yerington and Gardnerville, as well as Truckee, California. And if you were present during the filming, please leave a comment below. It would be interesting to hear from someone who was there.
If you haven’t seen The Wizard, be sure to check it out. Like Lucas’s dazzling, high-tech Power Glove, it’s “so bad.”
And speaking from the perspective of a Nintendo-crazed, nostalgic-for-the-’90s millennial, I mean that in the good way, of course.