IT'S TOO BAD Nicolas Cage is going to ruin wizards this weekend. That's not an attack—it's a testament. Once the man wraps his ginormous choppers around a role and masticates the scenery into a frothy paste, there's no reason for anyone else to tackle the subject. For example: I don't think anyone's gonna be re-remaking The Wicker Man anytime soon. So, to get our wizarding fill, we must look to the past.
Obviously, we will start with The Lord of the Rings. No, not that one—the other one. Ralph Bakshi's rotoscoped cartoon from 1978 has more missteps than an epileptic breakdancer, but maybe the most glorious mistake is the depiction of Saruman. For half the movie, he's called "Aruman," and for the other half, it's like he's the star of a completely different cartoon entirely, one called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Turncoat.
It's strange that Bakshi got a wizard so entertainingly wrong when just a year previous he succeeded with Wizards, an ambitious cult classic about a grumpy, cigar-chewing bastard named Avatar who fights his twin brother Blackwolf to stop him from using Nazi propaganda films to enslave the world. The message is as subtle as a shotgun to the nuts, but Avatar's characterization and animation is worth the watch.
The early '80s were a good time for silver-screen sorcery: In 1982, Thulsa Doom killed Conan the Barbarian's family and made him push a wheel for 30 years, and he could turn into a big-ass snake. Compare that to the R. Lee Ermey levels of grizzled badassery that Nicol Williamson used to play Merlin in John Boorman's Excalibur (1981). The winner? Your eyeballs.
But probably the most awe-inspiring wizard to ever grace the screen? That autistic kid in the 1989 Fred Savage movie/glorified Nintendo ad, The Wizard. Not only does that brat find the warp whistle on his very first playthrough of Super Mario Bros. 3, he does it on a Power Glove like it's nothing. There are passages in the Necronomicon less complicated.