Thursday, October 8, 2020

FIRESTARTER (1984) Blu-ray Review

SCARE-A-THON Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 7
Total First Time Views: 5
Amount raised for BOXVILLE: $448.14

Firestarter (1984) d. Mark L. Lester (USA) (114 min) (2nd viewing)

During a top-secret experiment that leaves the rest of their comrades insane or dead, two of the test subjects undergoing a pituitary gland enhancing drug series end up marrying and producing a child capable of starting infernos with her mind. The nefarious government agency, “The Shop,” observing from afar, decides that Charlie McGee’s (Drew Barrymore) talents should not go unharnessed and plan to spirit her away from her father Andrew (David Keith) and Vicky (Heather Locklear). On the run, Andrew and Charlie dodge and weave, using their extraordinary mental gifts as needed to stay alive and at liberty. The Shop recruits Native American tracker and assassin, John Rainbird (George C. Scott), to bring in their quarry, which he does with disquieting ease. But Rainbird quickly becomes obsessed with Charlie’s power, and so begins the struggle for who will control the young pyrokinetic, raising the question if anyone can….

Based on the bestselling novel, Firestarter hit smack in the middle of the “Stephen King Cycle” of 1983-1986, which began with Cujo, The Dead Zone, and Christine, building through Children of the Corn, Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet, and wrapped up with Maximum Overdrive and Stand By Me. While there’s never been a time that the author’s works haven’t been in high demand for adaptation, this was easily the high saturation point and the results were mostly efficient but rarely remarkable efforts that usually featured strong casts of whom not much was asked.

Firestarter is very much of that ilk: It features Barrymore in her first post-E.T. The Extra-terrestrial role, Locklear (at the height of her T. J. Hooker popularity) in her feature film debut, and David Keith riding high from his recent Golden Globe-nominated turn in An Officer and a Gentleman, supported by an overqualified ensemble of players that includes Martin Sheen (stepping in for an ailing Burt Lancaster), Moses Gunn, Antonio Fargas, and Oscar winners Art Carney and Louise Fletcher. And while no one can argue his skill as a performer, Scott seems about the least likely person to play a Native American you could ask for, tacked-on ponytail or no.

Sadly, the script from Stanley Mann (who penned everything from high-quality efforts like The Mouse That Roared and The Collector to schlock like Damien: Omen II, Conan the Destroyer, and Circle of Iron) doesn’t give them much to do and Mark L. Lester (Class of 1984) feels a bit at sea in terms of building any actual tension or staging any legit release. Even the movie’s fiery finale feels underwhelming and almost, well, boring. It’s just shot after shot of Barrymore blinking into the wind machine blowing blonde tendrils about her tiny features while bad guys galore get blown up real good. There are a few fun moments, but there’s no sense of build or pace. It’s just “Light ’em up, boys!”

John Carpenter was slated to direct the picture before being given the boot by Universal and executive producer Dino De Larentiis in the wake of the disastrous commercial and critical reception of The Thing in 1982, and one can only wonder what the man at the height of his powers might have done with the project. (Apparently, his and Bill Lancaster’s script deviated quite markedly from the novel, which may have put off the money folks.) By contrast, Lester and Mann are slavishly faithful to King’s source material, which unfortunately transfers the dramatic action to cherubic Barrymore’s awkward child-actor line readings (to be fair, she was only eight years old) and close-ups of constantly Keith grabbing his head, glaring at taxi drivers and phone booths to exert his mind-control, and dabbing daintily at his bloodstained his nostrils afterwards. Such is not the stuff of cinematic legend or emotional investment.

Like many of the King adaptations that emerged in the 1980s, Firestarter isn’t a bad movie. It’s just not a very good one, failing to capture the writer’s magical spell from page to screen. It got made, made some money, checks got cashed, and Lester went on to direct Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger the following year. And the wheel goes ’round.


NEW 2K Scan of the Interpositive Film Element
NEW Audio commentary with director Mark L. Lester
NEW “Playing With Fire: The Making of Firestarter” with Director Mark L. Lester, actors Freddie Jones, Drew Snyder, stuntman/actor Dick Warlock, and Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream (53 min)
NEW “Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories” with Johannes Schmoelling (17 min)
NEW Live Performance of "Charlie's Theme" by Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream (3 min)
Theatrical Trailers
Radio Spot
Still Gallery

Firestarter is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:

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