Based on the Stephen King novel, Firestarter may not be a masterpiece, but more than thirty years after its theatrical release, it’s still entertaining. While the pyrotechnics and special effects occasionally threaten to overtake the narrative, a memorable performance from George C. Scott helps elevate the material. As a teenager in the 1980’s, I was enthralled by the idea of a young girl with superhuman ability. Star Drew Barrymore encapsulated it well when she said of Firestarter, “a weird, different little movie.”
With the box office success of Christine the year before, John Carpenter wrote a script that, while inspired by Stephen King’s work, differed greatly from his novel. Wanting a screenplay more faithful to the original material, Universal turned to veteran scribe Stanley Mann (Eye of the Needle, Conan the Destroyer) and hired Mark L. Lester, then primarily known as a prolific B-movie director, to helm the project. Just two years removed from her child star making turn in Steven Spielberg’s E.T., casting Drew Barrymore in the lead role of Charlene “Charlie” McGee was a major coup.
Charlie and her father Andrew (David Keith) are on the run from Government agents. Flashing back to the 1960’s, a young Andrew and his future wife, Vicky Tomlinson (Heather Locklear), take mild hallucinogenic drugs as part of a controlled experiment. Referred to as “Lot-6,” the experiment gave them hypnotic powers. Now, years later, a shady government group, the Department of Scientific Intelligence, better known as ‘The Shop,’ and their leader Captain Hollister has an interest in young Charlie after learning she has pyrokinetic abilities (eg. setting a piece of toast on fire). Andrew also has pyrokinetic abilities, and the film using rather jarring sound effects to present his mind-bending prowess. On the run, and being relentlessly tracked by Agent John C. Rainbird and his men. As the pressure mounts, Charlie might not be able to stay calm. The McGee’s hitch a ride with elderly Irv Manders (Art Carney) who drives them to his farm, where his younger wife, Norma (Louise Fletcher) takes Charlie to see the chickens. A fiery standoff ensues when DSI agents find the McGee’s.
More science fiction than horror, Firestarter suffers from weaknesses in the narrative. Even so, the film has some positive things going for it. At just 9-years old, Drew Barrymore does a commendable job carrying the film on her shoulders. She delivers a surprisingly mature performance and her chemistry with the legendarily irascible George C. Scott is amazing. The actors work together in just two scenes, but it represents some of the best moments Firestarter has to offer. The usually reliable Martin Sheen is also good as the DSI’s Captain Hollister. The warm, personable attitude he displays toward Charlie hides his true, sinister motives so well! Her role is small, but Heather Locklear (was she in everything during the 1980’s?) does a fine job as Vicky McGee. The only real weak link in the cast is David Keith. Now, it’s not all his fault, as his character is never really fully developed. While Keith conveys some sadness regarding the death of his wife, otherwise, he’s an emotional flat line and often affects a monotone delivery.
A 2K scan of the interposition film element, Scream Factory has delivery a fantastic 1080p transfer in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Shot in Wilmington, NC the eye catching wilderness scenes and dense vegetation look lush, and the greens well saturated. Details are strong across the board, both textures and environmental. Depth is strong, with a precise separation between foreground and background. Blacks are deep and rich, while the color palette appears bright and natural. Skin looks appropriate throughout. The print is in very good shape with a nice level of grain. I spotted just a couple specks of debris that shouldn’t effect the overall viewing experience.
Scream Factory provides the movie’s original monaural recording, rendered here as a DTS-HD Master. While the track shows its age limitations, fidelity is apparent but some listeners nay need to turn up the volume to hear all the dialogue. The track doesn’t exhibit much in the way of range, but thankfully, there are no anomalies interfering with things further. The score by Tangerine Dream sounds a bit boxed in, but it has the same level of pleasing, concise clarity as the dialogue.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Director Mark L. Lester: In this commentary with a surprising amount of dead air, Lester covers a lot of the same ground discussed in the later documentary, including the films origins, working with the actors, filming, locations, and more.
- NEW! Playing with Fire: The Making of Firestarter (HD, 52:40) This excellent documentary features interviews with Director Mark L. Lester, Actors Freddie Jones, Drew Snyder, Stuntman/Actor Dick Warlock, Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream and more.
- NEW! Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories – An Interview with Johannes Schmoelling (HD,17:07) He discusses how the band got their start, the film music they’ve done, their inspirations, the relationship between band mates, and more.
- NEW! Live Performance of “Charlie’s Theme” by Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream (HD, 2:33) On piano.
- Theatrical Trailers (HD, 3:43) Two American trailers for Firestarter.
- Radio Spot (HD, 4:34)
- Still Gallery (HD, 5:57)
Movie title: Firestarter (1984)
Director(s): Mark L. Lester
Actor(s): Drew Barrymore, David Keith , George C. Scott , Martin Sheen , Freddie Jones, Heather Locklear