Firestarter Blu-ray (Collector’s Edition)
Director: Mark L. Lester
Screenwriter: Stanley Mann
Cast: David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Freddie Jones, Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Art Carney, Louise Fletcher
Distributor: Scream Factory
Rated R | 114 Minutes
Release Date: March 14, 2017
Based on the 1980 best-seller by Stephen King, Firestarter tells the story of Charlene “Charlie” McGee (Drew Barrymore), a pyrokinetic nine-year-old child who can start fires with her mind.
Written by Stanley Mann (Conan the Destroyer) and directed by Mark L. Lester (Commando), Firestarter is the latest forgotten genre film to receive the Scream Factory treatment.
Before I dig into the Firestarter film we got in 1984, I want to talk a little about the film that could have been. In 1982, Universal Pictures hired John Carpenter and The Thing screenwriter Bill Lancaster to adapt King’s novel. King approved of the script, but after The Thing flopped at the box office, Universal fired Carpenter and shelved Lancaster’s script. Carpenter would go on to adapt King’s Christine for Columbia Pictures, while Universal and producer Dino DeLaurentiis would develop a lower-budget adaptation of Firestarter with Mann and Lester.
It’s an interesting “What if?” scenario. On the one hand, a Carpenter-directed version of Firestarter would have better than the flavorless film we got, but on the other, we wouldn’t have John Carpenter’s Christine, at least not the version we know today. And considering Christine is one of my favorite Carpenter movies, I can deal with Lester’s bland Firestarter adaptation.
After participating in an experiment in which they were given a dose of a hallucinogen called LOT-6, Andy McGee (David Keith) and Vicky Tomlinson (Heather Locklear) develop telepathic abilities. Vicky can read minds, while Andy can take over minds and make others do what he wants. They get married and have a child, Charlie (Barrymore), who grows up to develop powers of her own. In addition to being able to see into the future, the young girl can start fires with her mind.
The government agency that sponsored the LOT-6 experiment, the Department of Scientific Intelligence (aka “the Shop”), wants Charlie to harness her unstable ability as a weapon of mass destruction. The Shop’s leader, Hollister (Martin Sheen), sends agent John Rainbird (George C. Scott, playing a Native American in an eye patch) to abduct the girl. Now held prisoner at a secret government installation, Charlie will have to learn how to control her dangerous ability, break free from the Shop, and save her family.
Firestarter isn’t a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination; it’s competent in nearly every aspect. It just kind of feels like a carbon copy of a carbon copy. King’s 1974 novel, Carrie, which was adapted by Brian De Palma in 1976, features a similar story, with a young girl struggling to control her own dangerous, psychic powers. And then there’s De Palma’s The Fury, a 1978 movie about an agency that kidnaps psychics to turn them into weapons in service of the government. A year before Firestarter came out, David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone, another King adaptation, featured a young man who awakens from a coma to find he has psychic powers. He taps into these abilities to stop a corrupt politician (played by Sheen, oddly enough) from starting a nuclear holocaust.
There just isn’t much to Lester’s film that makes it stand out. Perhaps the only thing that elevates this movie is its pulsating score from Tangerine Dream, the prolific German electronic music group that composed scores for films like Sorcerer, Risky Business, The Keep, Near Dark, and Legend. The soundtrack gives the movie a moody Carpenter vibe, even if the film itself isn’t that stylish. As a diehard King fan, I would put Firestarter smack-dab in the middle of the author’s film adaptations. It isn’t as misguided as 1995’s The Mangler or 1997’s Trucks, but it’s nowhere near top-tier adaptations like Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, or The Mist.
As for the disc, Scream Factory’s Firestarter (Collector’s Edition) offers a new 2K restoration of the interpositive (2.35:1 aspect ratio) with a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono soundtrack and a ton of newly produced bonus materials, which you can read more about below.
This Collector’s Edition features a new audio commentary with director Mark L. Lester as well as several featurettes, including “Playing With Fire: The Making Of Firestarter,” with interviews with Lester, Freddie Jones, Drew Snyder, stuntman/actor Dick Warlock, and Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream.
Speaking of the film’s music makers, another featurette, “Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories,” provides a look back at the film’s memorable score. As an added bonus, there’s also a live performance Of “Charlie’s Theme” By Schmoelling, who was the group’s keyboardist from 1979 to 1985. Rounding out the release is your typical assortment of trailers, radio spots, and still galleries.
Overall, if you’re a huge King fan – or a Scream Factory completist – then there’s room on your shelf for this Firestarter Collector’s Edition. This is as close to a definitive release as you can get with Lester’s 1984 movie, and I can’t imagine anyone out there putting more effort into making this forgotten film look as good as it does here.