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Firestarter is the story of Charlie (Drew Barrymore at age 8) and Andy,
her dad (David Keith), and the people who are trying to imprison,
control and/or kill them (Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Moses Gunn,
and others). Charlie is a mutant. Her father and mother were part of an
experiment on mutagenic substances performed on college students in the
1960s by The Shop. The experiment gave Andy the ability to control
others minds, but the mutation, apparently dormant in his wife, was
passed on through the sex chromosome to his daughter. Charlie, quite
plainly, can combust virtually anything with her mind.
Though all the acting in this film is good, Barrymore and Scott are truly awesome. Scott plays a brilliant sociopath, and can go from a kindly old Viet Nam vet to a ruthless killer with one quick change of facial expression. And Barrymore (at the age of 8, if you didn't pick up on that the first time I said it) gives her character a fully believable person-hood with great depth.
Like the novel, this is more of a horror-thriller than classic King ghost stories - like The Shining. It is also less classic King horror - like Carrie. And its also not a great drama like Dolores Claiborne, Misery and Stand By Me. Though it fits into roughly the same category as Hearts in Atlantis, it is not a literary as this much later King work and the characters are not as well developed. Although the book could be said to be one of King's earlier experiments with what would become a formula for his lesser works, King's writing is so lucid, and his characters are so interesting, believable and nicely examined, that his 'B fiction' is still somewhat above the average best-seller. The film follows the book very closely, and, like the book, is sort of a prototype for the more formulaic films in the King portfolio.
The directing is very good, the cinematography (especially the effects) is excellent, and the film is, as a whole entertaining. But, for those who have not read the book, the film will likely come off as 'no big deal.' As with many of the more formulaic King-derived films, this is best seen as a cathartic summary of the original work (like Dreamcatchers, Running Man, The Stand, Maximum Overdrive, The Mangler and others).
Despite the fact that the films usually revolve around good and
interesting stories, film adaptations of Stephen King's works are often
not the best horror movies. Firestarter isn't the best known of his
books, and that's slightly odd as this film adaptation is one of the
best based on his stories. The film takes obvious influence from Brian
De Palma's 'The Fury', as aside from the fact that this one is about a
young girl that can start fires, and De Palma's film features a boy
with psychic abilities; the way that both plots play out is very
similar indeed. The plot has a number of problems, and the characters
don't always act logically; but this is offset by the likable nature of
the film, and characters that are easy to get along with due to their
relatively simplistic nature. The film follows the aftermath of an
experiment in which people were given an experimental drug. The
ultimate result of this experiment was a child born of Andy and Vicky
McGee; a child with a unique ability known as 'pyrokinesis' - the
ability to start fires at will.
The film benefits from a range of cult stars. A young Drew Barrymore takes the title role, and although her acting skills hadn't been honed by the time this film was released, and she is more than a little bit wooden; she provides an interesting lead. David Keith and Martin Sheen back her up well in supporting roles, but the main acting plaudits go to the great George C. Scott who is good in what is probably the meatiest role of the piece. The running time is a little long for a film like this, but it's well used and the fact that the story doesn't get caught up with needless elements such as the girl's mother and father falling in love is definitely a good thing. The plot is very relaxed for most of the way through, and director Mark L. Lester seems content to just let things play out. That is until the last fifteen minutes; when the plot reaches its full potential and explodes with a fun and exciting finale. The film does feel more than a little bit like a TV movie at times; and the dumbed down techno soundtrack doesn't help this. Overall, the film definitely isn't perfect; but it's an enjoyable watch and King films have definitely been a lot worse!
If you thought that "Carrie" made incredible use of conflagrations, you
ain't seen nothing yet! In Stephen King's other combustion-themed
story, "Firestarter" portrays the daughter (Drew Barrymore) of a
experimental guinea pig (David Keith) using her ignition abilities to
get her way. When the government kidnaps her and her father, things
really get ugly.
On one level, this movie seems a little preachy, with the shadowy agents going after the man and his daughter. But I would call that an accurate depiction of things. And you gotta agree with what the girl does, no matter how extreme she gets (and I'm talking really extreme). So I definitely recommend this movie. But if you're a pyromaniac, don't let this movie encourage you.
Also starring Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Art Carney and Louise Fletcher.
Firestarter is one of those movies that bores critics and often appears as
weekend or late night filler on TV. Even so, the movie does have its
moments. Give it a chance, and Firestarter will grow on
Fans of the X Files will be at home with the movie's plot about an experimental drug given to 60s college students by a secret government agency, known as The Shop. Two of the students (portrayed by David Keith and Heather Locklear) eventually marry and a child is born; a "firestarter" (played by Drew Barrymore) who can set anything ablaze with just one angry thought. Martin Sheen and George C. Scott round out the cast as heads of The Shop, who are now bent on capturing the girl and harnessing her power as a weapon, not to mention using her as a way to get funding for more experiments.
The acting and dialogue certainly aren't award-winning, but they do carry the movie along. The music, written and performed by Tangerine Dream, is perfectly suited to the movie, and in my opinion is some of Tangerine Dream's best work. The special effects are convincing, and at times, chilling. Readers of Stephen King's best-selling novel will be happy to know that this movie is, for the most part, faithful to his original story, despite a rather clipped ending.
In all, if you have a taste for conspiracy thrillers with a healthy dose of science fiction thrown in, you'll like this one, though it probably won't be your favorite.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I`ve only seen FIRESTARTER once and that was about 18 months ago on the
Sci-fi channel . It`s mainly a forgettable movie with a plot that`s been
reused a few times on THE X-FILES . It wasn`t until I was flicking through
this site killing time that I remembered seeing it and would have totally
forgotten seeing the movie in the first place if it wasn`t for the fact that
this movie is disturbing and I don`t mean that in a good way
!!!! MILD SPOILERS !!!!
The story revolves around Andrew Mcgee and his daughter Charlene who are on the run from government spooks who are after Charlene because she has telekinetic abilities to make things combust . It`s a simple plot but there`s two elements to the story that disturbed me . One is the introduction of the main villain John Rainbird ( The McGees have been captured by the spooks at this point ) who in order to find out the secret of Charlene`s powers tries to gain her confidence . What I found so disgusting about this is that it`s like watching how a paedophile may manipulate a victim , it really made my skin crawl and considering Rainbird states he`ll personally kill young Charlene after he`s " Got what he`s wanted " the allusion to child molesting and child murder is complete . Okay I accept that the audience detesting Rainbird and wanting him to be cruelly killed is accepted as part of the drama but what I don`t accept is the number of people killed by the Mcgees who are just doing their job . This was the second reason I disliked the movie intensely , in several scenes government officials are burned to death after trying to arrest the Mcgees . Okay the McGees could claim self defence like the action sequence at the end where they flame the government base but if you heard on the news today that several government law enforcers were killed in the line of duty after trying to arrest suspected terrorists/criminals where would your sympathy lie ? Would it be the with the law enforcers or the suspected terrorists/criminals ? These scenes of fiery deaths are even more disturbing watching Charlene being played by the angelic child actress Drew Barrymore
One other thing I can recall about FIRESTARTER is that the cast are wasted. Louise Fletcher and George C Scott both won Oscars in the 1970s ( Okay Scott turned his down but you know what I mean ) while there`s some classy support from character actors like Martin Sheen and Freddie Jones but ultimately I found myself asking what are these actors doing in such a low brow movie ? In fact FIRESTARTER is so bad I started wondering why Heather Locklear agreed to appear in it
The main problem with "Firestarter" is it tries to adapt the story of
the book faithfully, at the expense of character development. It is
impossible to cram a five hundred page book into one two hour movie and
make it work favourably. For much of the picture, the pacing feels
awkward and rushed, more interested in moving the plot along than
developing the characters.
Brian De Palma's "Carrie" followed the story of the book just as closely. But seeing as "Carrie" is less than half the length of "Firestarter", it made for a much more comfortable adaptation.
Stanley Kubrick had the right idea with "the Shining". The book was about the same length as "Firestarter", and as a result the plot was butchered heavily to make it work for the screen. Stephen King (and much of his loyal fanbase) have misgivings about Kubrick's adaptation, a lot of people who love film (and recognise it as the different medium that it is) regard it as a masterpiece.
Mark Lester's "Firestarter" isn't all bad however. George C. Scott's John Rainbird is inspired casting, and probably the best thing this film has going for it. The scene at the Manders' farm, and the conclusion at the Shop's headquarters make for enjoyable viewing and are handled capably.
It's a shame, that as a whole, the film doesn't work too well. I'd definitely like to see this re-adapted into another film or a mini-series. The book isn't exactly King's best, but it has a lot of potential for another screen outing. 5/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
During 1983 and 1984, there were no fewer than four movies released
that were based on the works of Stephen King, this era's horror
literature maven. The first three were THE DEAD ZONE, CUJO, and
CHRISTINE. The fourth, and least commercially successful, was
FIRESTARTER, based on King's 1980 novel. The fact that it didn't fare
all that well with critics or audiences doesn't diminish the fact that
it remains, despite some flaws, one of the best adaptations of King's
works, as well as a commentary on the dangerous of government
interference and dissembling in people's lives.
Drew Barrymore, who made a star-making turn in E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, is the young girl possessed of a devastating kind of psychic power called pyrokinesis, the ability to light fires just by concentrating long and hard about it. Her power is the result of her parents (David Keith; Heather Locklear) having undergone a bizarre chemical experiment in 1969 conducted by a secret government agency known as The Shop. Since then, eight of the ten patients originally involved have died horrible deaths, and Locklear has been murdered by agents of the Shop. Now, Keith and Barrymore are on their own, with Keith's only ability to protect Barrymore being his own psychic ability. But once in the hands of the Shop, led by Martin Sheen and George C. Scott, they are the subject of various experiments on their abilities. Barrymore gets special attention, of course, because of her fiery power, especially from Scott. In the end, of course, Sheen and Scott, and the rest of the Shop's minions, find out what happens when you play with a power that you don't fully appreciate...
There are admittedly flaws with FIRESTARTER, most of them having to do with the slightly perfunctory way that Mark L. Lester (CLASS OF 1984) directs the actors, this even though he has some superb ones, notably Sheen and Scott. The dialogue is also a little clunky at times too. But overall, FIRESTARTER succeeds more often than it fails, due to King's own narrative genius, Barrymore's credible performance, and the special effects wizardry of Mike Wood. The scenes of the Shop being incinerated at the end by Barrymore's burning rage after her father has been killed are particularly spectacular. FIRESTARTER also benefits from brief but welcome cameo roles by Art Carney and Louise Fletcher, who become her protectors after the firestorm.
However flawed it might be, FIRESTARTER does provide plenty of suspense and atmosphere without an extreme amount of bloodshed (though the fire scenes are quite hair-raising all the same), and is well worth seeing.
** (out of 4)
Weak adaptation of the Steven King novel about a young child named Charlie (Drew Barrymore) who has the special power of being able to set things on fire by just using her thought. She's on the run with her father (David Keith) from various government people wanting to exploit her talent as she tries to control her gift. I haven't read the novel that this movie is based on so I can't comment on what this got right or wrong. However, I'm one who never expects a movie to follow the book 100% so with that in mind I can only say that this film is a complete mess. Thankfully this thing offers up an all-star cast including some legends because without them this film would be nearly impossible to get through. Clocking in just under two-hours, the film feels twice as long and I think a lot of the blame has to go to director Mark L. Lester. His direction is all over the place and not for a second did I feel any tension in the story and I also thought the pacing was pretty bad. I will say that not all of this might be his fault because the screenplay itself has a fair number of problems. One such problem is that the entire thing never really seems to know what it wants to do. Is it a horror film? Science fiction? Is it trying to be some sort of hard, negative look at the government and their powers? The film is all over the map in regards to what it's trying to do but sadly it doesn't do any of them very well. The performances are actually pretty good and are the best thing in the film. Barrymore delivers a strong and believable performance as the haunting girl and I've always liked Keith in just about everything he's done. Heather Locklear does a nice job in her scenes as the mother and we get vets like Martin Sheen and George C. Scott offering up fine performances. The highlight of the film deals with a couple farmers played by Art Carney and Louise Fletcher. Yes, FIRESTARTER has three Oscar-winning actors. The special effects are another plus and help give the film some energy. I must admit that the entire story struck me as being silly and especially early on as we see Keith's character getting nosebleeds from doing his psychic powers and Barrymore crying from setting people on fire. These scenes really made me laugh the majority of the time and once we keep seeing the same thing over and over it just gets boring.
Good special effects and a great cast make this film above-average, as Stephen King adaptations go (well, it's certainly better than "Maximum Overdrive"). The story may be a bit predictable, partly because King had visited similar territory before ("Carrie", anyone?), but you have to admire the way the film puts you into the action right from the start, omitting any slow introductions, and George C.Scott is such a strong, perverse and eccentric villain that you can't help watching him. (**1/2)
Firestarter the movie and Firestarter the novel (written, of course, by
Stephen King) have a common hindrance. Both are fine for their first half,
with plenty of pace and action and even a few scares. But both book and film
peter off in their second half, as the chase scenario which dominates the
opening segment becomes a slow, tedious and frequently unconvincing
cat-and-mouse affair set in a secret scientific centre known as The
David Keith is a strange choice for Andy McGee, a father with mysterious powers (courtesy of an experiment gone wrong) whose daughter Charlie has even greater powers which enable her to set objects alight at will. The Shop want her so that they can kill her, as they have reason to believe she has no true control over her powers and may one day inadvertently nuke the planet Earth. As Charlie, Drew Barrymore is reasonably good, especially in the scenes where she gets mad and starts off a blaze. Best performance of the lot comes from George C. Scott, as a seemingly educated assassin who occasionally says something which hints that he well and truly out of his mind. It's a calculated and chilling display. Less worthy are the roles of Freddie Jones (bizarre and exaggerated) and Martin Sheen (bland and boring).
I would say that Firestarter is worth catching if you're a fan of King or Barrymore, and although I shouldn't say this I'm sure pyromaniacs will revel in it. However, for the discerning audience there's little here worth making a special effort to see. It just comes and goes like the wind and, for want of a better word, doesn't really ignite.
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