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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have mixed feelings about this film. And when you think of the
Stephen King projects that have become films...that's pretty mixed,
too. A few have been very good. A few awful. And others somewhere in
between. And that's where this one stands...in between.
First off, you have the special effects. Considering this was made 30 years ago, they're darned good. So that gets an A.
Then there's the cast...notable cast. David Keith as the dad...well, he was okay. Drew Barrymore as the firestarter...stunning, and only 9 years old when this was made! Freddie Jones as one of the scientists with a little bit of conscience was interesting...as long as he lasted. A young Heather Locklear does what she does best...looks beautiful. Martin Sheen as the head of the project was quite good. George C. Scott...well, I'm a pretty big fan of him...but I wasn't that impressed with him here...and I can't think of the last time I said that! Art Carney is fun to watch here. As is Louise Fletcher. Moses Gunn...an actor I had forgotten about; good to see him again, here as one of the scientists.
In terms of the script. Well, not too bad, not great. The problem with the story is that you already know what the ending of the film is going to be -- a prepubescent Carrie-like fiery finale. So the question is, will the director make getting there interesting. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Some good dialog, some dialog that almost made me laugh out loud.
So, it's sort of a draw. Not bad, not great, just in between. Worth a watch to see Drew Barrymore and the special effects.
It would be unfair to say "Firestarter" was Stephen King's attempt to
recreate "Carrie." King was hugely successful by that point, enough
that he could write anything and Hollywood would immediately turn it
into a movie. (Which is what happened with "Firestarter." The film
rights were acquired before the book was even published.) While
"Carrie" is a horror character study, "Firestarter" sits more
comfortably in the realm of sci-fi thriller, with occasionally grisly
special effects. Both books and film adaptations revolve around a young
girl with extraordinary power. However, Charlie McGee is eight year
younger then Carrie, has a perfectly sane parent, and is on the run
from a secret government sect. For all their differences, both stories
build towards the girl unleashing her massive powers. All the film that
comes before is leading towards Charlie's psychic-induced climatic
"Firestarter" is split evenly in two. The first hour is a chase picture. Father Andy and daughter Charlie are on the run from the Shop. The scenes of them fleeing through an airport or hitchhiking pass government agents are decently exciting. These moments are broken up by laden flashbacks that flatly explain the origin of the characters' powers and why they're running. At least the blatant exposition is presented visually but they hamper the film's forward momentum.
After Charlie is captured by the Shop, the pace completely shifts. Charlie is manipulated by psychotic government hit man Rainbird into honing her powers. Like every other secret government agency in cinema history, the Shop wants to use the unstable super being as a weapon. Rainbird is another thin Stephen King villain. The obviously American Indian character, played by obviously Caucasian George C. Scott, believes that he can steal someone's powers by looking into their eyes at their moment of death. He is obsessed with Charlie's ability and befriends the girl strictly so he can kill her later. Rainbird has no deeper motivation but the relationship between Scott and Barrymore provides a drive for the second half. The seemingly benign scenes of Scott befriending the girl are laced with a sinister intent. This plot line certainly proves more compelling then Andy's routine escape plan, the Shop boss' hand-wrangling or long scenes of Charlie blowing things up in a lab.
"Firestarter" needed stronger performances to succeed. I suspect the involvement of Drew Barrymore, the most popular young actress at the time, is what got the film into active production. It's not that Barrymore was a bad actress at this time. Her personal moments are quite affecting. You certainly feel sorry for Charlie anytime she cries. However, Drew can't quite carry the bigger moments. Her emotional outbreaks are unconvincing. Her constant pleas to her powers to "back it off" come off as helplessly hokey. David Keith, who I'll remind you is not Keith David, does fine, I suppose, but his Southern accent is seriously distracting. Martin Sheen is not a terribly interesting villain and neither is deep-voiced Moses Gunn as a near mad scientist. Art Carney is likable as the kindly old farmer, even if the part is underwritten and Louise Fletcher is wasted as his wife. Only George C. Scott truly impresses. Scott can play gravely maliciousness with ease and he makes Rainbird, otherwise a simplistic figure, captivating to watch.
The film was dismissed as a special-effects-fest upon release. No wonder since Charlie's fireball fueled rampages are the most exciting moments. The ambush on the farm builds nicely. I like the thermostat rising and the butter melting in its dish. The blazing agents and exploding cars are orchestrated fantastically. After watching the girl get pushed around for a solid hour, it's satisfying to see Charlie burn down the Shop. Men fly through the air, ablaze. Burning trails hunt running agents down. Some of the special effects have aged better then others. Bullets bursting into flames just before her face look cheesy. The Flaming Biscuits of Doom that Charlie explodes a truck and a helicopter with are likely to cause giggles. Still, it's as effortlessly entertaining as "Firestarter" gets. No surprise that director Mark L. Lestor would reinvent himself as an action auteur following this.
With a more even lead and tighter screenplay, "Firestarter" could have been an intense thriller. As it is, the film never reaches its full potentials. If you're looking for flaming carnage, you'll get it eventually. The rest of the film doesn't exactly; I apologize for this, set the screen on fire.
I think this film deserves more than 5.8. I am a huge Stephen King fan and I have found a lot of the film adaptations much poorer than Firestarter. The plot stays pretty close to the book, and I love Drew Barrymore as Charlie. I think I liked the film mainly because I've read the book and liked the story, and the film was therefore more meaningful. If I hadn't read the book I might not have appreciated the movie so much, but still, I've seen films which were a LOT worse so I can't really understand why this has such a low rating. Anyway, I would highly recommend reading the book and then watching the film. Also, for an early 80s film I thought the special effects were pretty impressive!
The work of famed author Stephen King has been turned into TV and
feature films since 1976. This has ranged from the excellent (Carrie
and The Mist) to the poor (Children of the Corn: Revelation and
Creepshow 2) and everything in between. Some just don't have what it
takes to bring the material to the screen, which is unfortunate. It's
also a bit frustrating when the film is stuck in the middle and has the
potential to be so much more. This is the case with this film based on
King's 1980 novel about a girl with the ability to set things aflame.
Not a bad film, but not all it could be either.
Pros: Good work from the whole cast. Fabulous score by Tangerine Dream. Gorgeous North Carolina scenery. Moves at a good steady pace most of the way through. Amazing pyrotechnics work. Great stunt work. Some really thrilling sequences. Powerhouse finale.
Cons: Pace drags in spots. Looks like a TV movie for the most part due to the not too spectacular direction. Not nearly as thrilling as it could or should have been.
Final thoughts: An above average movie based on King's work isn't the worst thing in the world. This film certainly won't be remembered as one of the best, but it's not a waste of time either. It's entertaining enough and competent enough to be worth a watch.
My rating: 3.5/5
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on the Stephen King book of the same name, this is an efficient
supernatural thriller that neither excites nor disappoints.
Andy and Charlie McGee are father and daughter, and both have a special power. He is a 'pusher', someone with the ability to bend people's will, to make them do things either against their will or even unconsciously. She's a pyrokinetic - a firestarter. She can burn things up by thought alone.
See, Andy and his wife took part in a medical trial when they were young, and both had innate powers anyway that were brought to the surface. Now, the wife is dead, Andy and his daughter - played by a very young Drew Barrymore - are on the run from the authorities, and she's losing control of her ability to tame the burning rage within.
An intriguing concept, well executed, this is underplayed and enjoyable, though it won't change your world.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Charlene McGee is the child of two people involved in an experimental
drug test, and has the unique ability to start fires just with the
power of her mind. She and her father are on the run from The Shop, a
shady government organisation seeking to harness Charlie's pyrokinesis
for their own nefarious ends. How can they escape ?
I like this movie a lot, but will admit that the concept is a bit crazy (and kinda similar to author Stephen King's earlier Carrie) - it's the type of film where if you're willing to go with the flow, there's a lot of fun to be had with plot twists, wacky characters and action. If you don't buy it, back to reality TV with you. I think the main reason I enjoy it is down to the cast. Keith is terrific in the straight-arrow role of the protective Dad (unusual in a King story, where fathers are usually demonic), Sheen is a cagey bureaucrat, Jones does his mad scientist bit, Carney is a nice guy farmer - when a Shop operative tells him they don't need a warrant to be on his land he memorably quips, "You do unless I woke up in Russia this morning." - and Gunn is a nervously grinning sawbones. Best of all is Scott in a flashy part as über-assassin Rainbird, a mad one-eyed Indian with an unhealthy interest in Charlie - he makes it into my (large) gallery of favourite screen villains. Eight-year-old Barrymore is iconic in the lead, perhaps not the most naturalistic child performer, but the image of her blonde hair blowing back as she goes flame-on is pretty stylish. Couple that with a great eighties electronic score by Tangerine Dream and a director who knows how to handle action well and the result is some great set-pieces, particularly the fiery finale as Charlie literally burns down The Shop. Anything involving fire is probably the most difficult and dangerous type of stuntwork to bring off well, and the various amazing shots here are courtesy of veteran action-man/first assistant director Glenn Randall Jr. Made at the height of King's bestselling days (seven major movies of his stories were released between 1983 and 1985), this isn't the best of his books but the movie is a straightforward adaptation and solid entertainment throughout. Followed by a made-for-cable sequel in 2002 - instead of that, try to catch the King short-story movie Cat's Eye, made a year after this by many of the same crew.
When I watched this movie at it's release in '84, little did I know that I would have a connection with this movie till this day. The house used in the movie which the Art Carney and Louise Fletcher characters lived is owned by me and my extended family. During the actual filming, we did not own the house. It is located directly across from Oakland Plantation in Bladen County, NC at which we operate a grass turf farm. The plantation house was scouted by a preproduction agent for the movie to be used as the headquarters for the Shop. Instead the Orton Plantation house outside of Wilmington, NC was used for that filming location. Both these prerevolutionary war plantations are on the National Register of Historical Places. Just a few years after the movie release, the tenants abandoned the house and we acquired it and many acres around it for the growth of the farm. Over the years we have taken many friends and acquaintances to see the house in which afterward, they will go back and watch the movie again or watch for the first time. The house today shows some significant wear from weather and lack of upkeep but still stands. The driveway in which the Shop's agents drive to the house in the black and blue cars still looks the same, a picturesque oak lined drive. The opening up for the turf farm allows anyone who would like to see it from road. It's located on South Elwell Ferry Road near Council, NC. It sets to the right going east toward the only free inland ferry in North Carolina which carries you across the Cape Fear River.
i thought this was an entertaining movie.it wasn't spectacular,by any means,but i've seen way worse.Drew Barrymore shows some acting ability at a young age.i think she was around 8 when this was made.the rest of the acting was decent enough for the most part.i did think that George C.Scott seemed out of place,though.the story itself was interesting and there were some moments of suspense.whether it was as good as Stephen King's novel,i can't say,since i haven't read the novel.the effects were pretty good for that time.the movie is one hour and 55 minutes and it could have been shorter by about 20 minutes or so,in my opinion.but if nothing else,it was a decent diversion.for me,Fire Starter is a 6/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mark L. Lester did a notable job of bringing Stephen King's Firestarter to the big screen. It's one of the better King adaptations involving an evil government arm called "The Shop" who did some of those wacky drug tests back in the late 60's. What they created with their experiments were people who have heightened telekinetic abilities. The only people who survive the experiment (David Keith and Heather Locklear) fall in love and eventually have a daughter. This daughter has a very potent ability that puts their own to shame: Pyrokinesis. Thus Firestarter is born. One of the more satisfying aspects of the film to me is the casting. A young Drew Barrymore stars as Charlie Mcgee, the troubled child who you don't want to make angry. She does a remarkable job for one so young. David Keith is also good as the dad; he elicits sympathy from the audience and is also really creepy when doing his "Scanners" bit. Most impressive here is George C. Scott as the diabolical John Rainbird. The man cannot possibly be more of a badass. He essentially has two roles: Rainbird the assassin and "John the Friendly Orderly." The awesome supporting cast includes Martin Sheen, Moses Gunn, Freddie Jones, Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, and Heather Locklear. The film opens with The Shop trying to hunt down their prodigal daughter. They've killed Locklear's mother character and are trying to capture Andrew and Charlie. Much of the movie takes place with the family on the run with several fiery set pieces. The stunt men earned their pay on this film. When they succeed at finally capturing the Mcgee's and splitting them up the film slows down a bit. But it remains interesting because of the relationship created between Rainbird and Charlie. He becomes a helpful janitor and convinces Charlie to use her powers for The Shop under the pretense that she may get to see her father again. When her request is denied repeatedly, things heat up (pardon the pun). I've given enough away already, but let me just say that the climax is one of the most amazing and satisfying of any films.
Note to genre buffs: John Carpenter almost directed this film and two former Michael Myers' (Dick Warlock and George Wilbur) appear in this film.
Firestarter is a film about a family called "The McGee's" (Played by David Keith,Heather Locklear, and 8 year old Drew Barrymore as Charlie McGee) who have supernatural abilities because they participated in a shady scientific experiment. Charlie is capable of setting a fire with her mind. The government agency which sponsored the experiment known as "The Shop" wish to capture the McGee's to perform further experiments on them. Martin Sheen and George C Scott also star in this film as members of "The Shop". Drew Barrymore was an excellent pick for this film. The movie is based on a 1980 novel by Stephen King. It is significantly faithful to the book, compared to other theatrical movies based on Stephen King books. Many of King's older novels have been subject to remakes (Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining, The Dead Zone...) I hope they let this movie stand on it's own. The movie will be best enjoyed if you have read the novel previously. Viewers who have not read the book may find the movie to be "corny" for several reasons: "1980's special effects" An original score recorded primarily with a synthesizer... Also David Keith in this film bares an unfortunate resemblance to reality TV icon "Joe Millionaire" However fans of the actors of this movie, and Stephen King fans will probably find this film to be a worthy way to spend two hours.
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