Firestarter Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Mark Lester
Written by Stanley Mann
1984, 115 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on March 14th, 2017
Drew Barrymore as Charlie McGee
David Keith as Andy McGee
George C. Scott as John Rainbird
Martin Sheen as Captain Hollister
Freddie Jones as Dr. Wanless
Heather Locklear as Vicky McGee
Art Carney as Irv Manders
Louise Fletcher as Norma Manders
Moses Gunn as Dr. Pynchot
Pursued by government agents, Andy McGee is on the run with his young daughter Charlie. His crime? Andy and his wife Vicky were participants in medical experiments that stimulated their natural telekinetic abilities with some unexpected side effects. Their daughter is pyrokinetic, a gift the government would very much like to cultivate into a weapon. Andy evades capture as long as possible, but they end up as guests of “The Shop”, the secret agency that has been chasing them. It is here that Charlie is tested and trained to control her abilities. Captain Hollister works closely with both Andy and his daughter. She befriends an Indian janitor named John Rainbird, unaware that he has an ulterior motive. When her father’s safety is threatened, Charlie lashes out in rage using her powers methodically to exact revenge. How exactly will the government respond to Charlie’s activities and what will happen if she loses control of her gift?
Screenwriter Stanly Mann (Damien: Omen II) adapts Stephen King’s best-selling novel for director Mark Lester (Class of 1984) with mixed results. The main problem with the script is that it is presented as an “and then” story. Charlie meets the farmers and then government agents arrive and then she blows them up and then she moves to an isolated cabin. Frequently the scenes do not build on each other to create tension, but rather they simply move from one fiery set-piece to the next. Lester keeps things moving at a fairly decent pace, but there are more than a few tedious moments. Every time the script steps away from Charlie as the focus, the film suffers in quality. The director opts for an ending filled with spectacle, but it fails to connect. What saves the picture ultimately is the strength of the performances.
Drew Barrymore (Donnie Darko) is instantly likeable as Charlie and holds her own in scenes with the legendary George C. Scott (The Exorcist III) as the assassin Rainbird. Scott is both charming and threatening playing opposite a child, but shares a solid chemistry with his young co-star. David Keith (White of the Eye) does a fine job as Charlie’s father, Andy, but the role is frequently thankless as he manages to constantly get her into one dangerous situation after another. Martin Sheen (The Dead Zone) returns to Stephen King territory as Captain Hollister, leader of “The Shop”, and is quite the charming bureaucrat. Freddie Jones (Krull) is Dr. Wanless, who leads the experiments for the agency. Wanless is a man of deep regret and Jones nails the performance. Welcome faces Art Carney (Harry and Tonto) and Louise Fletcher (Invaders from Mars) play Irv and Norma Manders, the kindly couple that take in Andy and his daughter in their time of need. Together they represent the normal life their guests will never know. Look for supporting roles from Moses Gunn (Amityville II: The Possession) and Heather Locklear (Return of Swamp Thing) as well as a cameo by Antonio Fargas (Across 110th Street).
Firestarter is far from the worst Stephen King adaptation, but its problem is that it just kind of lies there. The plot plods along with a lot of things blowing up, but their effect is hollow. George C. Scott and Drew Barrymore are the reason this film is worth watching, as their scenes together are far more powerful than any of the special effects. Lester has proven himself as a competent director on more than one occasion, so I am tempted to blame the script, although this adaptation is surprisingly faithful to the source material – perhaps it’s King’s book that’s lacking.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and having received a fresh 2K scan of the original negative, the image is very appealing and stronger than the transfer that appeared on the previous Universal Blu-ray release a few years ago. Flesh tones appear natural throughout and colors are vibrant, particularly in the cabin by the lake sequence.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track preserves the original sound mix and gets the job done. While not particularly flashy, dialogue levels are well balanced with music and effects tracks. Tangerine Dream’s score and some of the fireball effects would benefit from a richer mix, but what we get is clean and free from distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Mark Lester’s audio commentary is filled with extended gaps of silence as he quietly watches the film. The information he does share is interesting, but he really needs a moderator.
Playing with Fire (53 minutes) is an excellent making-of documentary that covers a lot of ground and fans will be happy to take the journey. Interviews include Lester, actors Freddie Jones and Drew Snyder, stuntman Dick Warlock and musician Johannes Schmoelling.
Schmoelling returns for the segment Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories (17 minutes), a thorough reflection on the band’s iconic sound and work scoring films. This is a fantastic interview that you really need to check out. The musician also performs “Charlie’s Theme” (3 minutes) live in his studio.
Two theatrical trailers are paired with seven radio ads revealing the film’s ad campaign.
A still gallery (71 images) presents a collection of foreign and domestic marketing materials as well as lobby cards, poster art and promotional cast photographs.