Firestarter is not one of the books most King readers point to as their favorite book of his. It’s also not one of the books that, upon mention, people moan over and gnash their teeth about. For me, I have always loved the book. Seen 100 yards away, it’s interesting that his early work featured three young people with powers that could be considered ‘super’ powers in today’s landscape. Interesting. I have always liked the book though, and think that it’s a shame more people don’t pluck it to check out. It’s a pretty swift moving thriller with some interesting ideas at its heart. It’s very straightforward and, outside of the fire effects, shouldn’t be that hard to adapt.
Don’t tell that to the people that have adapted it though.
It’s funny for me because I remember seeing the original adaptation of the 1980’s in a theater, or at a drive-in and hating it even as a kid, whereas CHRISTINE I have always loved. The movie just felt corny to me and the wind effects were a big part of that – though, let’s be honest, George C. Scott as a Native American is a hard pill to swallow as well. It’s weird to think though that that original film gave the book the space to stretch out a little and told the story of the book more accurately.
I am sorta shocked about that.
Which brings us to the newest adaptation, one that nails the fire, but little else.
FIRESTARTER is the story of a special family. Mom and dad had submitted to experimental testing when they were in college and as a result they developed ‘powers’. Mom became telekinetic and dad became psychic. It turns out that the experiments were run by a governmental agency known as ‘The Shop’ (Oh, King!) and the parents had to go on the run after their infant child was kidnapped by the nefarious agency. The baby was the perfect outcome as, while mom and dad had developed powers, the child had them naturally, and exhibited signs of precognition, psychic ability, and pyrokinesis.
She’s a darned superhero!
The family goes on the run and does everything they can to stay off the radar of the Shop, with dad making himself into a sort of self help person that charges for sessions where he uses his ability to talk people into being better or leaving addictions behind. Using his powers has a hard effect on his body though and it’s getting worse. Mom refuses to use her abilities, though she feels that the growing daughter, Charlie, needs to be ‘trained’ on how to use her abilities. The girl is starting to exhibit her powers when she is upset or stressed and while her parents are trying to equip her with techniques to counter this, her budding maturity is making it difficult. When Charlie loses control at school (Why is she in a school if they wanna stay off the grid?) the family is suddenly on the radar of the police and now the Shop. The Shop activates a former mercenary to track down and capture Charlie and in the process he kills one of her parents and incurs her wrath. From there Charlie and her remaining parent are trying desperately to escape before they are able to finally capture her or she does something with her powers that she’ll regret.
It’s a well made film, with great special effects, and a decent score from John Carpenter. This feels, unfortunately exactly like what it is – a throwaway. It feels rushed. It feels wasted. It feels wrongheaded.
The casting is wrong, with zero chemistry between anyone you see.
The writing is in the realm of awful, with a weird reworking of the book to get rid of big pieces of plot that matter and to distill things into about four locations. The film feels like it’s in a huge rush to get to the finale, which soft pedals what was a huge deal in the book. You don’t need a huge budget to make this film but you need that core chemistry with the family and you need Rainbird to be menacing and dangerous. Heck, they even watered down the main villain and made them side character.
This movie doesn’t know what it is or wants to be.
It’s fitting then that the score, while not bad at all, feels more like outtakes from better Carpenter scores. There’s nothing iconic or even stirring here. Not even with the finale, when you need something really pouding.
THAT is the ending we get.
We needed something huge and emotional and dangerous and you don’t get it.
We saw better in the first season of Stranger Things as far as that goes.
The worst thing I can say about this movie is it’s not bad. At all. It’s just so mediocre that it hurts. This is Charlie’s movie and we get so little time with her that it truly is a shame. We get one brief montage where she figures her powers out in about an afternoon. That’s how rushed this film is. I have no idea why they didn’t feel the film needed or warranted more running time, or a slower pace but it hurt the movie. This is a well made movie, and it looks good, and has a ‘look’ to it that’s interesting and nostalgic but this is a film that hopes you’ll love King enough to look past its flaws.
I love King.
But not that much.
2 out of 5.
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