The work of Stephen King has been put to film for almost thirty years. The adaptations of King’s stories were at an all-time peak from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s. The movie “Firestarter” (1984) based on a 1980 novel by Stephen King with the same title, is a mediocre film. There are a few redeeming qualities that save this movie from complete disaster. Producer Dino de Laurentiis made a substantial amount of King film adaptations- “The Dead Zone” (1983), “Cujo” (1983), “Silver Bullet” (1985), and “Cat’s Eye” (1985). The script was written by Stanley Mann, and his script stays faithful to the book. The story made up for some of the bland directing by Mark L. Lester. Drew Barrymore also lends a hand in saving this movie.
Stephen King is the person that made this film work, so that makes him the auteur. The story line is what keeps the audience interested. He blended classic horror and popular culture to lure his audience into the story. He played on the fears people hold towards the government, and the innocence of childhood. A different director could have done King’s movie justice.
“Firestarter” is the story of a little girl named Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore), and her devastating power. Andy McGee (David Keith) and Vicky Tomlinson (Heather Locklear) meet on campus during the 1960s while acting as test subjects in an experiment using the test drug Lot 6. After the experiment they later marry, both having been left with strange psychic abilities. They give birth to a daughter Charlene or Charlie who finds that she has the ability to create fires with the power of her mind (pyrokinesis).
The ever vigilant government agency The Shop who sponsored the Lot 6 experiments wants to use Charlie’s gift for military applications. Vicky is killed as the agents attempt to snatch Charlie. Andy goes on the run with Charlie but they are captured by John Rainbird (George C. Scott), the Shop’s deadly Indian assassin. Imprisoned at the Shop’s headquarters, Charlie refuses to go along with the experiments, so Rainbird creates a disguise as an orderly in order to gain Charlie’s affections and persuade her to participate in the experiments. Only after promising Charlie that she will see her father does she begin to participate. When the agents refuse to make good on there promise to let Charlie meet with her father all hell breaks loose and agents get burned.
The actors gave the movie some credit. Drew Barrymore was very successful in her portrayal of Charlie McGee. She gave a solid performance as the troubled youth. She nailed the emotional state of Charlie. She made up for the lack of conviction in the pyrokinetic effects surrounding her character. David Keith delivered a good performance as Charlie’s father. Martin Sheen (Captain Hollister) played a similar role in “The Dead Zone” before and he pulled it off here too. George C. Scott seemed somewhat miscast as the assassin Rainbird. The character Rainbird was supposed to be Native American, and Scott had trouble pulling off that aspect of his character. Nevertheless Scott brings a much needed sinister effect to the film. This can best be seen when Rainbird describes to Captain Hollister the methods he intends to use when killing Charlie.
The historical context can be seen in how people are quick to not trust the government. That is one of the main focus points for the film. This shows how King uses popular culture to help his audience relate. The government created something that got out of control, and now threatens life as we know it.
One can say that “Firestarter” has left a moderate mark on film history. This was the first use of pyrokinesis in film, and it has proven astonishingly prevalent since. Other films taking up the torch have been “Spontaneous Combustion” (1990), and the Japanese “Cross Fire/Pyrokinesis”(2000). More prevalent have been the efforts to use the idea for comedy- “Nice Girls Don’t Explode” (1987), “Pyrates” (1991), the Hong Kong film “She Stars the Fire”(1992), and “Wilder Napalm”(1993).
The story stayed faithful to the book, and that helped pull the movie up beyond the dull directing job of Mark L. Lester. Drew Barrymore brought her character to life. This showed that a good story is not the only ingredient needed to create a great movie. This movie could have been done better by another director, and it would probably be a more dynamic work if remade today. Director Ridley Scott would be well suited to direct this motion picture. Nevertheless Stephen King will still write books, and Hollywood will still make Stephen King movies.