The B-Movie Isle: Scream Factory’s Firestarter (Collector’s Edition)
The B-Movie Isle/Adam looks at Scream Factory’s release of the cult favorite Firestarter starring Drew Barrymore, Martin Sheen, Heather Locklear, Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, David Keith (not to be mistaken with Keith David) and George C. Scott. Is the Disc legit or a bust? Does the film work 30 plus years later? Does Tangerine Dream’s score still rock? All those questions are answered and more below…
If you were born during a specific time frame, the psychic power films are a definite “thing” in your cinematic formative years. For me, they were a big “thing”; The Fury, Carrie, Dreamscape (which we covered here) and of course Firestarter. Firestarter was a huge touchstone for me. It was like the above mentioned films but with a side of D.A.R.Y.L. or Cloak and Dagger. It still amazes me that films were allowed to put kids was put into serious danger (only in the 80’s). Adding to that was the film had a sort of Phys-Ops Government Conspiracy angle similar to De Palma’s The Fury and Dreamscape. What those films did not have was source material based off a Stephen King Novel which gives this film the extra kick those did not have (other than Carrie of course).
Firestarter, both the book and the film, is King at his most humane and thrilling. Rather than not use any of the novel (like The Shinning adaptation did) they used it as a strong foundation. What writer director Mark Lester (Class of 1984) is able to produce is a proto-Action Sci-Fi Horror with a surprising amount of emotional depth. The success of the film not only lies in trusting King’s text but 8 year old Drew Barrymore. Acting as good as if not better than her much older counterparts in the film.
As Charlie, Barrymore, imbues this child trying to grasp with things that no 8 year old should, with the kind of bratty behavior any 8 year old displays along with a healthy amount of fear. Barrymore is able to juggle the demands of the role and she is fascinating to watch on screen. Few child actors had as much emotional depth and well of acting talent as Barrymore during this time. Charlie is a full character with an arc to her story. Its one thing for King to create a realistic child character (no small feat in itself) but to have a child to convincingly play her is a minor miracle.
Barrymore is aided by one of the best cast that an 80’s King Movie had; Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, David Keith, Heather Locklear, Art Carney and Louise Fletcher. No one phones in these performances. All are on their A-Game. Especially Sheen and Scott. Their scenes together are something out of The Bourne Identity with a sort of bureaucratic menace that’s the norm now but then was very different for this type of genre material. The work by David Keith as Charlie’s father is on par with Barrymore. They’re father-daughter dynamic is believable and is the beating heart of this film. Much of the film’s running time is spent with them and their relationship.
The film does hold back on the telekinesis part, allowing the film to be more about the human aspect of the story rather than “cool VFX”. That doesn’t mean that the film skimps on those effects. Quite the opposite, the film’s set pieces are unexpectedly big for someone that hasn’t seen the film before. The telekinesis sections have more punch to them because of how much you care about Charlie and her Dad and their survival.
After 30 years Firestarter still works like gangbusters. Watching it on a lazy Saturday while I was sick was just the recipe I need to forget my woes and loose myself in this smaller scale (and by no means lesser) film. Point in fact it reminded me of just how great a film and the source material is.
The transfer is remastered form a new 2K scan of an interpositive of the film. I often wonder if people do know what that means.
Just a quick lesion in prints; an interpositive is the closest you will get to the original camera negative. Basically its the cut original negative then from that they create the interpositive, which they use to create everything else. So, this is the closest you’ll get to Firestarter’s negative and the retention of what director Mark Lester and cinematographer Guiseppe Ruzzolini (who also shot the amazing and very dirty Hitch-Hike) saw through the camera lens.
All that to say that this is one of the prettiest transfers that Scream Factory has done as of late, the transfer gives that early-to-mid 80’s sheen that a lot of Carpenter Films had during this era. The grain level is light but definitely present. Thankfully, Scream seems to have controlled the transfer for this from Universal (who’s notorious for DNR-ing their older films to death) as that grain level and the contrast levels are gorgeous. I would put money on the fact that Firestarter has never looked this good even in theaters. It’s a winning transfer.
The Extras included are:
- Audio Commentary With Director Mark L. Lester
- Playing With Fire: The Making Of FIRESTARTER – Featuring Interviews With Director Mark L. Lester, Actors Freddie Jones, Drew Snyder, Stuntman/Actor Dick Warlock And Johannes Schmoelling Of Tangerine Dream
- Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories – An Interview With Johannes Schmoelling
- Live Performance Of “Charlie’s Theme” By Johannes Schmoelling Of Tangerine Dream
- Theatrical Trailers
- Radio Spot
- Still Gallery
The commentary is great, finding Lester is a jovial and chatty mood. It’s a great commentary companion to the one he recorded for on Class of 1984 (another cult-ish classic).
The jewel of this set is the 50+ minute making of Playing With Fire. Though Barrymore and Keith are notably absent, the content and other players more than makes up for it by giving us a great behind the scenes/oral history of the making of this film. Of the best tidbits was that Firestarter was originally going to be directed by John Carpenter and he went as far as to write a script. I will save the other great details for those that venture to purchase the film. Kudos to Scream Facotry for getting stuntman Dick Warlock to talk at length about his experience. As many know, I am a stunt junkie, and any kind of feature that gets stunt men in a loquacious mood gets high marks. All in all a great making of documentary.
The twin features about Tangerine Dream are informative and well worth it for anyone that even has a passing interest in the legendary band. One gripe … no isolated score. I would have loved to have the score which is Tangerine Dream it its prime.
The Bottom Shelf
Firestarter the disc, special features, transfer and the film itself are blazingly good. If you are in need of pure and uncut Stephen King in Film form… look no further than this Collector’s Edition. Highest Possible Recommendations!