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Firestarter (1984)

01/10/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Firestarter in the USA - or Buy Firestarter in the UK

author pic

region 2 DVD. pub: Prism Leisure PPA1592. 115 minute film with no extras. Price: a couple quid - you don't have to wander far to get a nice price). stars: Drew Barrymore, David Keith, Martin Sheen and George C. Scott.

check out website:

I read Stephen King's 'Carrie' shortly after it was released in the UK and long before he developed his writing career. It was a nice take on the subject of the adolescent with developing telekinesis. When 'Firestarter' came out, this time with a pyrokinetic producing youngster, that one also ended up being read. In fact, I read it originally over a weekend which shows how readable such a massive book was. I regard both books as King's dalliance with Science Fiction before he orientated himself to the horror audience. Interestingly, the film adaptations of both books stayed pretty faithful to their source.

There are some obvious comparisons between the two books. Both girls had nascent psionic abilities developing and how they coped with them. The difference is one came from a loving family and the other from a dysfunctional one. For both, it's a matter of coming to terms with their talents against difficult odds. I almost got the impression that Stephen King wanted to do a story with a happy ending...well, of sorts.

Charlie McGee is a pre-adolescent, her powers the next stage after her parents were guinea pigs for The Shop, a government agency, hallucinogenic drug which give the father mind control abilities and her mother, telepathy. Although it wasn't dwelled on in the book or film, Charlie has a touch of these abilities as well but her prime ability is setting fire to things with her mind. The Shop kept an eye on the family and in attempting to kidnap Charlie, kill her mother which makes her dad, Andy McGee, stop them in their tracks and they are both on the lam from them for a year. Doesn't stop them being eventually captured by John Rainbird, a Shop assassin. The father is subject to drug control while his daughter is convinced by an orderly, John Rainbird again, to assist with demonstrations of her ability. Rainbird's agreement with The Shop's boss is that when the tests are over that he can kill Charlie as he wants to look death in the eye. That's an operative word as he for an assassin, he only has one eye. The rest of the story settles around their escape and what happens along the way.

The film adaptation stays pretty close to all of this and provided a sensitive performance from all the cast. I can't recall another film of this nature getting this close without forgetting that and focusing purely on the powers and what they can do to people. Would the same criteria apply if the story was written today? Would there be a stronger awareness that at heart Charlie McGee was a little girl and that she would be an asset rather than a menace. I guess that would depend on which country she was found in. Back in the 80s, you might have been a little more surprised at a black ops organisation like The Shop was running in America compared to today but reality has moved on to make that probably certain.

Considering the film was produced in 1984, it hasn't aged badly. Looking objectively now, it's not difficult to figure how some of the effects were done in the non-CGI world but because it's underplayed, it makes it more spectacular.

In many respects, it's an under-rated film but it's also available at a low price so if you haven't had a chance to watch it or haven't seen it in a while, then consider giving 'Firestarter' an appraisal. It's worth the effort and beware of anyone getting you to do what they want you to do with them getting a bleeding nose.

GF Willmetts

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