Directed by Mark L. Lester, Firestarter was swamped with less than enthusiastic reviews upon its release in 1984. In fact, even today the film currently holds a 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, which isn’t exactly something to brag about. One reviewer wrote that “a whole lot of explosions punctuate a whole lot of blather” while another reviewer wrote that the film was simply “corny and overblown.” However, the majority of these criticisms hardly seem justified in retrospect.
Based on the 1980 novel of the same name by Stephen King, Drew Barrymore plays Charlie, the young daughter of Andrew (played by David Keith) and Vicky (played by Heather Locklear), who years earlier had been guinea pigs for a top secret experiment. The experiment granted Vicky the ability to read minds; Andy can make people do and believe what he wants, but the effort gives him nosebleeds (the novel revealing them to be “pinprick” hemorrhages). And Charlie has the unenviable ability to start fires simply by willing them into existence.
Andy comes home from work one day to find that Vicky has been tortured and murdered. From this point on, Charlie and her dad are on the run from a shady government unit called “The Shop”. The government wants to capture the duo in order to contain their threat or use them as a weapon (proving that even in the ‘80s the government couldn’t make up its mind). The father and daughter combo are soon captured and their fate, along with that of the rest of the world, depends on the experiments conducted and if the duo and their powers can be contained.
Firestarter is essentially split into three parts. The first part deals with Andy and Charlie being on the run (which includes several flashbacks to let the audience know how these characters came to this point). The second part of the film deals with members of The Shop actually being able to capture the duo. Finally, the film deals with each character and how they handle being captured and experimented on.
Andy is drugged and kept out of the loop, however, Charlie quickly befriends a handy man named John Rainbird (played excellently by George C. Scott) and makes deals with him and The Shop to see her father in exchange for her experiments. Little does Charlie know that Rainbird is the reason her and her father were captured. When Charlie finds out, all hell (quite literally) breaks loose. After her father is shot right in front of her eyes, Charlie is no longer willing to show mercy on The Shop. Incredible fireballs burst through the air, killing hundreds, destroying everything in sight. The film then ends with Charlie heading to New York to tell her story to the media.
Firestarter was the fifth movie in 1984 that was based on a best-selling thriller by Stephen King. The others were Christine, Cujo, The Dead Zone, and Children Of The Corn. And while most of those other films are considered classics, Firestarter usually gets the short end of the nostalgic stick.
When all is said and burnt to a crisp, Firestarter is quite a fulfilling watch. It has a strong script, decent directing, a kick ass score (Tangerine Dream does it again), gripping drama, some interesting ideas and a badass finale that will likely have you grinning like a teenage boy who just received a confirmed DTF text in the middle of the day. Also worth mentioning is the supporting cast; including Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, Martin Sheen and Moses Gunn.
There are indeed certain things in the film that don’t seem to make much sense, but in this sort of movie, explanations are less important than what happens and how. The director, and the special-effects people keep the film moving at a fiery clip, and in such graphic detail that any minor gripes about the film’s ridiculousness are easily forgiven.
A sequel to Firestarter was released in 2002, titled Firestarter 2: Rekindled, which starred Marguerite Moreau as a now-grownup Charlie who is still in hiding from the government. To put it mildly, the film wasn’t very good and it’s certainly not in the same league as its predecessor.
A Firestarter reimagining has been in the process of becoming a reality for years now. This news might not excite many in a world where reboots and remakes reign supreme. However, a case could be made that Firestarter is the perfect kind of movie to reboot. Yes, it has a large fanbase, but, objectively speaking, it’s certainly not without its flaws. A fresh look at the film could prove interesting – if handled correctly.
Overall, the beauty of Firestarter is in its simplicity. A little girl has her dangerous power, some government agents want to examine her, others want to destroy her, and things catch on fire. That’s about it. BURN BABY BURN!
What say you? Leave your thoughts on this underrated gem in the comment section below.