Published in 1980, Firestarter is Stephen King’s 8th novel. It was adapted for film in 1984, which was good, but not great. Now, it’s back again in a new version. Since I’m a fan of Stephen King in general, and particularly enjoyed this story, I went to go see how they did with the remake, and I have to say I was impressed and enjoyed it.
They stayed faithful to the novel in most respects, and they updated some elements to fit with modern times rather than the 80’s. In broad strokes, Charlie McGee is a young girl with a lot of power. How she got it has some decent backstory in the novel, and they do a good job condensing it during the title credits. It’s a very efficient use of time and quick world-building. Now, Charlie lives with her parents, Andy and Vicky, and is constantly told to keep her head down, not attract attention, not make waves. Unfortunately, the combination of school kid cruelty, the stresses of modern life, and the pressure of being on the run and hiding who they are come at a cost, and Charlie loses control.
A covert organization called the Shop or DSI is aware of people like Charlie, and will stop at nothing to get her under their control. They dispatch a dangerous man called John Rainwater to hunt Charlie down. One of the many improvements in this version of the movie is that he’s now played by an actual Native actor, Michael Greyeyes. Rainbird has a slightly changed backstory as well, and it works a lot better. With one line of dialogue he explains several things and it’s a change that will resonate with anyone Native or who knows their history. In addition to the obvious story of a kid with powers fighting for her life, freedom, and family, there’s another story, or at least subplot. The head scientist, Joseph Wanless (played by Kurtwood Smith, a very recognizable character actor), brings up a variation of one of the most quoted lines in Jurassic Park. Dr. Wanless realizes what they’ve done, and how dangerous it is to create people like Charlie, and urges Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) to abandon her plans. Out-of-control science is never a good thing, and the consequences of discoveries, and ways to use them, really need to be evaluated. Suffice to say, Hollister doesn’t learn this lesson until far too late. The ending of this movie doesn’t match what I remember from the book or the first movie (although it’s been a long time since I saw/read it) but it worked and left the door open for more story, however unlikely that may be.
Overall, I enjoyed this take on the story. The updated elements made sense, and the way Charlie’s parents explained why they weren’t online or on social media made a lot of sense. They recreated some of the really clever moments from the book really well. It was nice to see that even with a story largely about the destructive capabilities of special abilities, there were a few good uses for the powers. That said, this movie had some really brutal moments. A lot of people die, some in some really ugly ways. There’s an animal death that’s kind of disturbing, even if it does serve as a good plot point.
What I liked: The base story is a good one. The updated version worked, and was true to the original story. I really liked this version of Rainbird, and Zac Efron did a fine job as Charlie’s father Andy. There were some clever uses of powers in addition to the gross and obvious ones.
What I didn’t: The animal scene was ugly. A few of the deaths were really graphic, and could have been toned down. Something Andy asked of Charlie at one point seemed wildly out of touch with what they were actually experiencing. He seemed like he was too aware of what was happening to say something like that.
I liked this version, and I’m baffled why it’s getting so many really bad reviews. I’ll give this a high 3.5 out of 5. I don’t know as they’ll do a sequel. I’d bet against it, but it would be interesting to see some of these characters ten or twenty years down the road.