DirectorMark L. Lester
Release Date(s)1984 (March 14, 2017)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
Stephen King’s novel Firestarter was released in 1980. A mere four years later, Universal released their film adaptation, with Mark L. Lester in the director’s chair. Lester, fresh off the controversial cult classic Class of 1984, was hired when John Carpenter was let go from the project after The Thing failed at the box office. The story of government experiments gone wrong in the form of Andy (Keith David) and Charlie (Drew Barrymore), a father and daughter on the run from agents out to capture them for further experimentation, this film wasn’t a huge success at the box office either. I was popular enough, however, to get a sequel miniseries in 2002.
Having read the King novel already, I really had no expectations going in when I first saw Firestarter. While Drew Barrymore isn’t the first person I would have thought of for Charlie, her presence here makes a lot of sense. She was a name child actor at that time and had also appeared in another King-related movie, Cat’s Eye. The movie itself, surprisingly, is very faithful to the book, almost slavishly so. Even the structure isn’t much different, with flashbacks interwoven into the main story to explain how all of the present events came together. To some degree, this is actually a detriment to the film, but if you were a fan of the book hoping it would do the book some justice, you pretty much got your wish. Personally, I find the film a bit slow, despite all of the exciting and explosive set pieces that take place within it. There’s only so many times Charlie can set someone on fire or blow up a car before I begin to lose interest. All of the effects are well-realized and the actors do well in their parts, but the pace of the movie feels long-winded. I also found its need to explain what was happening at times to be a little unnecessary. Still, I think Lester does some good work here. It’s certainly far from a bad adaptation. The effects and the stunt work, in particular, are some of the best you’re likely to see from this period. The story and the performances are good as well. It just all feels a bit too laid back for its own good.
Scream Factory premieres their new Blu-ray release of Firestarter with a presentation mastered from a new 2K scan of the film’s interpositive element. Despite the previous high definition release, this is definitely the best the film has looked on home video. Universal’s Blu-ray presentation seems to have been taken from the interpositive as well, but from a dated master by comparison as its much softer. This new transfer sports a sharp image with a better encode, more pronounced grain levels, more natural skin tones, better color reproduction, and more information on all sides of the frame. There are also solid blacks and excellent brightness and contrast levels. No unnecessary digital tampering is visible and there’s minimal film defects, other than some mild scratches and speckling. For the audio presentation, an English 2.0 mono DTS-HD track is provided. Truth be told, it’s quite flat, without much in the way of dynamics, but dialogue is usually clear and audible. Sound effects and Tangerine Dream’s lush electronic score seem to have been sweetened, but don’t jump out of the speakers with any real power. It’s a decent soundtrack, but I can’t help but feeling that a 5.1 upgrade would have been beneficial, especially for the score. Subtitles in English SDH are available for those who might need them.
As far as supplements, Scream Factory definitely one-ups their Universal Blu-ray counterpart, which included nothing more than the movie’s trailer. On this release, there are several new extras, including an audio commentary with Lester, the Playing with Fire: The Making of Firestarter featurette, the Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories featurette, and Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream Plays “Charlie’s Theme”. There are also 2 theatrical trailers, 6 radio spots, and a still gallery as well.
For fans of Firestarter, this is definitely an improvement in almost every regard. Carrying a strong presentation and excellent new extras, this is the definitive home video release of the film. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons