Wednesday, March 15, 2017

FIRESTARTER (1984) (Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)

FIRESTARTER (1984) 
Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Scream Factory

Region Code: A
Duration: 115 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS--HD MA Mono with Optional English subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Mark L. Lester 
Cast: George C. Scott, Heather Locklear, Louise Fletcher, Art Carney, David Keith


Firestarter (1984) was a movie I discovered during its lengthy run on 80s cable TV, I would plop down on the floor in front of the TV to watch it anytime it aired. But, that was back in the 80s, I'm quite a bit older now, and I haven't watched it in years, and with the way that youthful nostalgia works I was a bit worried it wouldn't hold up, but good news, Firestarter is still a good watch.

As a Stephen King adaptation this is a fairly faithful to the source material, we have a gifted youngster Charlene "Charlie" McGee (Drew Barrymore, Santa Clarita Diet), with the power of pyrokinesis, the ability to produce fire without the aid of a flame, which is cool. Her father Andy (David Keith, White of the Eyes) is a telepath who can "push" people into doing things against their will, they are both on the run from a secret government organization known as "The Shop", baddies who want to perform experiments on Charlie, to weaponize her. The Shop is run my Captain Hollister(Martin Sheen, Badlands), and when his standard-issue agents fail to apprehend the super-powered duo Hollister enlists assassin Agent John Rainbird (George C. Scott, The Changeling)to recover the pair by an means necassary. 


Firestarter is sort of a superhero origin story at a time when superhero movies were not as commonplace as they are today, a story with telepaths, gifted youngsters, secret government agencies sort of smacks of the X-Men franchise, and truly the father/daughter on the run storyline is mirrored by the recent film Logan (2017). Another way to see it might be Stephen King's Carrie by way John Farris's The Fury, two movies which were brought from the page to the big screen in spectacular fashion by director Brian De Palma, and while this adaptation doesn't rise to the level of Carrie (1976) it's right up there with The Fury (1978) in my opinion, sharing very similiar themes.

The movie holds up nicely, it's a fun watch, with Drew Barrymore anchoring the whole shebang as the gifted child, apprehended and coerced into honing her pyrokinetic abilities by the baddies. Barrymore has some nice depth about her, she was already a damn fine actress at such a young age. Keith David as her father is good, I've always like him, his concern for his daughter comes through in the performance, but he can be a bit wooden, but overall he turns in a good performance. Martin Sheen as the head of the shop is good, a menacing presence, but not too over-the-top. Then we have the venerable George C. Scott, unfortunately playing a native American assassin, which is silly. Somehow Scott rises above the sorely miscast role, sporting a ponytail and an eye patch, a disturbing character with some truly unsavory plans for Barrymore's young character, while it's never spelled out in black and white it always seemed to me to hint at pedophelia, so creepy. 



At The hop Barrymore's Charlie is kept locked away, sequestered from her father, fake-friended by Rainbird masquerading as a kind-hearted orderly, coerced into showing off her alarmingly frightful abilities, climaxing with young Charlie firing it up full throttle after a tragedy, burning the place to the ground in a rather fulfilling series of scorching scenes. Barrymore anchors the movie, but I think it's all the cool fire stunt work that sticks with people, with plenty of fireballs and baddie agents going up in flames real nice, these are real people on fire, old school stuff that now would be done digitally. 

The movie has a a lot of heart, the father-daughter story is strong, the government agency makes for good baddie, and there's just enough back story peppered into the film to give it some added depth, including flashbacks to Andy's college days, where he volunteered in an experiment in which students were dosed with a hallucinogenic drug called LOT-6, a drug which gave Andy his telepathic abilities. This is also where Andy met Charlie's mother, Vicky (a bright-eyed Heather Locklear, TV's Melrose Place), who also acquired the telepathic ability to read minds, with the two later giving birth to Charlie, who in turn inherited her own special powers. 


Audio/Video: Firestarter (1984) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory framed in the original widescreen scope (2.35:1)  aspect ratio, sourced from a brand new 2K scan of the interpositive. The 2K scan breathes new life into the image, beginning with not having been egregiously DNR-scrubbed as the previous barebones Universal Blu-ray was. With the nicely managed grain we get some good fine detail, with decent depth and clarity. The image appears a bit brighter, colors are more robust, the forest greens are vibrant, skin tones look more realistic, and the image is sharper. On PQ alone this is already a significant improvement. 

The lone audio on the disc is an English language DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track, and it sounds fine, the dialogue and sound effects are crisp and clean. The Tangerine Dream core comes through with a nice resonance, but I think it would have benefitted from a surround sound mix. Optional English subtitles are provided. 


Onto the extras we have an audio commentary with director Mark L. Lester flying solo, he's a bit soft spoken and there's some dead space, but it's good stuff, I think having a moderator would have livened it up a bit. The center piece on the extras is a 55-min making of doc, featuring interviews with director Mark L. Lester, actors Freddie Jones and Drew Snyder, stuntman/actor Dick Warlock and Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream. Lester covers a lot of the same ground on the commentary track, recalling coming to the attention of producer Dino De Laurentiis following the success of his film Class of 1984 (1982), writing the script with writer Stanley Mann, shooting in a non-union state to keep costs low, shooting the fire stunts, and the score.  He also speaks about the casting, bringing big names into the movie, also dropping that Heather O'Rourke (Poltergeist) was in the running to play Charlie. Actor Drew Snyder who played one of The Shop agents recalls Lester being a good director, a creative guy, and working with the stuntmen on-set, including a fire stunt he did, which was the one and only fire stunt stunt of his career. According to him the stuntmen would go to local bars after hours and brawl with the locals. Freddie Jones, who played Dr. Joseph Wanless, doesn't seem to remember a whole lot about the shoot, other than being warned not to wander around town and being intimidated by George C. Scott. Actor/Stuntman Dick Warlock (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning)speaks a bit about working with Barrymore, and the fire stunts. Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream speaks a bit about the process of recording the score, and an odd meeting with producer Dino de Laurentis. Sadly there are no interviews with the main cast, that being Martin Sheen, Drew Barrymore or David Keith, which would have kicked the extras up a notch.

Johannes Schmoelling shows up again for a 17-min interview, speaking about scoring Michael Mann’s movie Thief (1981), which is how they began their decades long career scoring movies, before going into a bit more detail about creating the Firestarter score.  Extras are finished up with a 3-min performance of “Charlie’s Theme” by Johannes Schmoelling on piano, theatrical trailers, TV spots and a gallery of production images, the press kit, and poster art from various territories.


The Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Scream comes housed in a standard blue blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, one side is a new illustration and the other is the original movie poster image. The release also comes with an 0-ring (slipcover) with the new illustration from the CPR Group.

Special Features:

- NEW 2K scan of the inter-positive film element
- NEW Audio commentary with director Mark L. Lester
- NEW Playing with Fire: The Making of FIRESTARTER – featuring interviews with director Mark L. Lester, actors Freddie Jones and Drew Snyder, stuntman/actor Dick Warlock and Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream (55 min) HD 
- NEW Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories – an interview with Johannes Schmoelling (17 min) HD 
- NEW exclusive performance of “Charlie’s Theme” by Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream (3 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailers (4 min) HD 
- Radio Spot (5 min) HD 
- Still Gallery (6 min) HD 

80s scorcher Firestarter (1984) holds surprisingly well, thanks to the compelling story and a solid cast, further enhanced by the ethereal synth score from Tangerine Dream. The new Collector's Edition Blu-ray looks and sounds great, the image upgrade is significant and the nearly hour long making of doc is good stuff, fans of 80s sci-fi thrillers and Stephen King adaptation should be very pleased with this release, recommended. 3.5/5


SCREEN CAPS
Having already sold my Firestarter Blu-ray from Universal all I had on hand to compare the Scream Factory Blu-ray to was the Universal DVD (2008), which is not a fair comparison, but here you go, for the sake of comparison. 


UNIVERSAL DVD (TOP)
SCREAM FACTORY Blu-ray (BOTTOM)

UNIVERSAL DVD (TOP)
SCREAM FACTORY Blu-ray (BOTTOM)

UNIVERSAL DVD (TOP)
SCREAM FACTORY Blu-ray (BOTTOM)

UNIVERSAL DVD (TOP)
SCREAM FACTORY Blu-ray (BOTTOM)

UNIVERSAL DVD (TOP)
SCREAM FACTORY Blu-ray (BOTTOM)

UNIVERSAL DVD (TOP)
SCREAM FACTORY Blu-ray (BOTTOM)

UNIVERSAL DVD (TOP)
SCREAM FACTORY Blu-ray (BOTTOM)

UNIVERSAL DVD (TOP)
SCREAM FACTORY Blu-ray (BOTTOM)

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