While it doesn’t get the attention of films like Brian De Palma’s Carrie, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, or John Carpenter’s Christine, Mark L. Lester’s 1984 adaptation of Firestarter can be looked back upon as one of the better Stephen King movies. Some aspects certainly haven’t aged well (such as the casting of George C. Scott as the Native American villain John Rainbird), but mostly it’s a faithful translation of the book, and it features one of Drew Barrymore’s best early performances.
You might think that this level of quality could be an impediment to the developing remake that is set to star Zac Efron, but according to its director, Keith Thomas, the fact that 1984’s Firestarter exists is actually a benefit to the developing production. Thanks to that film being a mostly straight adaptation of the Stephen King source material, it’s going to allow the new movie to do some things it otherwise may have not been able to pull off, and focus on elements of the story that weren’t fully fleshed out previously.
Keith Thomas’ excellent directorial debut, The Vigil, is set to arrive in limited release this Friday, and when I had the chance to speak with him last week I took the opportunity to ask about the work he’s been doing on his sophomore feature. This included asking him about the influence of the previous Firestarter movie on his upcoming adaptation, and he started his response by noting his respect for the film. Said the filmmaker,
I look at that film as it's a great example of filmmaking at the time in terms of adapting this book. It's very, very close to the book in terms of kind of the way it unfolds, and the way the characters are introduced and come into it and come out of it. For me, it's great that it exists and people who love it, I think, will still love it after this one. But I hope that they will love this one as well.
First published in 1980, Firestarter tells the story of Andy and Charlie McGee, a father and daughter who find themselves running for their lives while being pursued by a government agency known as The Shop. When he was in college, Andy and Charlie’s mother were involved in an experiment with a drug called Lot 6, and it wound up giving them psychic abilities – which they then passed on to their child. With enough concentration, the young dad has the ability to mentally “push” people (a form of mind control), but the girl is seen as far more dangerous given that she has pyrokinesis a.k.a. she’s a Firestarter.
As noted by Keith Thomas, the movie version from 1984 hones close to the story that Stephen King wrote, and while it cuts out some notable scenes and aspects of the book (for example, Andy’s time using his powers for a career as a kind of life coach) it never deviates far from the material. It’s something that the filmmaker ultimately appreciates, as it invites the idea of him not just doing the same thing, and digging into aspects of the novel that the previous film didn’t.
Continuing, the director explained that in his opinion there are certain parts of Firestarter that were left unexplored in Mark L. Lester’s interpretation, and perhaps more importantly aspects that simply couldn’t be properly portrayed with filmmaking techniques of the 1980s. Said Thomas,
It certainly sets it up, as I'm excited about doing a different, a new adaptation of the book, and getting into some things that the original film didn't – some things that I think are kind of core to what the book is. And at the same time it's both true to the story and true to the heart of the book, but at the same time we're living in a different era than the early '80s, and I think there's a lot of stuff to explore in it that that King obviously is hinting at throughout the book that I don't see as much in the original film that I think we can really dive into.
To be frank, this is exactly what I wanted to hear about the direction of the Firestarter remake, and it only has me more excited to continue following it through development. The movie is still in pre-production, but has started building its cast beyond Zach Efron, as Michael Greyeyes has come aboard to play the new John Rainbird. We’ll should hear more official news about the project in the coming weeks, but for now be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend, as I’ll have a lot more for you from my interview with Keith Thomas and our conversation about both Firestarter and The Vigil.