When thinking about the upcoming Firestarter remake in comparison to the previous feature adaptation from 1984, one particular aspect of modern pop culture definitely stands out for its potential to have a massive influence: the on-going superhero boom. Save for Richard Donner’s Superman and a few other titles, comic book movies weren’t really a thing when the Stephen King book was being adapted for the first time over 30 years ago, but now we live in a world with competing Cinematic Universes and multiple blockbusters every year about people with powers.
It would basically be impossible for the new Firestarter adaptation starring Zac Efron to not be impacted by the trend – and when I spoke with the director of the film last week, he not only confirmed as much, but also explained how his movie will counter what’s become traditional in the realm of superhero storytelling.
Currently promoting the release of his debut film The Vigil (which arrives in limited release this Friday), Keith Thomas told me that his upcoming Stephen King adaptation will “definitely” be influenced by the omnipresence of superpowers in today’s movies, but also added both his thoughts on the influence of the original book, and how it stands in contrast to what we typically see emerge from the concept. Said Thomas,
I think Firestarter, to a certain extent, has been mined by a lot of other franchises in terms of the kids with powers. And we're certainly very used to the comic book kind of film approach to kids using abilities. I'm very interested in going back to what was originally there, and what it felt like when I read it, when I read Firestarter as a kid, and what I had in my head in terms of how Charlie uses her powers, in terms of how Andy uses his powers, and what that actually looks like.
In the book, the protagonists that Keith Thomas namedrops, Andy and Charlie McGee, are characters that possess incredible psychic gifts, but what makes them special in comparison to the normal Marvel or DC heroes is the horror that exists in the foundation of their abilities. For Andy (who will be played by Zac Efron in the remake), he has the power to “push” people – and what that means is that he has the capacity to slightly change a person’s perception of reality. It takes a serious physical toll on him and his brain, but what’s far more terrible is that it’s not uncommon for those he pushes to be driven utterly insane in the long term.
As for Charlie McGee, what’s scary about her is the combination of both the extent of her power and her immaturity. She is only seven years old, but her pyrokinesis ability is so incredible that with enough effort she could crack the world in half.
The origin of these psychic skills in the Stephen King story is an experimental drug called Lot 6, which Andy and Charlie’s mother, Vicky, are given during a volunteer trial when they are in college. Vicky winds up becoming telepathic, and it’s surmised that Charlie winds up being so powerful because the genes of both her parents were rewritten.
That science-based/real world approach to both superpowers and horror is something that Keith Thomas very much clicked with in the book, and it’s something that he very much plans to maintain in his big screen version of Firestarter. He continued,
What I loved most about Firestarter was how grounded it was, how real it felt. It wasn't so much that it was a few steps from now in terms of different world. It was like our world with just a little bit more. It's just these powers exist. They're born not of magic, there's no aliens involved. It's an experiment, an experiment that unlocked something for these people. And so keeping it as grounded as possible is key for me, and I think it's going to really add something that we haven't seen, because we're so used to seeing powers kind of in this superhero way that I think seeing them in a more dramatic, horror tinged way will hopefully kind of be an eye opener for folks.
So while Firestarter will be released in the same calendar year as a number of massive blockbusters exploring superpower-driven narratives, you can be sure that it will be bringing something totally different to the table.Firestarter is currently in pre-production and putting together its cast (Michael Greyeyes was recently confirmed to be playing the villainous John Rainbird), and we’ll have more from my interview with Keith Thomas about the film in the coming days. And if you’re curious to see what skills the filmmaker is bringing to the table with the Stephen King adaptation, be sure to check out The Vigil, as it will only serve to raise your confidence.