Firestarter (2022)

MAY 12, 2022


Nearly every negative tweet I've seen (including the one I made myself) about Firestarter has been met with a reply that more or less amounts to "But the score is great!" and... I don't even think it has that much going for it. It's good music, yes, but it doesn't fit the film at all, which makes me wonder if can be considered a "good score" when the job of a score is to enhance the images, and instead it often feels like the composer wasn't actually watching those images. Not that I can blame them, but still: it's a distraction in a film that could use less of them.

Said score is, as you may already know, by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies, the team behind the Lost Themes albums and the soundtracks to the two newest Halloween films (and they'll be doing the third one that's coming this fall). It'd be a get for any film, but what makes this a particularly interesting bit is that Carpenter himself was once set to *direct* the first adaptation of Firestarter back in the early '80s, as his next film after The Thing. But when that film flopped (a fact that is part of the film's lore and yet still hard to believe), Universal had doubts in his abilities and replaced him with Mark Lester. Lester's film was fine, but didn't exactly break box office records either, and us Carpenter fans will always chuckle that it not only failed to match the box office receipts of The Thing, but also that of Christine, the King film Carpenter made instead. Good call, Universal!

So having him come do the score for this new attempt at making Charlie McGee happen is like a weird little consolation prize, and honestly if he did just hand in some leftover demos from Lost Themes and Halloween (which it definitely feels like at times; one cue is almost identical to "The Shape Hunts Allyson") it'd serve them right for insulting him all those years ago. But even if he gave 110% effort and produced his finest work to date, I don't think it'd be enough to make the movie any better, as it never once demonstrates a reason why this, of all King books (not exactly one of his best), had to be updated for 2022. The story of a girl with superpowers (in addition to her eponymous firestarting skills, she can also move objects with her mind) has been done to death over the years - Stranger Things, the various Carries, the X-Men movies, etc. - so since we already have a Firestarter movie (plus a sequel/would-be pilot) I feel the only reason to do it again would be to really modernize it and do something unique.

Instead it... basically just does the same thing. It's not an exact copy, thankfully; Captain Hollister is now a woman, Rainbird is introduced right off the bat to Charlie and Andy (Zac Efron) as a villain instead of posing as a friend, etc. But the beats are all the same nonetheless, with the one thing that could identify it as a modernization - the use of cell phones and computers - written out quickly, as the McGees don't use such things because they're afraid of being tracked. So it just goes through the same story: the parents being experimented on in college, the mom being murdered, Charlie and Andy taking refuge at a farm, Andy being taken to the Shop's HQ, Charlie mounting a would-be rescue... they color out of the lines a bit, but they don't ever make it their own. I kept hoping for a Pet Sematary '19 style pivot (where the daughter got killed instead of baby Gage), but nope, it keeps on playing out the same...

...until the film's final, baffling scene, which I'll obviously be spoiling here so skip this paragraph if you want to remain as stunned into confusion as I was. After burning down the Shop (we assume; it's mostly played out via sound effects) Charlie walks to the nearby coastline, almost seeming like she's about to drown herself now that she has no one/nothing left. But she does have someone: Rainbird! The villain survives this time around and walks up to her, takes her hand, and then picks her up as if promising to start a new life together, without anything to establish why he'd do so or why she'd go along with it (she knows he killed her mother, for starters). It was only then that the movie's reason to exist became clear: they want a new franchise, with Rainbird stepping in to help her harness her powers (for good or evil, it remains unclear). And that's fine, but why not establish it earlier? Or hell, do it halfway through the movie, so she's in a position to choose between him and her father? They hint early on that she would prefer Andy was dead instead of her mom, so the seed was planted for her to look to someone else as her guardian, but then nothing is done with it until these closing seconds (literally; I mean, the credits play over the two of them walking off together).

Such a "cliffhanger" didn't really help my suspicion that the film was intended as a pilot (perhaps for the very Peacock service it's simultaneously being released on with theaters?) instead of a theatrical feature. It LOOKS like a TV show more often than not, and despite the promise of the title, I swear the big house fire in Halloween Kills is more impressive/destructive than anything we see here. Kurtwood Smith pops up as the guy who invented the serum that gave them their powers, now regretting what he's done, and suggests that once she reaches her full potential, she can destroy the entire world! Which, you know, probably wouldn't be how this film ended (though that'd be amazing) but her powers at the end don't seem all that impressive, as if they were holding back for something later. There are some good gags with Charlie lashing out in smaller ways with her powers (if you're a kitty lover... maybe don't see this one), but when it comes to the big showdown at the Shop, it's obnoxiously restrained. I'm not sure what the budget was, but based on what Blumhouse usually spends on their films ($5-10m), it's almost certainly less than they spent on the previous film nearly 30 years ago, even without factoring inflation in, and it often shows.

It also appears to be re-edited. It's only 94 minutes (again, even the older film was 20 minutes longer, at a time when films were generally shorter than they are now) and there are characters who seem important (Kurtwood Smith as the inventor of the serum that gave them their powers, a bully at Charlie's school) but disappear without resolution to their stories. And when Charlie is storming the shop, a guy in a flameproof suit takes off his helmet and says "Charlie...", and the manner that he delivers the line and the way his face was revealed under the helmet suggest that it was someone who we had met before, only we hadn't. The fate of Irving the good Samaritan is left unclear (in the original and the book, Charlie goes back to him after Andy is killed), and I also couldn't quite understand what brought him into the story in the first place, as they approach him needing a ride - but their car was working perfectly fine the last we saw it? I guess they were afraid of being tracked or something, but it still feels like a scene or two was skipped.

Long story short, if you have to watch, do so on Peacock, where maybe strong viewer numbers will convince them to do a series (I mean, we got a MacGruber revival, so anything's possible). I wouldn't mind a Charlie and Rainbird show (both actors are strong and there's obviously a lot of baggage between them that can be worked out over time) where they're like, on the road and helping people, 1970's Incredible Hulk style, and anything that can justify this one's existence can only help. Otherwise, I just don't get why this movie was made beyond giving Carpenter a nice little payday. Beats another Fog remake, I guess.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. The reason she went with Rainbird is because in this day and age you can't make a Native American a villain. Sure he can do bad things, but in the end if he feels SORRY for them (which he will, POCs can't be purely evil) he will be redeemed.

    Here's a predicition for anyone watching Obi Wan show...the villain of that one is completely, decidedly bad. She hasn't done a single decent thing or shown and ounce of understanding or empathy to anyone. My prediction is at the end of the show she will make a sudden turn and help the good guys...she may have to die for it, but it will be a noble death. NO WAY a black character is allowed to be that bad without an unmotivated turn.

    In a few weeks we'll know if I'm right!


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