Thursday, February 28, 2019

Firestarter (1984) and Firestarter 2: Rekindled (2002) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]


Andy McGee and his daughter Charlie are on the run from a shadowy government agency called the SHOP. Years ago they ran a secret experiment on a group of college students, resulting in the majority of them dying, and the survivors developing superpowers. Charlie and his wife Vicky both gained Telepathy, and the ability to control others, while the daughter they soon have has a terrifying ability to produce flames. Intent on controlling Charlie's powers for their own ends, the SHOP tries to take her, killing Vicky in the process. In the present day, the father and daughter desperately try and stay one step ahead of the SHOP, but it seems like the net's closing in, and they may have to launch a final fight to save themselves...

The tone to Firestarter is set well with its surprisingly subtle opening credits, which only show smoke against a black background, rather than give into the temptation to just show an inferno. The movie starts off in media res effectively enough, with succinct flashbacks showing the original experiment that led to this catastrophe, as well as the inciting incident that left Andy and Charlie on the run

The biggest problem facing Firestarter is that it's just a little boring. I'm not sure if it's because of any one drawn-out section, but rather there are a lot of scenes that go on just a bit too long, and this all adds up a lot in the long run. If you consider what happens in the first hour, it's not really that much, either! The second hour is even more compressed, once the heroes are captured.

The characters are decently written, and we get a few subtle touches, like Charlie effortlessly introducing herself as Roberta to strangers, indicating without explanation how many times the two have had to do this before. Andy    I don't like that he's willing to get Charlie to kill though. I can't really buy a non-sociopathic father saying to his daughter "Hey honey, could you please burn these guys alive for me? Do it for daddy, yeah?"

The main couple of villains are ok, though the seemingly endless legion of white men in suits aren't particularly threatening adversaries given the ease in which they're eliminated (it's also weird how many times we see them shooting at Charlie, then screaming and begging for their lives. If you dopes had've focused on running away like you already started to, you wouldn't need to plead!). The real villain of the piece is John Rainbird, who makes for a spectacularly creepy and effective villain, adept at manipulation, and holding unsettling plans for Charlie.

There's not much supporting cast, but what there is is fine, namely the farming couple. I like how smart and perceptive this random countrytown farmer is shown to be. I'm also glad they don't get killed. That happens so much in 'on the run' type movies! The heroes shack up with a kindly family or old couple in an isolated farm, and their hosts invariably get butchered.

Firestarter doesn't exactly end on a happy note. The depressing climax feels unearned. These characters have spent years on the run, knowing nothing but trouble, and now at their lowest point they've been help captive for weeks, but due to their clever thinking they're able to arrange an escape and finally be at peace!...And then the other penny drops. The ending afterwards is fine, and wraps up the movie well enough, but it's still a bit too dour. Although I suppose it was inevitable given the whole point of the movie from an entertainment perspective is to see Charlie blow stuff up.

The acting is quite good. David Keith delivers a good performance, and he plays the psychic well, not looking too cheesy. He does a little, but not to the point where it's laughable, and to give an example, it's more subtle than Scanners (not to knock Scanners too much though). Drew Barrymore's line reading is a bit poor in some places, but she does well in others. I felt she looked a little uninterested in the final battle though.

George C. Scott is great as Rainbird. He's spectacularly off-putting, and completely overshadows the otherwise fine Martin Sheen. As for his race, I seemed to recall there being a scene in the movie where Rainbird explains his name to Charlie, and specifically says he's just of Native American descent. This made me wonder if the same was true in the book, or if he was actually Native American in that. Short answer, he is, and that scene I remembered doesn't actually exist.

The direction is pretty good. The blackout scene in particular is well-directed in that it actually looks like it's dark! All too often the magic of the movies shows rooms with the light off where everything's tinged a pleasant light blue in which you can still see the actors' faces, and they can still converse with each-other   Here though, George C. Scott's face is cloaked in darkness for long periods. Visually good? No, but it makes sense and at least feels more realistic than your typical film.

The soundtrack to Firestarter is weird. It's scored by Tangerine Dream, and sounds a little odd with such a movie. That's not to say it's not good, because it is, even if it does feel like a retro 80s soundtrack from the last couple of years. The tracks have a nice sound to them, and match the scenes well in places. The only real issue I have is that by design it's not the kind of soundtrack that you could use all the time, so large stretches of the movie seem to pass without any music.

Lastly, the pyrotechnic effects hold up very well even today. Given how dangerous and temperamental fire is, I feel sorry for the crew who had to handle it, but admire their efforts and skills!

As far as adaptions go, this sounds like a pretty faithful one, barring some minor alterations here and there. Despite this, the notoriously hard to please King hates the movie, considering it to be the weakest of all adaptations of his works. That's really saying something given the...umm, *ahem*, quality of others!   While I do find Firestarter to be a bit boring, it's nowhere near as absurd and ridiculous as other King adaptions, and the effects hold up too...

Firestarter 2: Rekindled

Vincent Sforza is an investigator working for what he thinks is an insurance company devoted to bringing compensation to the survivors of the Lot 6 program. As it turns out, he's been leading hitmen to the addresses of these people, so the still alive John Rainbird can erase all evidence against his wrongdoings. Knowing that his old nemesis Charlie McGee is still alive, Rainbird wants to find her most of all, and this time he's prepared, with six superhuman boys

Firestarter 2: Rekindled is the epitome of a unnecessary sequel. It has no reason to exist beyond cashing in on the original. As for its quality in its own right, it's ok. It's a pretty decent watch, though it could wear on the unwary viewer quite a lot, considering it's a miniseries, and therefore three hours long!

The story is ok, albeit a bit rambly. Where it really falls apart though is in regards to the continuity with the first movie, which is really bad. If they had've not shown flashbacks, things would've fared a little better, and I guess we're just supposed to accept that Rainbird escaped what was undoubtedly certain death in the last movie, but that's not what happens. We're shown flashbacks that completely rewrite what happened before, and not only is the Lot 6 experiment expanded to have had dozens of people who are all still alive, as opposed to only 10, all of whom are dead, but Rainbird is retconned to being the leader of the Shop. Whereas his motivations in the original lined up pretty much exactly with the remorseful doctor he assassinated (i.e. kill the 'abberrant' girl at the first opportunity, because 'no-one should have that much power'), he's now a Machiavellian 'Professor X' who wants to create an army of living weapons, presumably to take over the world or something.

The characters are alright. Charlie feels nothing like the girl from the previous movie, and only so much change can be explained away by the passage of time, but one can look past that. Something that throws some people off, purely because she was a little girl in the previous film, is that she's 'totally down to fuck', as they say in the parlance of our times. I say one shouldn't judge her for being sexual just because she was a child in the previous film. That's ridiculous...Though you can feel free to judge her for for her taste in men, because girl, why are you picking random sleazeballs in a dirty back alley? Gross!

Vincent is a likeable enough protagonist. Nothing special, but watchable. Rainbird is an ok villain, though he's really only Rainbird in name only. He bears literally nothing in common with the one in the first movie. The 'enigmatic' fortune teller is an annoying prat, who grinds the story to a halt whenever he appears, and shoves unwanted predeterminism on us, and what bugs me even more is that his visions are proven right at every turn, seemingly excusing him for his shitty behaviour in the eyes of the film.

Being a miniseries, this is full of superfluous moments, and subplots that go nowhere, such as the one about a former Lot 6 subject being aided by the police. This feels most egregious because of the pointlessly depressing ending this side story gets. Just as it's getting interesting, the lead suddenly gets killed off and everyone else in her story gets sudden onset memory loss, before never being mentioned again. If this character was just going to get killed anyway, what the hell was the point of watching a huge chunk of the movie devoted to her? If this was meant to lead into a tv series, surely it'd be better to keep as many avenues for story open as possible? I think it would've been much easier if they'd just excised this subplot completely. After all, can't a TV movie designed to lead into a full series just be 90 minutes?

Equally infuriating is Vincent's fate at the end, which feels completely pointless, and only serves to prove that 'stopped clock is right seven times a day 'dickhead who can tell the future correct once again. Overall, the movie ends on a pretty glum note.

The effects here aren't great, but they're ok enough for a tv budget. There's a lot more CGI, which I get. Nevermind that this is a lower budgeted affair than the big Hollywood movie, but fire is really hard to work with, and there aren't many actors who like being set on fire.

The acting is decent. Marguerite Moreau and Danny Nucci make for fine enough protagonists Malcolm McDowall isn't in his prime here, and sometimes makes you seriously question his acting ability. Dennis Hopper seems kinda bored as the fortune teller. There are some moments of hilariously incompetent acting, nowhere else more evident than in the flashback scenes. When Charlie 'kills' Rainbird, he literally yells 'Flames! NOOOOOOO' when fire is shot at him. It's the cheesiest thing imaginable, and completely takes you out of the movie. It's by far the funniest moment you'll see in it though!

Despite its flaws, I think I could recommend Firestarter 2 for at least one viewing. While a rewatch would almost certainly be intolerable, I guess it's got enough good qualities to warrant watching at least once, and the bad ones make for an amusing viewing experience too. Overall, this is like a subpar X-Men movie, which might not exactly inspire confidence, but isn't a damning criticism...

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