Long before the massive superhero boom that has dominated the past 20 years, Stephen King wrote his own twisted version of a superhero (or perhaps villain) origin story with his 1980 novel “Firestarter”. Sort of a Stephen King version of the Dark Phoenix saga from “X-Men”, it’s now been adapted twice with two very different interpretations of the source material.
To be clear, the 2022 film is not a remake of the 1984 iteration, rather it is a new adaptation of the novel itself. However, given that neither of these movies exist in a vacuum without the other, we thought it would be interesting to take an in depth look at both and compare them as objectively as possible!
Round I – Characters
Both movies feature an ensemble of well-developed, morally gray characters, ranging from Charlie, Andy, Vicky, Rainbird, “Cap”, and Dr. Wanless. King did a great job of making each of them feel like real people with their own biases, agendas, and goals, and to their credit both adaptations do them justice (mostly).
While Dr. Wanless is criminally underused in the 2022 iteration, the rest of the members of DSI come across much better. Gloria Reuben gives us an Amanda Waller-inspired version of Cap, willing to do absolutely anything for the greater good. It’s hard to say whether she does a “better” job than Martin Sheen did previously, but her version of the character feels truer to what you’d expect of a corrupt government agent.
When it comes to Rainbird, George C. Scott gave a legendary and layered performance in the 1984 film. The way that he wins over Charlie’s trust, all while plotting to eventually kill her is downright sickening, but compelling as far as villains go. The 2022 counterpart is a much more conflicted character, whom we see struggle with his own values and loyalties as he works for an organization that caused him so much harm.
Plus it does need to be addressed that while George C. Scott is a great actor, he doesn’t really pass for an indigenious character, and that Michael Greyeyes is a more accurate performer, as well as a great actor for the role.
But let’s be honest, while these are all great details, this round really comes down to Charlie and Andy, (as well as Charlie’s mother Vicky, but she’s a minor character in both versions). One major distinction between the two is that Charlie is several years older in the newer film. Thus, she’s a more active protagonist, whereas in the 1984 version, it feels more like Andy is our main character.
David Keith and Zac Efron both give it their all, playing a father who just wants to protect his daughter by any means necessary. Andy does terrible things that he wishes he didn’t have to do, but it’s all in the service of trying to keep his family safe. But what really awards this round to the 2022 movie is the fact that Charlie herself is the focus and has the character arc.
To be fair, Drew Barrymore is amazing in her role, especially considering her age at the time. But ultimately, she’s a character that things happen to, rather than a character that makes things happen.
Round I Winner – 2022
Round II – Story
Since both films roughly follow the same premise, we’re going to focus this round more on story structure, beats, and pacing. 1984’s adaptation jumps right into the action with Andy and Charlie on the run, telling the backstory of Lot 6 and her mother’s death via flashback. It results in a very thrilling first half that moves along with a good pace.
However, everything sort of comes to a complete stop when they’re picked up by DSI. The second half is much more dialogue and idea heavy, which isn’t necessarily bad, but following such a thrilling first half, it does feel like the movie drags at this point.
The 2022 version is much slower in the beginning as we’re introduced to the family when everything is still “normal”. The pace then picks up once Rainbird attacks the house and Andy and Charlie have to go on the run. That whole sequence goes by much faster, because the movie really took its time with the first act.
Ultimately though, this results in a third act that feels completely rushed. The entire DSI sequence takes almost an hour and the entire second half the runtime for the 1984 movie, but the 2022 iteration does the whole thing in only 10 minutes and it’s just not enough time to explore it all properly. Granted, the 1984 film doesn’t have the best pacing at this part, but at least it doesn’t just remove everything that makes that sequence interesting.
Round II Winner – 1984
Round III – Style/Tone
One is a product of the 80s while the other very much wants us to think it’s a product of the 80s. Both feature great 80s synth soundtracks (having John and Cody Carpenter on the composing team for the 2022 version was a slam dunk), and both fully embrace the brutality of the story itself.
The story itself is quite dark, and that’s something that the 2022 movie really embraces both literally (which we’ll get to) and figuratively. The 1984 adaptation had its banter between characters, but there’s a massive tension in the newer one that permeates into every character interaction. Andy and Irv have it out, while Rainbird and Cap do not get along and insult each other. It’s a much harsher environment that better represents the harsher world the story exists in.
Round III Winner – 2022
Round IV – Technical Specs
You would think that between two movies released 38 years apart, the more recent one would have better effects, and look better overall. And you’d be absolutely wrong. While the newer movie boasts great performances and an amazing soundtrack, it relies heavily on CGI that is far from seamless, and honestly it just sort of looks terrible.
As previously mentioned, the 2022 film is quite dark in a literal sense. The whole thing is shot with incredibly low lighting, and even in the darkness of a movie theater, it’s difficult to make out what’s happening on screen at times. The whole visual aesthetic is this very washed out look that reminds you of something you’d see in a dramatic and edgy music video rather than a Hollywood film.
In a stunning upset, the 1984 film is not only lit much better (because it was shot in film versus digital), so that you can clearly see everything that happens. But every single fire effect is done practically and it absolutely shows. Every time Charlie burns someone in the new one, it feels like we’re watching iffy visual effects done on a lower budget than Marvel or DC movies. But when Drew Barrymore’s Charlie sets something ablaze, the fire is really there, and with it comes a realism that can’t be matched.
Round IV Winner – 1984
Round V – Themes
This is honestly a very difficult round to call not only because both version explore similar themes, but because both of them do a genuinely great job of it. The novel (as well as both movies) deal with family, fatherhood, government corruption, among other things. But the central thematic focus is always on Charlie herself and the morality of her ability and whether or not she will be a hero or a villain.
2022 Charlies seems reluctant at first, but even by the film’s midpoint, she admits that hurting people actually feels good. So in a very disturbing manner, she’s a borderline psychopath from the very beginning. And in a way, it kind of takes away from her arc and the story’s overall theme because she just wanted to hurt people inherently due to her nature.
On the other hand 1984 Charlie does awful things and kills people, but she never truly wants to and never loses sight of who she is. There are moments when we think her circumstances may turn her into a villain, but in the end, having to hurt people makes her want to do it even less. It then ends much like the book does where Charlie chooses to expose DSI and everything they’ve done, thus reinforcing that it was her own choice to embrace either good or evil.
Round V (and overall) Winner – 1984
Which adaptation did you like better? Let us know in the comments!