Monday, January 4, 2016
I hope your holiday season went well. Mine was...too short.
Well, what way to kick off the new year than with the first full Stephen King novel from the 80's!
Disclaimer: The Mist was written before this, but it's technically a novella.
Firestarter is another chapter in Stephen King's non-horror collection. Already collected therein, at least by my estimation, are Carrie, Rage, The Stand, The Long Walk and The Dead Zone. We'll have the argument over what qualifies as horror in a future post, but suffice it to say that Firestarter is more along the lines of sci-fi thriller than horror.
In this case, the plot revolves around a young girl, Charlie McGee, and her father Andy, trying to escape the clutches of a shadowy government agency known as the Shop. They want Charlie, you see, because several years ago Andy agreed to participate in an experiment wherein his pituitary gland was altered, giving him a special mental power that allows him to mentally "push" people to sort of believe and agree with everything he's saying. While in this experiment, he met Vicki, another test subject, and the two would later marry. Their combined DNA with their altered pituitaries, produced Charlie, who has a much stronger ability than either of them. Her "push" works on machines, too, but when she pushes, there's enough friction built up by the energy that fires break out. To a limited, but growing, degree, Charlie can even control where the fire starts.
I'm afraid I won't be able to talk about this one much more without some spoilers, so be warned. If you haven't read this yet, you might want to before you read the rest of this post.
The plot kicks into gear when Charlie is 8, almost 9, and a misunderstanding causes the Shop agents to believe that Andy and Vicki have gone on the run. Before Andy can act, Vicki is killed and he narrowly manages to get Charlie back from two Shop agents before going on the run for real. For a large part of the novel, Andy is using his pitifully small level of resources to try and get Charlie somewhere safe.
This is the first novel to really introduce the Shop, an organization that King uses a couple of more times. He inserted them into his expanded edition of The Stand, in an off-hand mention (I honestly can't recall if the original edition mentioned them, but I can't imagine it did) and I believe King confirmed that they were behind the Arrowhead Project from The Mist, but as they're not mentioned by name in that story, I can't confirm if that's true. They showed up as the villains in the Stephen King-created television series Golden Years, which I haven't seen, and they were used in the film version of The Lawnmower Man, which I've already mentioned has nothing to do with King's story, and thus I have no interest in seeing it.
Their actual name is the Department of Scientific Intelligence and they are apparently just another branch of the government. Outside canon, the Shop has taken on quite a life of its own, with CR's quick to attribute almost any shadowy conspiracy directly to them. I don't mind this. I even like it. I kinda wish King himself had done more with it.
But in this novel, the Shop is definitely not all-powerful. They're just a rogue government agency, but they make handy villains in this story.
What's at the heart of this story, at least to me, is a father's love for his daughter. What drove the first half, and a majority of the second, was Andy's struggle to keep Charlie safe, and the hazards he encounters while trying to do so. As many of you know, I have daughters myself; one's almost 20 and living apart from me and the other is 15 months old as of this writing. In the flashback scenes with Charlie as a toddler, I couldn't help but see my own baby girl as Charlie, and boy, did that make those scenes hard to read without getting misty-eyed.
And this is one reason why I rejected one of the earliest ideas I had for this adaptation. I thought "Why not make it Vicki who survives and Andy that's murdered? Just say it's Vicki who got the push power and the rest of the story tells itself."
I rejected this idea for several reasons. For one, single moms on the run protecting their kid haven't exactly been under-represented on screen. There are umpteen thrillers about them, and I'm sure there will continue to be more. There are movies about single dads on the run, as well, but it's harder to do because it's very easy for an audience to feel sympathy for the mother. Fathers on screen are usually portrayed, at best, as providers or perhaps advice-givers, but when it comes to actually caring for the kids, dads are usually portrayed as not really knowing what they're doing or even being the problem.
Also, when a woman is obviously on the run, people want to help her. When a father goes on the run with his kid, as this novel shows, people are automatically distrustful and wondering if this isn't a kidnapping situation. This makes Andy's struggle a bit harder and thus, more dramatic to watch.
And as I said before, we just don't get that many movies about the bond between father and daughter. It's a special bond, and one that might even be stronger than father and son, or mother and daughter. Firestarter shows this aptly, and I'd like to see it kept for the screen.
Of course, as most of you already know, Firestarter has been adapted before, back in 1984 with Drew Barrymore in the title role. For bonus points, it also has Martin Sheen in it, who was also in The Dead Zone the previous year. This adaptation I have not seen, though I plan to someday, but what I know about it is that while it's not exactly bad, per se, it wasn't really all that good, either.
There also seem to be plans to remake this, but whether or not it's going to be a straight adaptation or whether or not it's just so that a TV series can be made surrounding an older Charlie (and other people with abilities) on the run from the Shop, or whether it's both, aren't clear. This is far from greenlit. Even the Dark Tower project is light-years ahead of this one, and we don't even know how certain The Dark Tower movie is yet.
So I'll proceed as normal, without really worrying about the supposedly planned project for this. The hardest part is that I won't be casting the title character! This might be the first time a lead role is being left uncast by me because of my own rules: I won't cast preteen characters because of the tendency of young actors to age out of the role very quickly. There also aren't many Drew Barrymores among the young talent of today. Charlie is not an easy role to play. Whatever actress is cast will be called upon to carry half the movie. Charlie's an ordinary kid (barring her ability) in a far-from-ordinary situation. Whatever actress is cast should probably be a young-looking 11 or 12, rather than 9. Drew Barrymore was 9 at the time, but like I said, she was kind of an exceptional 9-year-old.
The rest of the roles actually were pretty easy to cast this time. Certain actors just fell into my head and wouldn't leave. We'll start with the male lead, Andy. Andy's described as a big man, physically, but a very gentle, cerebral type of man who's more of a big teddy bear. We need a man that audiences immediately sympathize with and could never imagine would let his daughter be harmed. I decided that Jason Segel would work, and as weird as this sounds, this is not a case of me choosing a comedy actor to go serious. Segel has already proved his serious actor cred, and oddly enough, it was in episodes of How I Met Your Mother that it happened. His best scenes on that show are dramatic. He'll do a good job.
guy from Dr. Cyclops. Is there another choice than Ben Kingsley?
As for a director, well, this thing would be at home in the hands of almost any director of thrillers. I doubt even Joel Schumacher could kill it (well, maybe he could, lol). I admit I'm not sure who'd be best, but there are many who could be competent. If you've got a choice, let me know in the comments.
So, welcome to the 80's, Stephen King style. Coming up we've got more Richard Bachman, an angry dog and a certain Gunslinger we all know and adore. Probably more besides! I don't know if they'll all get separate posts but I'll definitely do another skipped stories post. I also just challenged myself on Goodreads to have all these works read by the end of the year. Let's see if I can hold to that...
Next Up: Roadwork!