– Summary –
Director : Jan de Bont
Year Of Release : 1996
Principal Cast : Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Jamie Gertz, Cary Elwes, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck, Jeremy Davies, Joey Slotnick, Sean Whalen, Todd Field, Wendle Josepher, Scott Thomsen, Lois Smith, Zach Grenier, Alexa Vega, Richard Lineback, Rusty Schwimmer, Jake Busey.
Approx Running Time : 113 Minutes
Synopsis: Two groups of storm chasers attempt to send a device up into a twister to develop technology to prevent more deaths.
What we think : Blockbusting adventure film delivers thrills, laughs and romance – all wrapped up in state of the art special effects. Paxton and Hunt have wonderful chemistry, and the team of “associates” are all distinctive and memorable (a rare feat); a roller-coaster of a film that maximizes all it can from its high-hokum story.
If you’ve ever lived through one of natures most almighty inventions, then you’ll perhaps appreciate this film more than most. While most normal, sane people would probably go to extraordinary lengths to avoid being caught up in a twister, some, those nutty few, dare to dodge, duck and weave their lives around one of the most awesome sights humans will ever see.
The twister, what our cousins in the US call a tornado, is one of the most unpredictable forces of nature we have experienced. Inordinately powerful, impossibly scary and utterly unpredictable, twisters are the bane of people living in the midwest of the United States, or, as they lovingly term it, Hurricane Alley. Every year, many people die due to the sudden and violent nature of these unpredictable forces. Wind of incalculable speed rips apart houses, barns, lifts cars and trucks into the air and displaces soil and lives, sometimes for a moment, sometimes for longer.
The documentary footage people have taken over the years of twisters yields some pretty stunning images: perhaps this is why a movie about them was always a foregone conclusion.
Midway through the 90’s, director Jan De Bont was on a high. He had completed Speed, which had met with huge commercial and critical success, and was looking for his next project. The Haunting was years away, and he turned his attention to a project about people who chase storms. Thankfully, De Bont decided to approach this film with all the dramatic and heroic endeavor the themes deserved. Of course, in Hollywood, you never really know what you’re going to get, and De Bont delivered a flawed, yet exciting ride into the eye of a storm, which was unlike anything most people had ever really experienced. And they called it, amazingly, Twister.
Bill Paxton, the go-to guy for rock-solid dependability and an all-round nice guy persona, stars as Bill (cool, nobody would get his name wrong then!), a former storm chaser, now weather presenter, who goes to find his wife in order to get her to sign their divorce papers. His wife, Jo Harding (Helen Hunt, looking sprightly in that wonderful white singlet!) has not only not signed the divorce papers, but seems intent on not doing so until she’s unleashed her latest experiment: a device that will deliver a payload of ball-shaped monitors into the eye of a tornado, to measure wind velocity and formations, among other things. Bill and Jo have a history, and it’s obvious they still do, as their initial conversation takes place.
Bill has made the mistake of bringing his new fiancée along, which is the reason he wants the papers signed. His fiancée, Melissa (Jami Gertz) is taken in by Jo’s team, a group of rag-tag adventure seeking adrenaline junkies, who follow her around helping her conduct her research.
And when a storm is spotted not to far away, the team spring into action, and begrudgingly Bill and Melissa tag along.
Of course, you can see the plot development coming a mile away. Bill and Jo are destined to be together, their past history and obvious chemistry making this plainly obvious. Melissa, while initially a little bit of a whiny upper-class twist, becomes the object of our sympathy as she realises Bill doesn’t love her as much as he loves Jo. And along the way, they stumble into, around and in front of, some of the most impressive twisters ever constructed on film.
Twister is an adventure film of the highest order: it lacks a coherent logic and any sense of character development beyond the two principal leads. Hunt and Paxton deliver their lines with a zeal that’s actually quite catching, and I think this is what makes the film work. Their commitment to the characters, even if they are quite shallow and badly formed, is to be commended. The rest of the cast is pretty limited in their stories: most of them are simply there for laughs, a little bit of animosity (bring in Cary Elwes, in one of his most jaw-clenching roles yet!) and injury.
But you’re not there for the human interest, are you? No, you want to see buildings blow apart, vehicles and objects heavier than you or I to be thrown about like they were toys. Well, this film delivers. In one of the most amazingly brutal sequences of the film, an entire barn is blown apart, walls flying out towards the screen and involuntarily causing you to duck… okay, well, maybe just me. But the fact is that this is a genuinely exciting roller-coaster of a film: its a movie made for sheer entertainment.
The film is a sound designer’s wet dream… if I can use that analogy with little regard for our readers sensibilities This film is made for the use of a decent home cinema system, the surround sound and subwoofer channels getting used remarkably often, and with plenty of sonic buffoonery to keep you occupied. Deep rumbles, objects whooshing past the screen, cows flying alongside you, it all adds up to one of the busiest soundtracks of recent memory…. this is one film you’ll annoy the neighbours with.
The effects are, by today’s standards, perfectly acceptable, although they have dated a little in the intervening decade or so since the film’s release. The enormous twister that ploughs through the films final act, chewing everything in it’s path, is almost more than the effects boys could handle. Some shots look perfectly realistic, others… well, you can see the wires, so to speak. Yet, for all the inadequate effects work, the excitement is such that you’ll probably overlook those faults anyway.
De Bont imbues this film with such a sense of fun, it’s infectious. The opening twenty minutes of this film are a postcard to the world of the storm chaser, with the exciting and rousing soundtrack working overtime to convey the on-screen adrenaline that must be pumping through these characters when the twister makes landfall. The storm chaser medley, with music from Tchaikovsky, Rogers & Hammerstein and even a little Van Halen, is indicative of the excitement the film generates throughout it’s moments of tense action, and periods of relative calm.
For me, though, the hokey dialogue and clunky acting from all bar Paxton and Hunt, prevents Twister from becoming a genuine classic, in the way a Lethal Weapon or a Terminator film have. Still, for a film that designed to do one thing, entertain, De Bont hardly puts a foot wrong. He delivers all the expected set-pieces with aplomb, with the surety of a director at the top of his game. The finale, with Paxton and Hunt strung up against a green screen backdrop of the inside of a twister, is perhaps a little perplexing, a little arrogant to presume to inform us, but when you consider where we’ve been during the rest of the film, it’s only to be expected.
I’m not saying Twister is a great film, in fact, far from it. This is not what you’d class as a well made dramatic story. But if you approach viewing this film with a brain in neutral, and a sense of fun and enjoyment, and allow yourself to be simply entertained, then you’ll probably enjoy this a lot more than Requiem For A Dream.
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