Twister (1996)

I did not go into Twister with unreasonable expectations. I just wanted to be entertained. Then the picture came up on the screen, the wind blew me back in my seat, and I embarked on the greatest thrill-ride of a movie since Speed or Natural Born Killers. Twister is so real and powerful and, above all, entertaining, that to complain that the story is a little hokey or the characters said cliched lines is a fundamental misunderstanding of the film. It's tornadoes, man!

Comparing Twister to Jurassic Park is very valid. Michael Crichton wrote both films, and they both feature "stars" who were completely computer-generated. Steven Spielberg produced both films, as well. There was a lot which disappointed me about Jurassic Park, however. For one thing, all of the characters were so annoying that I kept wishing for them all to die. Also, and I know this is a completely nonsensical thing to say, but I just could not appreciate the effects much at all. Sure, they were impressive, but I mean, so is a Van Gogh; I do not want to spend two hours sitting in front of a movie screen with a Van Gogh on it. There has to be an emotional involvement and an effective visual use of effects to really impress. For instance, I thought the most effective use of effects in Jurassic Park was when the cow is lowered into the cage and is ripped apart offscreen. The noises were great. They conveyed everything that needed to be conveyed. Another good scene was when Wayne Knight's character, attempting to smuggle DNA off the island, was killed by the poison-shooting dinosaur. I think that was an animatronic dinosaur, though. So why was I watching a movie? I could have been home on my couch listening to the radio or watching "Muppets Tonight!" I wished I was home on my couch listening to the radio or watching "Muppets Tonight!" Maybe tonight I will stay home on my couch and listen to the radio or watch "Muppets Tonight!"

Or maybe I will go see Twister again. Because, brother, does Jan de Bont, the director who brought us Speed, and the cinematographer who brought us Cujo, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October, know how to make a movie that is exciting, gripping, and roundhouse-punch scary. When I saw Speed for the first time, I was actually dodging and jumping in my seat and swearing out loud. (This can be very annoying to those seated around you. Be forwarned. Twister is such a panic-inducing movie.)

Jack N. Green, Twister's cinematographer and Clint Eastwood's for the gorgeous Unforgiven and Bridges of Madison County, pulls off some truly amazing helicopter shots and shots that require expert timing. He also photographs nature with such an unerring eye that you see the movie as a landscape of plains which intersects in an eerily beautiful way with the deadly power of nature as manifested by the tornadoes. You always feel that what is happening on screen is moving toward you, like your feet are on the ground with the characters, as well.

I guess I will give a brief plot summary. The plot does not really matter. The plot is just an excuse for a bunch of tornadoes and destruction. This is a good thing. I do not want to be bothered with emotional baggage or following the intricacies of some loser's backstory. I want to see something get knocked over. de Bont comes through for me. So anyway, there are these storm-chasers, see, they want to find out how a tornado works, because nobody really knows, so they design "Dorothy," a machine that enters the eye of a tornado (they have to place it the tornado's path, of course) and releases hundreds of tiny sensors, which then record and transmit detailed information back to the scientists' computers. Bill (Bill Paxton) designed Dorothy, but he has left the project, and his wife Jo (Helen Hunt) for a new job as a weatherman and a new life with his fiancee, Melissa (Jami Gertz). Of course, on a trek out to get Jo to sign the divorce papers, Bill gets sucked back in with the old crew. Yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. Then there is this evil corporate storm-chaser, Jonas (Cary Elwes), who has stolen the design of Dorothy and is looking to get his findings completed before the other group. A rare storm configuration has presented some unique opportunities for study, so the race is on between the two groups to place and operate their machine first. Sound stupid? It is. Don't think about it too much. Unlike in Jurassic Park, de Bont has the good sense to treat the human characters like what they are: bit players. There is almost no manipulative crap to try and get you to care while you are just waiting for the next cool effect.

Who can think anyway with a big tornado barreling toward you, swirling and roiling with debris and dust and who knows? hellfire and a kind of cruel intelligent mindlessness that Spielberg wishes his dippy velociraptors had had for one second? Who needs to? Probably some idiot movie critic. But if you are looking for a movie that is a movie in every full, complete sense of the word, the kind of movie you can watch with popcorn on Saturday afternoon, Twister is it. It is a four-star action picture, a four-star disaster picture, and that adds up to a four-star picture.

Links for Twister

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review


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