Enter 1996. It was a time of blossoming CGI. It was a time of dinosaurs ruling the earth. It was a time of the true reign of Steven Spielberg, back when his name was attached to almost every possible blockbuster. After Jurassic Park, it was stamp of good will. Add in the writer of Jurassic Park and the man who shot Die Hard and directed Speed and you have a surefire hit.
But do you have a good movie?
Twister is a disaster movie about a string of tornadoes that strikes Oklahoma. Two storm chasers, played by Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, are trying to deploy sensors into these twisters that would give them more information about the weather phenomenon than most people ever thought possible. Competing against a team of rival scientists, the chase is on to get the information and get out before they get sucked up by one of the worst natural disasters this Earth has to offer.
First things first – you don’t come to Hollywood looking for realism. The Discovery Channel this is not. An expensive blockbuster movie whose sole purpose is to recoup the very extravagant budget behind the film ($90 mil) is not going to blow you away with perfect scientific explanations, and it doesn’t have to. If they did, this movie would be nowhere near the fun brainless ride it is. And brainless is the key word.
Bill Paxton plays the down home meteorologist with the “gut instinct” for tornadoes about as well as you could hope. Of course his ex-wife, current wife, and aunt all have scenes telling (the audience) how special he is and how he’s a “human barometer”. It doesn’t need explaining, he’s just good at chasing twisters dammit! Paxton and Helen Hunt do a great job as the divorced storm chaser couple, with special props going to Jami Gertz for being amazing looking (she didn’t really age from The Lost Boys) and playing a really funny, really balanced part as Bill’s new wife, caught in the middle of her husband and his ex and these crazy storm chases that for some strange reason she’s a part of. Seriously Bill, I know all about trying to get your significant other into the same things you are, but putting them in serious danger chasing tornadoes? That does not make a successful honeymoon.
But this movie is not called “Storm Chaser Love Triangle”. This movie is called Twister. The real stars here are the tornadoes, and they certainly are the centerpieces of the film. Each setpiece is based around a stronger tornado, and they get scarier and scarier… until the climax, the “thumb of God” – an F5 tornado. This mamma jamma is big. The CGI in this movie is great, showing all the ethereal beauty and destruction of these storms. We didn’t really need the tornadoes to growl at the characters – you just have to watch, because these tornadoes are on a PERSONAL VENDETTA – but it’s decisions like that that set Twister firmly into B-movie territory, right where it belongs.
In a world nearly two decades removed from our own, the effects here still hold up and that’s saying something. The tornadoes are all menacing and deadly and seem to have their own personality… all the way to that F5, which should be seen on the big screen to truly appreciate the size and scope. Jan de Bont can direct action like no one’s business – he was the cinematographer for Die Hard and the director of Speed – and all the setpieces have clear stakes and are cut together very well. The team assembled to chase these storms is a great cast of supporting players; Philip Seymour Hoffman does some good comic relief here before he got too famous, and some other familiar faces include Cary Elwes of Saw fame, Alan Ruck from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Jeremy Davies of Lost and Saving Private Ryan.
For there being all this talk of how freakin’ dangerous tornadoes are and how crazy it is to be chasing them, there is no sense of danger in this movie whatsoever. The rules of physics aren’t applied. The rules of science are thrown out the window. So drink a beer for it! These people should be dead at least tenfold by the time the credits roll. Here’s a movie where two human beings are running away from the biggest tornado ever seen by man, where windspeeds can get up to 400 mph and cars and houses can be thrown around like playthings, and they both successfully keep their feet on the ground.
It gets even better when an F3 tornado they’re chasing reverses its path and actually has their truck in its funnel – and all they do is spin around a lot, never leaving the ground even for a second. No matter where they take refuge, it’s safe enough, whether it be under a wooden structure in the middle of a field (!!) or what have you. It’s super silly and fits right in with the b-movie disaster sensibility.
The script. As I said before, you don’t go to a disaster movie to see Academy Award-winning characterization and plot structure. You wanna see stuff get destroyed. But still, it’s a lot more fun with some beers and so the script has to be the third beer. The romance is cheesy; you know Paxton’s going to end up back with Hunt before the end of the movie. The main “bad guys” feel so forced – of course the good guys are the independent storm chasers, sticking it to the “man” and those who sold out to him. It’s simple, it gives a plot and a conflict and everything it needs, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.
This is a silly movie with a lot of awesome effects and destruction and a lot to laugh at in terms of everything else. Definitely good with some beers. Have a fourth one on me.
It’s a fun, dumb ride. Four beers to truly enjoy it for what it is.
Take a Drink: any time a tornado does something it shouldn’t
Take a Drink: any time the actors are reacting to effects
Take a Drink: any time the storm chasers should probably be dead
Take a Drink: any time Jami Gertz is screaming or otherwise scared
and if you really wanna get drunk:
Take a Drink: any time something (building, car, etc.) is destroyed by a tornado