The movie that ties you up in knots
Twister is directed by Jan de Bont and stars Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Is it a law that all disaster movies must emphasize effects over story, character, and acting? For 1996's Twister, the answer is yes. Actually, I think I will make the claim that Twister was the one disaster movie that first enforced such a law, considering how essentially no disaster movie ever made since Twister had even entertained the thought of putting story and acting first and then use terrific special effects to enhance what would have been the life blood of the whole experience. My gosh, have any of these disaster filmmakers seen Terminator 2? That movie came out almost a full five years before Twister, and James Cameron, as effects-driven of a filmmaker as there ever has been one, at least had the decency to give Terminator 2 an interesting story and characters that were three-dimensional. No such treasures in Twister, though I would be lying if I said the movie doesn't at least have spirit, and that salvages a lot of what the movie fails to do.
The story follows a group of storm chasers led by meteorologist Jo Harding (Hunt). While working, Jo reunites with her estranged husband Bill Harding (Paxton), who is getting ready to marry sex therapist Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz). Jo needs to sign some divorce papers so Bill can go through with his new marriage, but she gets sidetracked when her and her team head out to intercept some incoming tornadoes. Jo is trying to get a device called DOROTHY (the Wizard of Oz references are so not clever) inside one of the tornadoes, as all the little sensor balls inside DOROTHY will get sucked up and collect important data about how the tornado operates.Bill joins the team on their tornado chase and, much to the chagrin of Melissa, gets caught up in all the excitement. Also joining the chase is Jonas Miller (Elwes), a corporate-funded meteorologist who Bill views as a rival and who has his own version of DOROTHY.
Twister follows a simple two-step pattern for its entire 113 minute run-time: tornado action, talking, more tornado action, more talking. The characters and their explanations are nothing but placeholders until the next tornado chase, with Jan de Bont giving no discernible effort towards generating any sort of character development, outside of anything that doesn't directly relate to Jo and Bill rekindling their love for each other. Oh, that should not be viewed as ANY sort of surprise; the last thing that screenwriters Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin are going to do is throw you a curve ball at you in regards to how Jo and Bill's marriage is going to end up when all is said and done. Anything that can be done to hint at Jo and Bill getting back together will be done.
- The look of the twisters is definitely something that the movie gets right, serving as one of the better examples of 1990's CGI. The sequences of the tornadoes ripping through the wide-open Oklahoma landscapes feel as realistic as you would want any disaster sequence in a movie to feel. There are even glimpses of disaster film greatness on hand, particularly during a late scene when a tornado makes it way through the town of Wakita, and we see shots of distraught families standing among their destroy homes, while ambulances arrive to tend to those who are injured. This is part of what I meant when I said that Twister has spirit: it applies emotions to its raging tornadoes, finding at least a little bit of both worlds in regards to what we'd like to see, which are tornadoes as exciting spectacles of entertainment and tornadoes as instruments of honest human drama. Twister nails the entertainment part. The human drama part, not as much as we'd like.
- I like Bill Paxton, but this is a performance that had me sometimes cringing in utter disgust. At times, Paxton is just fine and has his acting hover around an area that can be deemed, "passable". Other times though, he acts as if he completely forgot how to look happy, angry, or show any other sort of basic expression. Paxton says some of his lines as if he was simply restating them, with all the joy and charisma of a Speak and Spell computer, and it is a killer. Was Paxton having so much trouble remembering some of his lines that de Bont allowed the camera worker to hold the script right up and allow Paxton to read off it while the camera was rolling? It's harder to care about who is running away from the tornadoes when they sound like a high school freshman's first ever try-out for the fall play.
- Speaking of not caring, Jonas Miller is essentially useless as the film's "villain". I love how the movie portrays Jonas as bad by having him and his crew drive in all black vehicles and telling us that he's backed by corporate funding (Getting major financial support to help him do significant research....how dare he!). Jonas does nothing but act as an annoyance to Bill, Jo, and Jo's team, only showing up when it's convenient to spice up the tornado action and show us how Bill has an instinct for storm chasing and not Jonas. Does there always have to be a person who comes along during a disaster and make things worse for everybody? Next thing you know these disaster movie "villains" will start trying to harness the power of the disasters for themselves...
So when you put it all together, Twister is actually far from the worst natural disaster movie out there. The twisters look great and make for some entertaining moments, but the characters running from said tornadoes and the story getting spun around aren't much of anything to get excited about. Bill Paxton is a letdown in his role, but Helen Hunt is able to pick up the slack for him a little bit so that the two aren't completely unbearable to watch together. In the end, Twister is the epitome of special effects over acting and story, which I guess turned out to be the right call given the film's near $500 million gross at the box office. No wonder that practically every disaster movie ever made afterwards followed the same procedure, even though the lot of them came up short. It's because none of them had spirit, and spirit is what Twister really has going for it.
Recommend? I would only recommend the movie as a nice time-waster when you're bored with nothing else to do on a given night.
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