Coming off the runaway blockbuster Speed (see what I did there?). Director Jan de Bont came back with the CGI-effect heavy disaster movie Twister. With a paltry (by today's standards) $94 million budget, Twister ended up making nearly $250 million in theaters, making it the second highest grossing movie of the year behind Independence Day. Now, my question is this: Does Twister hold up as a movie better than ID4 does? Because, let's face facts. No matter how awesome we all thought ID4 was...it's awfully cheesy today.
Former stormchaser Bill Harding is moving on with his life. He has retired from stormchasing, and is becoming a weatherman. He has met a reproductive therapist named Melissa, and they are heading off to their new life. There's just one problem. Jo (Helen Hunt). Jo has given her life to chasing tornadoes, because as a child (as we see in the first scene of the movie), Jo's father is killed in a giant tornado while trying to close the door of their storm cellar. And Jo wants to make sure no other children have to live through that kind of terror. Bill's ex-wife who has never gotten around to signing those pesky papers, seemingly because she is too busy with her job. So, wouldn't you know it? Jo's practically got pen to paper when duty calls, and a storm needs to be chased!
You know where it goes from here. Through a series of close calls, and the realization of years of research, Bill falls back in love with stormchasing...and eventually with Jo. Surprisingly, Melissa is fine with all this (it must have been the being nearly killed 25 times in the matter of an hour).
Ah, but that's not all. There's also Jonas (played with one of the worst fake-Southern accents ever by Cary Elwes). The hot shot, in it for the money, super slick stormchaser who has stolen Bill's technology, and wants to beat him to the punch so he can get fame and glory (and maybe a vocal coach). To take the bad guy metaphor even further, their entire caravan of vans and trucks are jet black. We'll get back what happens to Westley, I mean, Jonas...later.
There are six main tornado chase scenes in the movie, and the opening flashback storm. Meaning in a just under 120 minute movie, there's a tornado on screen on average every 17 minutes. This makes for a very action packed movie, and the time literally flies by (see what I did there?).
It's almost impossible to discuss this movie without noticing how many nods and winks there are to the Wizard of Oz. From the opening scene involving a storm cellar, to the name of the tornado tracking device "Dorothy", to a Judy Garland movie even being on a TV at one point. There are probably more I am missing, but that's a fair start. It's obvious that Oz played at least some role of inspiration to the making of this film.
Seven main scenes of destruction to discuss.
The first flashback storm mainly shows Jo's father getting sucked out of the storm cellar. There is an important lesson to learn here though. Jo's father goes back to the door because he is worried that the storm is going to throw it open. However, Jo and her mother both easily survive the storm...even though the door is wide open, and the father is whisked away. So, lesson learned?
The second tornado scene ends up with Jo's truck getting thrown from a 5-6 foot deep ditch up into the air, and on the road a couple hundred feet backwards. Bill and Jo survive this storm under a rickety old bridge. They're muddy, but ok.
The third tornado scene is when we get one of Twister's most iconic moments. Yes, this is when we get the famous flying cow! Apart from this there is some big debris, and Bill and Jo's truck gets caught in between "sister twisters" and they get spun around a few times. Fun scene, don't know how realistic it is.
The fourth storm has a nice hailstorm involved. And they get pretty darn close to the storm, but sadly the storm suddenly dissipates.
The fifth tornado is probably the scene with the best urban legend. This is the drive-in scene. When, while watching The Shining a tornado gobbles up the entire drive in. The urban legend is that while showing Twister, a drive-in was actually damaged when a real tornado came through. A version I once heard claimed it happened during this exact scene. Sadly, as shown in this Snopes article http://www.snopes.com/movies/films/twister.asp . It just didn't happen. Great story though.
The sixth tornado we actually don't see, but it's the one that causes the most damage. As it is a direct hit on Wakita, Oklahoma. Where Jo's Aunt Meg lives. Her house is nearly destroyed, many houses in the town are obliterated.
And finally, we get "The Big One" the final chase is against a tornado nearly one mile wide. Very similar to the storm that Jo's father was killed in (if we needed it beat into our heads any more that's her motivation for this entire career path). Our heroes first get into trouble when a giant tree gets stuck under their pickup. Fortunately, a very courteous flying tanker truck smashes into their pick up truck, freeing them, before exploding just down the road. And the tanker was also very nice when it allowed Bill and Jo to drive through the fireball unscathed. Don't you love polite explosions like that?
Then out of nowhere Jonas comes back (he's been gone for the better part of the last hour of movie). And of course, Jonas doesn't listen to Bill and Jo's warning...which leads to THE BEST DEATH SCENE IN THE MOVIE. Jonas' van gets too close to the twister, and a 20 foot long piece of radio tower impales Jonas' driver straight through the face and upper chest. Killing him instantly. Just seconds later, Jonas' van is picked up, thrown, and it goes boom. Ending the Jonas storyline.
After driving through a rolling house (yeah, you heard me), Bill (why did they name the character Bill, if the actor is named Bill? Why not make her Helen while they are at it? Anyway...) and Jo make it to a farm, and are trying to find some safe haven. After a comedic scene where they enter a barn full of very sharp tools, they strap themselves to a pipe...using leather belts. They are then witness to the most amazing sight of their lives as they go right through the center of a tornado.
BIGGEST LEAP OF FAITH THE MOVIE ASKS UP TO MAKE
OK, assuming they can outrun a tornado, and assuming that a leather belt is strong enough to hold 150-200 pound people, AND that belt is strong enough to withstand 175+ MPH winds... just how in the world did these two people not get hit by one single piece of flying debris from this storm? The pipe they attached to was inside an old wooden barn! They should look like human cacti at the end of this storm. But nope, they are just fine.
THE CALM AFTER THE STORM
So, how does it hold up? Looking at is as a movie... surprisingly well actually. The computer effects are primitive by today's standards, but they are competent. The script is fine (having Michael Crichton on board to help write undoubtedly helped). As a disaster film, there are a lot of twisters, always a good thing. Plenty of chaos, a lot of stuff flying around (excellent), but you don't really see the widespread destruction (save for the drive-in and Wakita scenes) that other disaster movies show. Still, for the disaster junkie. Plenty of stuff breaks, and that's just flat out awesome. Overall, Twister is an extremely enjoyable movie. It definitely holds up better than ID4, and will likely be seen as a classic in the disaster genre for years to come.
Well, that felt good. Glad to be back on the saddle. Next time, I plan to talk about a movie I just saw today that, on the surface, doesn't seem like it's a disaster movie. However, it has one scene that absolutely warrants it's entry here. I'll try and make it a spoiler-free review, since many people may not have seen it yet. We'll talk Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs in just a few days.