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Twister (1996) is the supreme disaster flick

Twister movie review
Photo Credit: Twister / Warner Bros
Tucked into the disaster genre under classics like The Poseidon Adventure (1972) or flash-in-the-pan epics like 2012 (2009), Twister remains popular twenty years after its original theatrical release. Instead of focusing on an end-of-the-world or survival against nature plot, this flick is all about facing one of nature's awe-inspiring sights in order to understand its mechanics.

Jo (Helen Hunt) and Bill (Bill Paxton) are estranged storm chasers trailing several twisters across Oklahoma before their rival (Cary Elwes) beats them to the punch. Wrangled together by a contentious divorce, they lead a crew trying to release a data-gathering instrument to transmit tornadic behavior.

The film is as much of a love story as it is an action movie. Jo's passion for how tornadoes work was brought on by a tragedy during her childhood. Her near-obsession, now as an adult, affects her marriage and drives her daredevil ambition. Awesomely played by Hunt, she doesn't pull punches, knows how to get under Bill's skin, knows what she wants and gets it done. Like the cyclones, she takes command of every scene and everyone around her.

On the other hand, Bill is not diluted to a white-knight trope. Having accepted becoming a weatherman and planning to remarry, his stubborn, ambitious, and hot-headed nature pits him against her on always having the final word or being right. This also the biggest attraction they have towards each other. Though Paxton's acting may be a bit over the top at times, he and Hunt share good chemistry. Both characters have strong personalities and neither one softens who they are but try to make it work. It's refreshing.

Though Bill and Helen are as big of stars as the twisters, the supporting characters aren't flat or one-dimensional. With the exception of Melissa (Bill's fiance), she is the only real fish-out-of-water character who gets sucked into chasing tornadoes. Played by Jami Gertz, even she gives a sympathetic performance of being forced into the field for the first time and truly understanding what Bill did for a living.

Though their crew doesn't have deep arcs or development, they have a genuine presence in supporting Bill and Jo as revered leaders. There is a sense of camaraderie between all of them. Perhaps the biggest stand-out is a young Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Dusty, the eccentric adrenaline seeker. He has some of the best lines. Even the showy villainous role of Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes), whose greatest crime is going the corporate route and adapting their design of Dorothy to his own, doesn't feel like an empty role.

As much the film offers in terms of over-the-top '90s gold, it also harbors awesome special effects. Rather than being overwhelmed with CGI, which provides technical aspects that couldn't have been achieved in real time, the added force of on-set effects takes the green screen components to another level. Director Jan de Bont was adamant that the actors had on-set obstacles to play off until the tornadoes were digitally added in. He employed seven giant wind machines and two specially rigged jet engines to blow 200 mph winds as well as water (for rain effects). During the biggest chase, a two-story home and 18-wheeler were dropped by cranes into the actor's path. More impressively, Hunt and Paxton performed a myriad of their own stunts and suffered a laundry list of injuries.

With six major action scenes evenly paced, the movie does not feel overwhelmingly violent. The chases not only play to will they or won't they be able to disperse their data-transmitting equipment successfully but will Bill and Jo end up together. Every chase is spotlighted in its own way growing bigger in scale, more intense, and raising the stakes for the characters. Mark Mancina's score combines original score and heavy metal bands, adding a hardcore element to the adventure.

Twister has been one of my favorite summer movies, if not, one of my favorite movies of all time. One of the greatest wonders for this movie is just how many fans accept the fallacies of its science. It's not accurate, but blockbusters are meant to be a fun ride. Too many try to pack in a thin story that is burdened with a green screen everywhere and a variety of characters without any real objectives or chemistry. Twister isn't too ambitious that the effort doesn't pay off or fall to be too goofy that it's Sci-Fi channel unwatchable. The movie may not be perfect and doesn't depict twisters as correctly as many would like, but damn, it's fun and surprisingly doesn't suck. If you watch, hold on for your life!

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Twister? What do you think?

P.S. And, as for that cow scene:
Real-life storm chaser Vince Miller gives high marks to the special-effects wizards who brought the cyclones to life. "There's a scene in the movie where a cow flies by," says Miller, a one-time consultant at the Weather Channel. "I've never seen anything like that. But there was a tornado in South Dakota in the '60s filled with flying rocks. It turns out the rocks were a herd of cattle. (x)

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