So today the stars have aligned, and it being the tenth of the month both TBT and The Franco Files have merged on the same day! Given the performance I decided to highlight with July’s installment of TFF, and the fact it involves a pretty ridiculous tornado, I started thinking about movies featuring similarly whacky weather. Pretty hard to find the film that’s more consistently entertaining and taxing on the old bag of popcorn than this particularly thrilling rollicking through the midwestern plains in Jan DeBont’s adaptation of a screenplay penned by best-selling author Michael Crichton.
Today’s food for thought: Twister.
Rockin’ Wakita since: May 10, 1996
I can’t really justify my great love for this special-effects driven spectacular, or why I cherish it over other similar disaster action films. Actually, yes I can. I can back-up my love for Twister: it’s supremely fun, at times even scary. . .even to this day. You can’t tell me you don’t go at least a little white-knuckle during the destruction of the drive-in theater. So, really, it’s the whole having to explain why this particular, generic story does it for me more than others. There’s a legion of other similar films that have tried to mimic the scale of Jan de Bont’s adventure, and there are about ten times as many films that fall under the umbrella of cheesy disaster films — most of which are relegated to the Sci-Fy channel.
So, what was it?
Was it the air-born cow. . .or cows, plural? (How many of those fuckers were there flying around?) Or was it the rescuing of Aunt Meg (Lois Smith) after the same brute force that tore down the drive-in theater absolutely hammered the small town of Wakita? Might it have been a delightful turn from Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the free-spirited Dusty that piqued my curiosity so? The general (albeit slightly stereotyped) enthusiasm shared amongst the entire storm chase team — the likes of which featured a couple on the cusp of divorce? Or could it have been the idea that this pair of unlikelies — Bill (Bill Paxton) and Jo (Helen Hunt) — managed to fend off their emotional storm enough to weather a summer of historically high tornadic activity in the midwest?
Umm. . . how about all of the above? Toss some spices into the pot in the form of a killer rock-and-roll soundtrack, and what you have simmering on the cooker is a highly memorable action-packed summer film that simultaneously satiates the meteorology dork in me and satisfies my sweet tooth for visual spectacle (these renderings were pretty impressive for the time, you have to admit). Never mind the respect for science, as Crichton’s screenplay turns the wind phenomenon commonly known as a tornado (or ‘nader, depending on where you hail from. . .and yes, that was also a terrible pun) into a character in itself, presenting it as an increasingly intimidating force of nature the longer the movie endures.
Sure, Twister can’t help playing out on occasion like an amusement park ride, its narrative ultimately boiling down to a series of stops at various locations, all of which become sites of near-catastrophic failure as the team have multiple close encounters with some seriously high-speed winds. In the end, I’m not sure what other choices de Bont had in steering the audience through this chaotic summer period, one in which a fearless group of scientists competed with others to help provide safer precautions for people living directly in harm’s way. While the presence of so many tornados in such a short time span tended to strain credulity, the damage they subsequently caused hardly did. Neither did the harsh reality that served as the team’s motivation. Aunt Meg had a close call, but so many others, like Jo’s family, hadn’t been so lucky.
In the end, there’s very little to defend about this film as it pertains to memorable cinematic achievement. You know, excluding those eye-popping visuals. Apart from Hoffman’s ingratiating Dusty, characters don’t really leave lasting impressions; they weren’t designed to. But the film as a whole succeeded immensely, designed as a simple popcorn package meant to entertain and enthrall.
Recommendation: Suckers for early films coated in special effects and well-versed in action set-pieces have this film in their collection, no doubt. It’s a must-have for anyone who’s fan enough to take the tour at Universal Studios of the reconstructed set of the drive-in. (Hint-hint, I took the tour at Universal Studios. . . 🙂 ) It’s also a classic for anyone seeking a nature-related, thrilling adventure from the ’90s.
Running Time: 113 mins.
TBTrivia: As anyone knows, the tornadoes in this film generate quite the racket. To help create the cacophonous noise associated with these brutal winds, the filmmakers chose to incorporate a slowed-down audio recording of a camel moaning. Yes, that’s right. A camel moaning.
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