June 04, 2008 by Zach Demeter
The year was 1996 and the summer of blockbusters had just begun when Twister found its way onto screens on May 10th. The film employed some of the most realistic tornados ever before put to film thanks to the rising use of CGI in films. With a cast of tried and true actors as well as some up and coming stars (look out for a young Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role of the “far out” chaser named Dusty), not only were they able to replicate the movement and look of the tornados, but they were able to do one more important thing that hadn’t been done in 1996: blow my nine year old mind.
When Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) goes to get some divorce papers signed by his soon-to-be-ex-wife Jo Harding (Helen Hunt), Bill didn’t know that he’d end up joining the crew for another run at the tornados that he’d given up on years before. With new technology in tow, Bill decides to tag along and help the crew get his idea, a canister full of scientific devices that would feedback information on a tornado, giving the warning sign for a tornado almost three times the advanced response time as before. Despite remaining in the event for scientific reasons only, Bill quickly finds feelings for Jo returning, something Bill’s fiancé, Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz) quickly becomes aware of.
I actually found it rather odd to type that as the synopsis above because the Jo/Bill relationship is such a secondary plot to the entire movie that to focus on it for an entire paragraph seemed like it was shortchanging the movie. What I realize now, however, is that the movies primary character is its title: the twisters. There’s a novel concept! In an age of movies that has movies titled Alien vs. Predator, we actually see the title characters as the focus of the actual picture, with the humans taking second stage. Awesome? Absolutely. I actually give this movie way more credit for that aspect alone—we came to see tornados and the producers of this film saw fit to give us not one or two, but w a whole handful to feast our eyes on.
The twisters themselves are still awe inspiring to look at today. Even with the outdated technology that we see in the film, the tornados still look like something that could have been created today. While the tornados on the water looked a bit too oily and shiny, the other mix of tornados we see are fantastic. They look and sound as evil as I remembered as a kid and ever since seeing this movie in theaters I became insanely frightened when stormy weather would occur, as I would remember the moans and destructive power that these beasts contained.
Perhaps it’s just because I grew up with this film, but I still found it as entertaining as I did when I was young. Sure the plots cheesy as hell and there’s more than a few things to laugh at (unintentionally), but all in all the film really is an example of good popcorn fun if there ever was one. The characters are largely forgettable (I think Hoffman’s character sticks with me now purely because I’ve seen him in other roles that are nothing like this one—it’s almost embarrassing to watch for that reason alone), but it’s the action that you keep coming back for.
Despite being nearly two hours long, the film never quite feels like it’s taking that long to progress, if only because we’re bombarded with storm after storm and we never have to dwell on one moment for too long. Oh Jo and Bill are slowly getting back together! Who cares? We’re watching houses, trucks and farms get torn up, it doesn’t matter who’s making out on screen, it’s the destruction we wanted. The only issue I had with the tornados was that they seemed to dissipate way too quickly after coming into contact with our cast. Within seconds of the tornado passing overhead it simply disappears, like it couldn’t do it a few seconds beforehand so it didn’t cause so much carnage. Of course I know we wouldn’t have seen it then, but it just seemed so strange to me.
The film attempts some form of drama with the character plotlines, especially when the rival Tornado chasers, headed by Dread Pirate Cary Elwes, come into play but really it doesn’t matter. The characters are shallow and largely forgettable, so there isn’t much depth to this film at all, so don’t expect an Oscar worthy story. Even though I throw plenty of negative mentions of the story at you, don’t think unkindly of this film—while it’s shallow, the description of “roller coaster” is apt when it comes to this film. It’s a lot of fun to ride and you’ll undoubtedly want to get on it again and again, but it’s ultimately just a quick thrill. Which in Twister’s case isn’t a bad thing, it’s a classic popcorn flick in every sense of the term. Recommended.
Let’s just hope this new two-disc and Blu-ray release doesn’t spawn a sequel with tornados terrorizing a big city. I don’t care if it’s scientifically impossible, they’ll find a way to have it make sense! And I’d probably watch it too.
Twister was one of the more successful 90s films that saw an early DVD release and nothing else afterwards. It took Warner a long time to come around to doing a special edition, but they seem to have pulled out all of the stops with these new releases, as there’s not only plenty of extras but an all-new technical transfer as well. Twister arrives on Blu-ray in a standard blue case (with chrome logo) and an insert telling you to keep your player up-to-date.
Video and audio for this film are, as expected, quite outstanding. The new video transfer blows away the now ancient DVD release and looks simply stunning, boasting nice levels of detail in this VC-1 encoded transfer. There’s a lack of depth in some sequences, but for the most part the tornados are flying around clean and clear with little intrusion by stray artifacts or any compression that we saw in the original release. I know it’s unfair to compare this to a DVD released in 2000 to a 1080p transfer now, but still—if that’s what we have to go on, then hot damn does this Blu-ray release look great. On top of the video are the audio tracks. The film serves up a potent Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 track that shakes the house with its surround and subwoofer usage (watch out for that drive-in movie theater tornado, it’ll peel paint off the walls if it’s up too loud). English and French 5.1 tracks are also available.
Moving onto the extras there are no Blu-ray exclusive goodies here (aside from the fancy menu, but that’s a given), but what we do get is a solid repeat of what’s included on the two-disc DVD release. The first extra is a commentary with director Jon De Bont and visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier. There’s a fair amount of reminiscing about the production of the film, but most of it’s all very technical and not something I’d put in the “easy listening” category for commentaries. There’s some cool tidbits thrown around here and there, but unless you’re a massively huge fan of this film, I’d skip it—its dull and dry at times and not something worth choosing over the TrueHD track. Trust me, you’ll get more enjoyment out of hearing debris fly around in your speakers for two hours than you will taking time to listen to this new commentary. Of course it’s ported from the original DVD release, so the art of commentary wasn’t exactly as popular as it is now, but still.
“Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited” (28:58) is a new extra for the DVD and Blu-ray releases and includes interviews with De Bont and Bill Paxton, we get to hear all kinds of fun stories from the set of Twister and included is plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and a peak into the many digital effects that this film used. Moving on to the other extras we have “The Making Of Twister”, an HBO “first-look” extra with cast and crew interviews; “Anatomy Of A Twister” is a companion piece to the making-of as it contains more cast and crew interviews, but this one’s not quite so product-shilling and is more laid back in nature. Finally we have Nature Tech: Tornadoes (45:18), a History Channel documentary about the wicked Mother Nature creations that continue to wreak havoc upon the country. It’s a fascinating documentary and is quite honestly almost more entertaining than the film was, but I’ve always had an interest (and fear) in tornados anyway, so that may be a bit biased coming from me.
A Van Halen music video as well as theatrical trailers accompany this release, but other than that we’re done with this edition. Warner’s certainly created a solid Blu-ray edition, as well as the two-disc edition, but if you’re going to upgrade over your previous set then pick up the Blu-ray if you’ve got the tech to do so. The extras are the same (and in SD, unfortunately), but the 1080p and Dolby TrueHD are absolutely worth the higher price tag. Recommended.
Twister is now available on Blu-ray and two-disc DVD.