This is a big old classic style action blockbuster from 1996. It was a major deal back in the day thanks to cutting edge special effects. Let’s rock!
Okay, so it’s from director Jan de Bont. He was fresh off the success of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock vehicle Speed (1994).
Twister is kind of along the same lines. It’s about big old tornadoes running riot, smashing stuff up, and being a bit scary.
But, really, reading the production notes for the film (further below) is more entertaining than the movie.
Anyway, set in Oklahoma in the mid-1990s, we catch up with meteorologist Jo Thornton (Helen Hunt). She’s chosen her career after the death of her father in 1969, due to a massive F5 tornado.
The National Severe Storms Laboratory predicts an unprecedented wave of tornadoes over a 24-hour period.
Her estranged husband, Bill Harding (Bill Paxton), arrives on the scene to document what’s happening. He’s joined by his new girlfriend Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz).
These two are trying to settle divorce papers and whatnot. But, as you may expect, they srt of rekindle their feelings for each other as the film progresses.
We guess tornadoes just have that effect on some people. They’re so romantic.
They have a more professional catch up over lunch and Harding meets the rest of Thornton’s rather ramshackle crew.
That includes “Dusty” Davis, a young Philip Seymour Hoffman in an early film role.
Sure enough, big old tornadoes start appearing. And they seem to have a magnetic attraction to the attractive leading actors. Behold the first proper tornado scene!
Thornton has created a tornado mapping system called DOROTHY.
The team has to place it in the path of a tornado for it to work—a tricky business, obviously. But if they’re successful, it’ll read the pattern of a tornado and blah blah blah fake science etc.
It’s the sort of nonsense invention that Deep Blue Sea came up with to land characters in entertaining (for cinemagoers) situations.
Another problem is antagonist Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes). He’s a corporate-funded meteorologist who’s ripped off Thornton’s technology with a contraption called DOT-3.
So they’re racing to get this thing infront of the weather first, you see? Which leads to lots of drama.
So, yes, we must say the action stuff is pretty well done. And some of the effects do still hold up.
One of the much-hyped scenes was, in fact, below. We remember it appearing in all the trailers at the time. Moo.
So, the main problem for the film is it’s rather repetitive at times. And generally ignores how nature really works to spice up the show.
Tornadoes don’t have a mind of their own. And they don’t magnetically surge in towards individuals in the name of narrative development.
Another issue is, depending on the scene, respective tornadoes behave in different ways. Sometimes whipping stuff up and destroying it. Other times now.
Honest trailers did a good satirical take on it recently.
We must say, we like catching back up with the legendary Bill Paxton (1955-2017) and it’s ridiculous that such a well-loved and enthusiastic bloke is gone.
He’s effective in this role and would go on to have a small but essential part in Titanic a year later.
Helen Hunt was also on a roll, with an excellent performance in As Good As It Gets following in 1997.
So not problems with those two—both very talented actors deserving of their leading positions. Even if Paxton didn’t usually take lead roles.
The main issue is the script. Hunt’s character is the most complex, with her traumatic backstory.
But, mainly, it’s just about two very good looking individuals running around a bit with (for the time) industry-leading special effects on show.
And proceedings generally lurch from one tornado chase to the other.
Back in 1996, as kids, we thought it was terrific. But we now see its glaring flaws, even if it does have a naive type of charm.
It represents the type of daft action blockbuster from the 1990s that don’t really exist anymore.
At the time the film was a big deal thanks to those CGI effects. In 1996, this was still pretty new and would audiences to a film just because of that.
The irony now is we’re generally oversaturated with CGI movies and the appeal is wearing off. Not so in 1996!
Ultimately, this is a big dumb blockbuster. Popcorn entertainment. And it manages that on a basic level—just ignore the capricious nature of the weather in Oklahoma.
But also noticeable here is an early performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, a few years before breaking out as one of the leading actors of his generation.
Otherwise, it’s kind of been lost in time. Every now and again everyone remembers it as a type of innocuous blockbuster from yesteryear.
A remnant from the way things were with movies in 1996. And for those of us around at the time, that means something positive. Even if it is just due to nostalgia.
Screenwriter Jeffrey Hilton presented the idea to studios in 1992. It was, initially, a 10 page short story.
The concept was then handed to industry legend Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame) and his wife Anne-Marie Martin. They got the first script together.
The subsequent script… wasn’t their finest moment. But, hey ho, we guess there isn’t too much you can really do with this idea. It was all about the CGI.
Things got underway properly when Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment went about producing the project.
Off its mammoth $88–92 million budget, it went on to make $495.7 million worldwide. The second highest grossing film of 1996.
That makes it all sound rather serene, but the production for the film was (by most accounts) a bloody nightmare.
Various script re-writes from Joss Whedon and Steven Zaillian delayed the start of filming. But filming started with a complete picture on how the story would develop.
Director de Bont also insisted on filming in Oklahoma, rather than in the initial setting of California. Making production more difficult, as the weather (ironically) was all over the place.
Twister is notable for the number of injuries sustained by cast and crew.
Paxton and Hunt were both (temporarily) blinded by the crew’s use of ultra-powerful electronic lamps—there to make the sky look more dramatic. After several days off to recover, they came back to the set for filming.
Later, they had to receive hepatitis shots after a scene in a particularly grotesque ditch.
Hunt also received two concussions, one from a wooden block in another ditch scene, the other from a car door. De Bont accused Hunt of being clumsy. To which she responded:
"Clumsy? The guy burned my retinas, but I'm clumsy ... I thought I was a good sport. I don't know, ultimately, if Jan chalks me up as that or not, but one would hope so."
The director’s antics led to several crew members thinking he was out of control, so they left the production entirely.
Allegedly, at one point he knocked over a camera assistant in a fit of rage. More crew walked off set thanks to that.
Cinematographer Jack N. Green helped to replace many of the erstwhile staff, but then he was also injured in a scene with a hydraulic house.
It was supposed to collapse on cue, but that was triggered off by accident whilst he was inside the thing making final preparations.
That landed him in hospital with various injuries, forcing him off the film.
To solve matters, de Bont stepped up into Green’s place to get Twister over the finish line—an exhausted, knackered heap.
But he was proud of the film. He even included a note to projectionists to ramp the volume up for all viewings—for maximum effect.