Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, May 23, 2018


After a decade of complete irrelevance, the disaster movie experienced a brief revival in the late nineties. I'm not sure what led to this sudden burst of new interest. There were a few quasi-disaster flicks in the early part of the decade, like “Alive” or “Backdraft.” Maybe it was just seventies nostalgia. Maybe new advancements in special effects allowed filmmakers to create more expansive vistas of destruction. Many point to “Independence Day” or “Titanic” as kickstarting the genre but all these films were in development at the same time. So was “Twister,” the first of this new wave of disaster films to come out. The movie would be a huge hit and remains a fondly recalled piece of nineties ephemera.

It's tornado season in Oklahoma. Two separate teams of “storm chasers,” scientists that track and study tornadoes, trying to save lives, are on the trail of a major meteorological event. Bill Harding, a former storm chaser, meets with his ex-wife, Jo Harding, to sign divorce papers. However, Bill quickly gets caught up in Harding's latest mission. She hopes to deploys scientific probes into a funnel cloud, gaining new insight into how storms form and move. That same day, a massive series of storms strikes the state. Meanwhile, a rival team of storm chasers, led by Dr. Jonas Miller, is also tracking the same twisters.

Despite boasting a screenplay co-written by Michael Crichton, “Twister” is not an especially literary movie. The characters are all walking cliches. From the moment we meet Bill and Jo, we know they are going to get back together, despite Bill having a new fiance. The film's villain is a cartoonish asshole. He is soundly punished for his crime of being a selfish prick. The plot is silly. This is essentially a story about Jo seeking vengeance on the tornado that killed her father. It takes characters the entire movie to come to simple solutions. The film's internal logic is dubious and inconsistent. We see winds strong enough to throw around full-grown cows, houses, and tower trucks. Yet Bill's vehicle is never blown off the road! Even when a tornado is directly above it!

So, yes, “Twister” is a very silly, even dumb movie. However, one very important element makes it lovably dumb. Instead of packing its cast full of A-listers and slightly washed-up screen icons, as was the way in the seventies, “Twister” stars likable character actors. Bill Paxton's hero isn't just afraid of tornadoes. He's also in awe of them, enthusiastic about the science behind the phenomenon. Despite her deeply inane motivation, Helen Hunt imbues Jo with human emotions. The film's supporting parts are extremely broad. This allows talented performers like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck, and Jeremy Davies to get as colorful as they want. Cary Elwes puts on a ridiculous accent as the villain but he's happily hamming it up too. The cast clearly having such a good time implores the audience to have a good time too.

Following “Speed” and a year spend on a pretty awesome sounding “Godzilla” remake, “Twister” was cinematographer Jan de Bant's second directorial feature. De Bant clearly enjoyed filming some high-speed action scenes. More than once, the film takes a car's perspective as it runs headlong into a storm. This intimacy helps prop up several suspense sequence. Such as an early scene, where Bill and Jo hide under a bridge while a twister blows over top. Paxton's indestructible Dodge pick-up truck avoiding explosions and flying buildings are also well simulated sequences.

Not all of the film's flash-and-bang works. That ridiculous flying cow scene, heavily featured in the advertisements, is just one example of the film's overly whimsical scene of humor. “Twister” is having so much fun that the characters' safety sometimes seems too self-assured. This is most evident during a moment where Bill and Jo just shrug off twin water spouts. Or the deeply dumb ending, which our heroes' survive through baffling means. While the film's special effects hold up fairly well, there definitely is some shaky CGI utilized once or twice.

“Twister's” status as a pop culture juggernaut is evident in the number of low budget knock-offs it inspired. Both “Night of the Twisters” and “Tornado!” would be rushed onto TV before the real movie hit theaters. “Twister” is exactly the kind of dumb blockbuster I associate with the decade of my youth. However, compared to the nihilistic mayhem of  “Armageddon” or the inhumane chaos of “Independence Day,” “Twister” at least has entertaining actors visibly enjoying themselves. That, combined with some decently directed sequences, makes it a mildly diverting distraction that almost makes up for a stone-cold stupid screenplay. [6.5/10]

[X] Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
[] Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[] Star-Studded Cast

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