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Twister (1996)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 5/6/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/18/2008

I'm raising my kids correctly, and by that I meant that they have a healthy interest in movies. When the Twister DVD arrived, my daughter glanced at the cover and asked, "What's Twister?" I replied, "It's about tornadoes." She then asked, "What else?" As I attempted to answer, I realized that Twister isn't really "about" anything else -- it's simply about tornadoes. That because even now, 12 years after its original release, Twister isn't really here for stories or characters, it's about a cinematic experience.

Twister opens in 1969, where we see a family fleeing from a tornado, and the sequence ends with the father being swept away by the storm. The action then leaps ahead 27 years. Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) is traveling with his fiancee Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz) to see his estranged wife, Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt). Bill hopes that Jo will sign divorce papers so that he can marry Melissa. We learn that Bill and Jo used to share a passion for "chasing" and studying tornadoes, but Bill has moved on and has taken a job as a TV meteorologist. Bill and Jo catch up with Jo and her team in Oklahoma. As Bill is questioning Jo about the divorce papers, a tornado enters the area and the group leads to chase it. Bill is determined to get the papers signed, but he also feels that the old excitement of chasing storms, so he and Melissa follow Jo. What follows is a day filled with excitement and danger, as a chain of tornadoes litter the area, giving Jo and her team a chance to test a new device which was invented by Bill.

I don't always have specific memories of movies, but I do with Twister. It was the first movie that I saw in a theater with stadium seating, and it was on the theaters opening night. A company rep spoke before the film and explained the speaker alignment and that there were subwoofers under the seats. This arrangement made for perfect viewing of Twister, as the film defines total cinema. The movie might leave much to be desired in the story department, but as far as auditory and visual experience, the film is a thrill-ride.

When Terminator 2 premiered in 1991, it revolutionized digital effects and showed filmmakers what could be accomplished with computers. Following this, many movies began to experiment with CGI and the wonders of digital effects. (Today, we barely notice them, unless they are very shoddy.) Twister was one of the films which emerged from this revolution. From the first trailer which showed a tire crashing through a windshield (a shot which didn't make it into the finished film), audiences expected a lot from the effects of this film and it certainly delivers. From the outset, Twister is wall-to-wall special effects as the tornadoes here look very realistic and the damage which they cause is frightening at times. The use of effects allows the actors to be placed squarely in harms way and this makes for some suspenseful scenes. The movie also has fantastic sound design and the "roaring" of the twisters only adds to the film's effectiveness. This is one film which truly improves by seeing it in a setting with a good audio setup.

But, while the tornadoes are the stars of the film, everything else gets left behind. Despite the fact that the film was written by novelist Michael Crichton and his wife Ann-Marie Martin, the story here is incredibly flimsy. We learn that Bill and Jo used to work together and that Bill wants a divorce and that Jo is still obsessed with tornadoes because she was that little girl in the opening scene (what a shocker!) and that's about it as far as plot. The film introduces the idea that Bill and Jo have invented a machine which will study tornadoes and this is part of their motivation for chasing them. There is also a group of "bad" tornado chasers lead by Carey Elwes, but we learn little about them, except that they have better funding than Jo's group and that they are "bad". (Their black trucks are a dead giveaway). No, the plot of Twister serves only as an excuse to show tornadoes and what they can do.

Over the years, Twister has garnered a reputation of being a somewhat pointless movie and it a way that's justified. Again, there have been Bazooka Joe comics with more plot and character development. But, none of that changes the fact that over a decade later, Twister still works as an action-adventure film. The tornado effects are still spectacular and one can't help but smile at the cow scene. In this age where more and more of us are investing in home theaters, we need to have at least a few movies which are all about sight and sound, and Twister certainly fits the bill.

Twister spins onto DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. This is the third time that the film has been released on DVD, and hopefully, this will be the definitive version. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, as it shows no distracting grain and only some mild defects from the source material. However, the image is somewhat dark, even for a film which is about bad weather. The daytime scenes are dark and this makes the colors somewhat muted. The image doesn't show any overt video noise, but it does lack in detail in some scenes. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, but doesn't have the DTS track which was found on a previous release. I wonder why? Space issues? The Dolby track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good and the film's score is nicely reproduced. But, we're here for the tornado sounds, and they are certainly impressive in spots. During the storm scenes, the surround sound and subwoofer action is constant and the speaker separation is very good. The audio is always strong during these scenes, but when it is, it really adds to the action.

The newly released Twister two-disc set contains a small assortment of extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Jan De Bont and Visual Effects Supervisor Stefen Fangmeier. This is the same commentary which was offered on the previous release. The two speak at length throughout the film and most of their comments are scene-specific. Having a cinematographer turned director and a visual effects artist, much of this talk is very technical. They talk about how certain shots were accomplished and the integration of effects with live action. De Bont does touch on story and actors at times. "Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited" (29 minutes) is a retrospective with interviews with Jan De Bont, Bill Paxton, Visual Effects Stefen Fangmeier, Special Effects Supervisor John Frazier, who discuss the making of the film. There is some discussion of how the project began, but the bulk of the piece focuses on the film's special effects and how the tornadoes and the damage were created. "The Making of Twister" (14 minutes) is a featurette from 1996 which does contain a lot of behind-the-scenes footage and comments from De Bont, Paxton, Helen Hunt, Jamie Gertz, Cary Elwes, who talk about their experiences on the film. There is also footage of a group of real stormchasers. "Anatomy of a Twister" (9 minutes) is another archival piece which contain comments from the principal cast and De Bont and then focuses on Fangmeier and his team of computer animators. "Nature Tech: Tornadoes (45 minutes) is a History Channel Special from 2003 which focuses on real-life scientists who are working to predict when tornadoes will occur. The extras are rounded out by the TEASER TRAILER and THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film and a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Humans Being" by Van Halen.

Warner Home Video has also brought Twister to Blu-ray Disc. The film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. As with the DVD, I found the image here to be surprisingly dark. Again, I realize that all of the film takes place under cloudy skies, but I think that the first scene with Bill was supposed to be bright to juxtapose the later scenes, and everything simply looks a bit too dark. Having said that, when nighttime comes, the image is never overly dark. Colors are strong in places and the image has a nice amount of detail. There is no notable grain here, but I did spot a few with specks. The disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.4 Mbps. If nothing else, I was excited about hearing Twister on Blu-ray, but I was disappointed. This track simply isn't "loud" enough. The surround sound is good and there are nice bass effects, but I wanted to be blown away by it and I simply wasn't. It simply pales in comparison to others tracks, such as Master and Commander or Live Free or Die Hard. The audio here is serviceable, but I expected much more.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long