movie film review | chris tookey


 (IN US: PG-13 (for intense depiction of very bad we)
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  Twister  Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
5.80 /10
Jo Harding ........... Helen Hunt , Bill Harding ......... Bill Paxton, Dr. Jonas Miller ..... Cary Elwes
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Directed by: Jan De Bont
Written by: Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin

Released: 1996
Origin: US
Length: 117

Itís windy out there.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Bill (Bill Paxton, pictured left) and Jo (Helen Hunt, right) used to be married meteorologists, happily hunting tornadoes, but he has plans to wed the lovely Melissa (Jami Gertz), a well-coiffed therapist, and settle down as a weatherman on New York TV. With Melissa in tow, Bill returns to tornado country to deliver divorce papers which Jo seems windy about signing. So Bill and Melissa, in their bright red van, pusue Jo and her team of foul-weather friends in their cavalcade of white vehicles. Chasing after them is the despicable Jonas (Cary Elwes) and his fleet of sinister black cars, heavily sponsored by evil corporate capitalists. Just who sponsors Jo's boys is less clear, though they all drink Pepsi. Bill is enchanted by the discovery that his soon-to-be-ex-wife has, in his absence, given birth to his dreamchild, a tin-can with the cute name of Dorothy (after the heroine in Wizard of Oz) containing spherical sensors designed to be dragged into the tornado's "suck zone" and deliver invaluable information. But dastardly Jonas has stolen Bill's idea (how, we're never told) and built a similar machine called D.O.T. with nasty, angular cubes instead of nice, comforting spheres.

I've heard of it raining cats and dogs, but cows? Hardly has the first hapless heifer been hoisted heavenwards, than the tornadoes in Twister are hurling heavy farm machinery, prime Oklahoma real estate and exploding petrol tankers at our heads, with ever-increasing ferocity. It's enough to bludgeon the most jaded sensation-seeker into submission. Produced by Steven Spielberg in his most populist, Jaws style, and directed by Jan De Bont (who brought us Speed), it is a two-hour thrill ride, intended to leave us groggy, shaky-legged and giggling.

Critical curmudgeons may point to a certain lack of depth and characterisation, along with a marked absence of dialogue by Jane Austen, but Twister delivers in the cinema where it counts - in its staggering visuals. What Jurassic Park did for dinosaurs, this film does for inclement weather.

For 1939's The Wizard of Oz, film-makers faked a tornado by blowing air down a woman's stocking. Here, there is a seamless combination of real tornado footage with computerized animation from George Lucas's company Industrial Light & Magic (also responsible for animating the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park) and the results are breathtaking, especially in any cinema with a first-rate sound system.

Sometimes the tornados are like ethereal, dancing columns of light, at other times like huge, growling avalanches of swirling dirt.

The story is less of a blast. We're never in doubt that Jonas will end up with a nasty attack of wind, or that Jo will come out on top of the romantic triangle. Bill's fiancee is feminine, finicky, keeps getting annoying calls from patients on her cellular phone, and has a tendency to panic in a light breeze. Jo is frank, feisty and mixes easily with even the most loutish of her unlovable lads (who behave less like scientists than Millwall fans on an away fixture). Better still, she has a limited but fetching wardrobe of tight tank-tops.

She is - like virtually every Hollywood action hero - obsessed with exorcising the demons of her past. Her dad was dragged into the "suck zone" almost thirty years ago, which has left her with a determination to extend the warning time on imminent tornadoes from three minutes to fifteen. Why fifteen? Why not?

Bill seems equally obsessed, though it's hard to know the reason. Maybe it's because Jo never looks better than when windswept, flushed by danger or running for cover at his side. Who needs sex when the weather can make the earth move for you?

Aside from being what passes in this film for romantic interest, Bill is like a Red Indian in an Oliver Stone film, or Whoopi Goldberg in a Hollywood Woman's Movie: he has an unexplained, mystical communion with Nature. Merely by letting soil dribble through his fingers, Bill can tell where a tornado will hit next, through a sixth sense which no sensor, whether spherical or cubic, can match.

Twister is pretty silly, and disappointingly deficient in human drama. Thrillers traditionally depend upon a clash between Good and Evil, but the bad guys here are pathetic, and constantly at the mercy of weather conditions. Darth Vader in Star Wars wouldn't be half as scary if he relied on tip-offs from Ian McCaskill.

Tornadoes aren't really evil, and threaten in a predictable way - they either throw things at you or try to suck you up. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were more devious, while in Speed you never knew what would be around the corner. Here, you can be confident that the tornadoes are going to increase in force throughout the movie, until they reach the dreaded Force Five, when they turn into "the finger of Gahd" and start propelling members of the supporting cast into orbit.

Unlike most movies penned by Michael Crichton, this one has little subtext or scientific content, and few philosophical pretensions, beyond suggesting that the problems we face in everyday life are insignificant when compared with elemental forces of nature - none of which is going to surprise anybody.

Even so, the screenplay has moments of wit, and moves serviceably between action sequences. It is always a breath of fresh air to have a strong female hero in the very male-dominated action-adventure genre. It also makes a change in the Nineties to see a career-woman as a positive role-model, still more one who is a scientist, an uncompromising individualist and looks capable of surviving without her man. There's something mythic, as well as charmingly idiotic, when Jo walks straight towards the kind of tornado that blew away her dad - confronting it with the same, mean attitude as Gary Cooper facing down the bad guys in High Noon.

Twister may be so much hot air, but it moves fast and is on a spectacular scale. As the movie equivalent of a breakneck theme-park ride, it deserved to go down a storm in the cinema - but be warned: itís nowhere near as impressive on the small screen.

Sample lines: (1) "I need every aluminum can you can find! And duct tape!" (2) "Debris! We have debris!"

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