of the 1990's,
Twister's biggest weakeness is its story, which lacks a strong structure and sense of high enough stakes. We're given nothing more than a "record outbreak" of tornados and group of intrepid storm chasers lead by divorced couple Bill and Jo Harding (Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt) who are trying to prove their experimental device (named "Dorothy") and racing against a rival scientist named Jonas Miller (the choice to put the "evil" storm chasers in black trucks wasn't a good one). The storm chasers are fun characters (reckless, adventurous, driven and lovably eccentric), and there's the standard Crichton virtue of portraying science as cool and adventurous, and I'll certainly take it over the stock disaster movie story from every 1970s Irwin Allen film and most of the films which tried to capitalize on Twister. But it carries very little dramatic weight., especially as we're not given a strong enough reason to feel the test of Dorothy has to succeed. While Bill is only planning to stay for one day before departing with his annoying fiance, we know he'll decide to stay with Jo. While we'really vaguely promised that this will lead to a new warning system that will save lives, if that's what matter Jonas' rip-off D.O,T. 3 will do the job just as well, though his does lead to a solid "save the cat" moment as Jo and Bill decide to give Jonas valuable information which would would allow him to make D.O.T. 3 work first after it appears he can make it and they can't, but then of course Jonas dies stupidly and our heroes get the best of both worlds. Overall, it carries little dramatic weight.
Another important aspect of suspense filmmaking is the build-up, and here Twister gets it right again. Two strong examples are the drive-in theater sequence, and a sequence wherein Bill observes the sky "going green" as the tornadoes form. These sequences take the time to build slowly and atmospherically, perfectly creating the sense of excitement and foreboding necessary to get the full impact out of what's to come. Both sequences bring Jaws to mind, which causes me to wonder whether Spielberg's influence as executive producer helped create that feel, or whether De Bont was merely emulating that film the way any suspense director has done for the past 40 years. The sequences also require giving credit to the film's two cinematographers, Jack N. green and Don Burgess (the latter of who quit the film early on after serious clashes with De Bont), who give the film a gorgeously weather beaten, earth-toned color pallet.
her exquisite sarcastic comic deliver, or the innate intelligence she projected, or the way her sitcom gave me hope that pleasantly goofy filmmakers named Paul could land hot wives, but I would have gladly shelled out $3.50 again and again (matinee tickets were very cheap in 1996) to watch her do a dramatic reading of the phone book, or even
|Yes, she gets two pictures.|
Okay, now a more restrained assessment of Hunt's co-star: Bill Paxton is strong and charismatic in his first leading man turn, one which showed he didn't have to be the weaselly or whiny supporting characters we were used to seeing him play, and the excellent chemistry he and Hunt share is a huge
Finally, we have the unsung and uncredited hero, script doctor Joss Whedon. It doesn't have the multilayered story or complex characterizations of his best work, but it's full of witty and amusing Joss Whedon dialogue ("He really is in love with himself. I thought it was just a summer thing."), and not even Nathan Fillion or Robert Downy, Jr. deliver it better than Hunt does.
In the end, Twister is a flawed, silly blockbuster that's also a lot of fun because it's exceptionally well made. Go back and revisit the other summer blockbusters of 1996 though 1999 and I think you'll find that in terms of staging,shot selection, editorial skill and humor, it ranks far above most. And weak as the story often is, it sadly won't stand out from the crowd on that level. At very least it's head and shoulders above the rest of the glut of late '90s disaster films.
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