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Warner Bros. Home Video presents
"When you used to tell me that you chase tornadoes, deep down I thought it was just a metaphor."
DVD ReviewMost of us really love roller coasters. Hollywood knows this, and every summer they release another slew of heavily marketed, special effects-laden, roller coaster films. From Dutch director Jan De Bont, the man who brought us Speed, Twister was the second most prominent member of this pack during the 1996 summer movie season, finishing behind Independence Day . Released rather early for a summer blockbuster (10 May in the U.S.), Twister was made for $92 million and went on to gross $241.7 million in the U.S. and $472.7 million worldwide. This ranks Twister 18th all-time in both U.S. and worldwide box office gross.
Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt star as Bill and Jo Harding, a pair of soon to be divorced "stormchasers" (meteorologists who chase storms or, in this case, tornadoes, in order to track, photograph, and study them). Bill has gotten out of the stormchasing business, whether because of his deteriorating relationship with his wife or for some other reason Twister does not tell us. The film opens as he is venturing into the Oklahoma countryside with the sole purpose of retrieving signed divorce papers from Jo. There is a matter of urgency in doing so as he now has a new truck, a new job (as a television weatherman), a new fiancé (Gertz, who has tagged along for the ride)—a new life, and he is anxious to start living it. Bill, predictably, gets sidetracked both by Jo but also by the presence of Dorothy.
Dorothy is an instrument pack for studying tornadoes. Shaped like a large metal garbage can, it contains hundreds of sensors (about the size of tennis balls) that get sucked up into a tornado then transmit data back to the onboard computer. Deploying Dorothy is the complicated part. To get a tornado to gobble it up, the instrument pack must be placed very close to a tornado and directly in its path. The real trick involves getting out of the way before the tornado sucks you up as well. Dorothy was Bill's brainchild but one he had never seen through to fruition. Jo constructed Dorothy in his absence, and once he has become aware of this, Bill is naturally intrigued.
As if the process of placing Dorothy directly in the path of a voracious tornado isn't harrowing enough, Twister's writers added another plot twist. Enter Jonas Miller (Elwes), the leader of a competing stormchasing team. We find out that Jonas used to work with Bill and Jo but left them to start his own well-financed team, complete with corporate sponsors. Bill soon discovers that Jonas has stolen his idea and has constructed his own version of Dorothy named D.O.T. 3. This being more than Bill's bruised pride can handle, he rejoins Jo and his old team in an effort to beat Jonas in their shared desire to be the first team to successfully deploy such a device.
From this point, Twister quickly evolves into a hair-raising adventure as Bill, Jo, Melissa (reluctantly), and the rest of the team chase tornados across the Oklahoma countryside, coming in close contact with no less than five of them. Plugged into the gaps, almost casually, are various scenes designed partly to enhance character development and partly to kill time until the next big tornado roars across the screen.
Where Twister is strong is in its action sequences and special effects. Industrial Light and Magic was commissioned to create the tornado effects and, as usual, they have done stellar work. We see computer-generated twisters "eating" barns, houses, cows, trucks, and various other items. Some of the debris looks rather ersatz but, for the most part, the visual effects are fantastic. Terrific aerial photography and loud background music are used to good effect to add real excitement to the various chase scenes.
Alas, when there is no tornado rolling across the screen and the breakneck pace slows, Twister's weaknesses are glaring. Much of the dialogue is incredibly insipid. Hunt, Paxton, and company do decent work with what they have but there is no overcoming bad writing. Jonas is nothing more than a two-dimensional sinister caricature and I feel real embarrassment for Elwes for agreeing to play such a shallow role. While his presence in the script was undoubtedly intended to heighten tension, it succeeds only in hindering the overall flow, and believability, of the film. All is not a complete loss, though. There is some real chemistry between Hunt and Paxton. The scene involving an unannounced visit to Jo's Aunt Meg (Lois Smith) provides a much-needed breath of fresh air with some genuinely funny dialogue. I shall not spoil the dramatic conclusion of Twister but one does not need a Mensa-level I.Q. to guess how things end up.
Twister was originally released on DVD in March of 1997 in a relatively low-frills edition and was one of the very first titles released in the format. The original video transfer with is replete with compression artifacts and is considered by some to be a disaster in this regard. Thankfully, Warner decided to revisit these original releases and the results are impressive. This new special edition release features a remastered video transfer, the addition of a DTS audio track (Warner's first), and the inclusion of scads of new extras (the original release contained only cast/crew bios, production notes, and the trailer).
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: As I mentioned above, this new release of Twister features a complete remaster of the original image. Nearly gone are the compression artifacts that plagued the original DVD release, although I did notice a small amount of pixelation in the opening sequence. Black levels are very good, as the opening storm cloud shots demonstrate. Overall, the image is smooth and pleasing. There is some overdone edge enhancement between the tornados and the debris they carry (or cause), but I believe most of this is from the original theatrical release.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The special edition of Twister is one of a small group (of what will hopefully become an emerging, prolific breed) of DVD titles that feature both a DTS and DD5.1 track on the same disc. The original release of Twister did feature a very good DD5.1 audio transfer and it is present here. It will require a rather discerning ear to hear huge differences between the DTS and DD5.1 tracks but the DTS is an improvement in small ways. The transition between the channels is more seamless and the overall sound is broader and deeper. The opening sequence offers a good contrast between the two. Be prepared to give your subwoofer a workout, especially in the tornado sequences. Twister makes heavy but effective use of the rear surrounds as well. With either track, however, Twister offers a real ear-pleasing film experience.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 34 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Jan De Bont and special effects coordinator Stefen Fangmeier
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:25s
Twister now features two featurettes, both of which follow the standard cast and crew interview/production footage/film footage format. The first, Anatomy of the Twister, is supposed to focus on ILM's efforts in creating the twister effects seen in the film. However, it is light on interesting information in this regard and is a little too self-congratulatory. The second, The Making of Twister, is easily the better of the two and features some very good production footage.
The full-length commentary from De Bont and Fangmeier is a nice edition. Considering that this is the director and the special effects coordinator, the commentary offered mostly concerns production-related topics and is light on insight into the characters and cast, but there are some interesting tidbits of this type in there as well. One complaint I had about the commentary was that I felt that the film volume was a little too high. This, combined with De Bont's rather thick accent, made understanding what he is saying challenging at times.
The cast and crew screen shows four actors (Hunt, Paxton, Elwes, and Gertz), as well as the writers, producers, and director. However, additional filmography and background info is only available for Hunt, Paxton, and De Bont. I found this somewhat disappointing.
The inclusion of Van Halen's Humans Being music video is a welcome touch to a pretty good array of extras.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsIf impressive special effects and explosive entertainment is something you find appealing and you possess an inherent willingness to overlook some rather lame plot constructs and dialogue, Twister is the film for you. This special edition re-release is a dramatic improvement over the original in virtually every way. Despite some glaring flaws, Twister is a fun film experience complete with oodles of mind-numbing entertainment.
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