Two of the highest-grossing movies to come out of 1996 came between Independence Day and Twister. Both of them boosted the disaster film genre to extra heights with its groundbreaking visual effects and capitalized on the spectacle of its premise rather than having an interesting story behind it. Which one do I personally enjoy more? That would go to Independence Day the more I think about it. Similar as they may be, both are on the level of being silly and fun at the same time. Twister isn’t one that leans on the nostalgia side for me since this wasn’t a repeat viewing in my home, but it’s hard to believe it’s not a downright terrible natural disaster movie.
What’s the Story: Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) is a former storm chaser recently turned TV weatherman. He travels back to Oklahoma to visit his ex Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) to sign the divorce papers so he can marry his therapist fiancée Melissa (Jami Gertz). The plan doesn’t go as smoothly as she tells him that their prototype DOROTHY, a ground-breaking design by Bill to send sensors into a tornado to study how it works, is ready to be used, he tags along with his old storm chasers to see if his machine really works during a record-breaking storm outbreak across the state.
Like I said in the opening, Twister was one of the biggest movies during the summer of 1996. I wasn’t even born yet since I came into the world the day after they released Independence Day in theaters. It’s been a while since I watched this entirely. We never got a lot of action movies revolving around storm chasers. Practically, the closest I came to seeing anything similar was 2014’s Into the Storm, and that was horrible. It’s “Twister for Dummies” is what it is. What we have here is a disaster movie with crazy tornados with Steven Spielberg was an executive producer on this? Sign me up. It was on AMC, so I watched when I had nothing to do. As I was watching it, my mind was thinking this is not working for me, feeling like it’s idiotic, but the other half of me finds this somewhat entertaining.
Director Jan de Bont took control of this project, and this was his second feature after helming his 1994 directorial debut Speed, which is one of the coolest action movies of the decade. I feel it’s easy to say Speed is the only great movie he has ever done in his career since the Dutch cinematographer turned director only did three more movies after Twister, and none of them were never on the level of greatness (Speed 2: Cruise Control, The Haunting). Nothing about his direction was Oscar-worthy when it didn’t have the same energy as his previous film, but de Bont did what he can to make the intensity real.
When it comes to the performances between its leads, they weren’t bad. I’ve been a fan of the late Bill Paxon for a very long time, and I was a little unsure if Helen Hunt could play a storm chaser. To my surprise, she proved me wrong halfway through. Their chemistry is one reason to keep watching as they played ex-spouses well enough to the point of believability when most of the runtime is dedicated to them getting along or straight-up arguing at each other during the car rides. The setup is about as cliche as it can get. But we all know how it will end, right?
Besides them, none of the supporting characters have any amount of development. Cary Elwes plays Bill’s rival Jonas Miller, and he was never an intimidating villain to root against. There was a long gap before the third act where I forgot he was in it at one point. The rest of Jo’s crew have their skills in helping the team, but we don’t get to know much about their backgrounds. What were their names? No clue? Some recognizable people you might notice when watching are Alan Ruck, aka Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as Robert “Rabbit” and the great, late Philip Seymour Hoffman as “Dusty,” in one of the comical roles I’ve seen from him. The weakest part in the acting department, unfortunately, came from Jami Gertz as Melissa. A beautiful actress, she was basically a useless character where all she does is stress when she joins on this adventure she had no idea how dangerous it is.
Since this came out the same summer as Independence Day, the reason everybody went out to pay money to see Twister is for the visual effects that recreate twisters in CGI form. Back in 1996, it might’ve blown people’s minds. Looking at it now, I have to admit it doesn’t hold up well when it clearly looks very dated. The views of the tornados are from a far worked, though up close just looked like I was looking at a fake twister coming through. When it calls for there to have any action, it wasn’t the most incredible thing in the world, yet you would feel afraid when tornadoes are about to kill you. This was also the movie where it features a cow flying through the air. Because it’s the ’90s. The third act where everything and the kitchen sink is fully heading at Bill and Helen’s direction when they’re in the Dodge Ram truck is a little exciting the more you think about it. Though the tanker scene took me out completely. But who am I to say since it got an Oscar nomination for Visual Effects. Side note: When I re-watched the trailers, why did they remove the scene where a tractor tire crashed into a truck window? That would’ve been amazing to see in the movie.
Twister is by no means the greatest thing ever made in the history of film. Why? That’s largely due to the screenplay written by the late Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton and his then-wife Anne-Marie Martin. Crichton involved in the writing was shocking to me when I found out during a quick commercial break since this contains a very predictable story with clunky dialogue. What I mean by predictable is that when the team is chasing the tornadoes, it is a lather, rinse, and repeat sort of thing: They chase them, our main characters almost get killed, and one of the DOROTHY’s gets busted. By the end, you already know the outcome from the first four attempts. Just from the first few scenes with Paxton and Hunt’s characters, you automatically know they’re getting back together. But with the writing, most of its viewers wouldn’t know all of the terminologies the storm chasers or meteorologists will get when describing. That could also mean having no idea how most of our characters survive being near a tornado. When Melissa brings up an F5 (“The Finger of God”), everybody else knows about it but not her. That’s because the opening shows Jo’s dad being blown away by one when she was little. The movie shows fear when it comes to tornado warnings and hitting towns. Trust me, it can be scary to a lot of people.
On the other side of the technical aspect, I have to give credit to the sound design for making the experience sound like tornadoes are actually blowing around us, even just by listening. The soundtrack wasn’t too bad either. One of the most famous songs to come from it was Van Halen’s “Humans Being” that played a few times. It isn’t a terrible song, to be honest, but the bummer is this was the last single to be recorded with Sammy Hagar as the lead singer since he left the band.
But just like with every big movie that came out in the ’80s or ‘90s, it had to be turned into a theme park attraction, which came in the form of now replaced “Twister… Ride It Out.” When my family and I went to Universal Studio Florida in 2011 or 2014 (I can’t remember the year), we were a part of that. It was fun and all, but I wished I quoted, “It’s already here” during the show. And here’s a fact I just learned recently: This was the first theatrically-released movie to be released on DVD on March 25, 1997. See, you learn something new every day.
Is Twister a good movie? Not in the slightest. But even though it’s stupid and the visual effects are poorly dated after 24 years, it’s still a fun disaster movie in a guilty pleasure way. And I say it’s a worthy example of a guilty pleasure that’s way more enjoyable than most Roland Emmerich movies or any other disaster movie out there in the world? Trust me, you’ll get more out of this than the remake of Poseidon. This is the only good movie about tornadoes we’re ever gonna get, so why not enjoy the silliness that is this? If you’ve never seen Twister, chances are you’ll either love it or hate it. I have to wonder how meteorologists responded to the movie when it came out.