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With: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lois Smith, Alan Ruck, Todd Field, Jeremy Davies
Written by: Michael Crichton, Anne-Marie Martin
Directed by: Jan de Bont
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather
Running Time: 113
Date: 05/10/1996

Twister (1996)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I made an interesting connection while watching Twister, which was produced by Steven Spielberg, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to have been put there on purpose.

The movie is about tornado chasers, people who drive toward a tornado in order to measure it and find out what makes it tick. There are good guy tornado chasers and bad guy tornado chasers. The bad guys (led by Cary Elwes) use state-of-the-art equipment, drive brand new black vans that look exactly the same, and are funded by corporate sponsors. The good guys (led by Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt) are scrappy and sloppy, driving crappy trucks and vans and garbage littering the dashboards, and are funded by scientific grants that are always in danger of running out. Even worse, with all their equipment and technology, the bad guys sit around and wait for the good guys to make a decision, then copy it.

Now, is this a metaphor for Hollywood itself, or what?

The funny thing is, Twister itself is a "bad guy" movie. It's funded by corporate people, it has no humanity and it waited around to see what would work before it reared its head. This movie is a clone of Jurassic Park (which was itself also a clone).

The good guy movies are movies like Reservoir Dogs, El Mariachi, Clerks, and The Brothers McMullen that struggle to get made, are scrappy and interesting and are always in danger of losing their funds.

As for the actors, there are a lot of good ones here, all capable of good work, especially Helen Hunt. Anyone who saw the season closer of "Mad About You" will attest that she is one of the finest actresses ever to work in television. In Twister, she is given a piece of cardboard to play. The other characters you may recognize are Jeremy Davies (Spanking the Monkey -- he has about 4 lines), Alan Ruck (Speed, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and Jamie Gertz (Less Than Zero, The Lost Boys).

The movie was directed by Jan de Bont, Paul Verhoeven's former cinematographer and the director of Speed. De Bont shows no particular style here (except maybe a pale rendition of Spielberg-ese), but I believe that a monkey could probably direct one of these high tech Summer action blockbusters and get away with it. These are technicians' movies.

Still, I am going to recommend Twister for three reasons. One: the grand irony mentioned above. Two: the spectacular tornadoes. But don't wait for video, because the sound and fury will be lost. Three: Helen Hunt, who looks spectacular in a white tank top. We know she's a great actress, and we can put up with her slumming here.

One more note. Twister has at least five references to other movies. Bill Paxton's tornado measuring machine is named Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz, naturally), lines of dialogue are lifted from Star Wars ("that's no moon, that's a space station"), and Repo Man ("normal people spend their lives avoiding tense situations, Repo Man spends his life trying to get into tense situations.") In one scene, a twister rips apart a drive-in playing The Shining, and Helen Hunt's aunt watches Judy Garland in A Star Is Born on TV. Not to mention that the whole movie is sort of a remake of His Girl Friday.

By the way, this movie bears no resemblance to the weird 1988 movie Twister with Jenny Wright, Crispin Glover and William S. Burroughs. Now that was a movie.

DVD Details: Warner Home Video has been re-releasing some of the titles that originally came out in the early days of DVD and don't look so hot anymore. This new version looks great, although I forgot how glaringly obvious the music score (by Mark Mancina) is. The new 2-disc DVD set comes with a new commentary track by director Jan de Bont and FX man Stefen Fangmeier. Disc two comes with the old-making of featurettes as well as a new one, a History Channel special on tornadoes and a Van Halen music video ("Humans Being").

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