BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
APRIL 14, 2011
Early on in my life, “Twister” (the film, not the color-coded, spinner game) contained a particular element that turned me on. Perhaps it is a child’s need to destroy all in his path. No matter the specific components, the film single-handedly garnered itself the biggest tornado disaster movie to hit the screen and has never been topped. The film is a classic. Not in the sense that “Citizen Kane” or “Saving Private Ryan” are classics, but that no other disaster film has touched it since.
On the brink of CGI, along with “Jurassic Park” and “Independence Day,” “Twister” was one of the first films I owned on VHS (video tapes for VCR, if you have forgotten what they are). Starring Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the film has all the right parts to be a classic. “Twister” has no sequel or prequel and has yet to be reimagined, which adds to its allure. We cannot fill the “Twister” void, so we keep viewing the original (and only). For me now, that is one of the film’s biggest turn-ons.
Apart from the flying cows, impossible scenarios, and questionable dialogue, the film looks and acts perfectly. Running the lines of the action genre and even elements of horror (love “The Shining” cameo at the drive-in), “Twister” designs the standard for natural disaster films. One of the only disaster films to solely be about tornadoes, the film creates its genre.
Critics would point to similar films like “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012,” which were recent successes (somewhat) that could have passed “Twister,” but there are missing elements in those films. The plot and acting are just as good, and the CGI is better, but go back to my statement earlier of “Twister” almost coming off like a horror film.
We are all afraid of tornadoes. They threaten to dismantle our civilization in parts of the country and are impossible to predict, mainly predicting their destruction. That is true horror. The tornadoes in “Twister” appear as bloodcurdling as Freddy Krueger in “Nightmare on Elm Street,” which sounds impossible, but the writers (one being Jurassic Park’s own Michael Crichton) and director find a way to make the film’s villain (the tornado) terrifying.
There is a bit of science involved in the film with the Dorothy mechanism and pending future storm warnings. The writers make you feel strongly for this cause with the destruction of Jo’s aunt’s hometown, where the crew visits just scenes before it gets dismantled. Though I still have no idea how the little tin contraptions piled in Dorothy were supposed to help with future tornado predictions, the fact that the film got me to care is a feat in itself.
Helen Hunt embodies her role of Jo Harding, the storm chaser, and it has remained one of her most memorable roles. “As Good As It Gets,” “Pay It Forward,” and “What A Woman Wants” are all tremendous romantic level leads for her, but “Twister” remains one of her only action films.
When I think of Helen Hunt, I think of “Twister,” which is more of a testament than devaluation. Hunt enters nicely into her romantic role with a shoulder-turning arrogance that helps the film steer away from the unabashed, lovey-dovey stuff. There is a love story, but it is not blatant. The deep bonds between Paxton and Hunt show true, seasoned love, that despite their growing apart and pending divorce papers, they are still exactly where they left off.
Before he was polygamous on the television series “Big Love,” Bill Paxton entered into his role as Bill Harding, a man looking for divorce but cannot escape his old life after one last storm chase. “Twister” is also Paxton’s most memorable role before the “Love” days, and rightfully so. I think the performances alone help to solidify this film as a keeper.
Then you have Philip Seymour Hoffman, the man, the myth, and the legend. He would gain fame for several roles, including the historic Capote. Before all the fame, however, Hoffman was the ratty-looking storm chaser from “Twister,” scaring fiancées and guiding the “Twister” team on their death-defying endeavors. He supplies most of the comedic relief, and of the massive group of nobodies (at the time), Hoffman stands out as the better actor.
The entire film’s cast is a cornucopia of future stars. And even though most of them are unneeded (do you need eight people to chase a storm?), the fact that this was their launching pad is quite a feat.
Intensely I was not too fond of Jami Gertz, but I think that was the point, so kudos. Not sure if it was the horrible Southern accent or the constant crying and whining, but there was an immediate dislike for the woman. Cary Elwes also works well at being hated by the audience, and seeing both of their eventual conclusions is welcomed extensively.
The film has lost most of its seriousness since it originally came out. The ridiculous dialogue between the screams and rip-roaring winds has no place in the movie. Perhaps it once held an impact, but now it comes off childish, which is most likely why we enjoyed it so much when we were young. The implausibility of the film has escaped our innocent ignorance as well. It becomes too difficult to suspend your disbelief as if you have seen behind the magician’s curtain, and now none of the tricks mean anything.
Despite the film’s shortcomings, “Twister” is still a true classic; whether you like the movie or not, you have to admit that the elements are there. There will always be a sense of magic in the Helen Hunt/Bill Paxton tornado film that holds to our nostalgia and the whole movement of CGI disaster films to follow.
May 10, 1996
Jan de Bont
Warner Bros. Pictures
Jack N. Green
Philip Seymour Hoffman