You probably remember where you were when you saw the trailer for Twister. Hot off the heels of Forrest Gump, which was a nice story with some pretty cool computer effects at the time, Twister simply took the effects to a whole other level. Barns were torn apart, cars were tossed into the air, and that one shot, where the car is driving as a tractor is thrown and slammed into the ground, and the tire from the tractor hurdles through the car window. You wanted to go see that film, whatever the cost might be.
But holy crap, once that movie came out, the film landscape was redefined. But it was less about actual storytelling per se, and more about the computer effects that carried the film along, with not a lot of significant or even interesting story or characters that were appealing enough to care about. No real original ideas, just 113 minutes where director Jan de Bont (Speed) tries to dazzle you and say, “Hey look! Really cool twisters!” And you know why that is disappointing? Because one of the writers was Michael Crichton, who’s written some pretty cool stuff: Jurassic Park and Westworld, and yet nothing much is to be had here. Bill (Bill Paxton, Aliens) has returned to Oklahoma and “Tornado Alley” with his fiancée (played by Jami Gertz of Still Standing lore), to find out if Bill’s estranged wife Jo (Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets) has signed the couple’s divorce papers. Jo hasn’t yet, so Bill’s got to stay on her to get them done. In the meantime, the chase to find a twister has begun, and Bill, compelled by an urge to see a technology that he and Jo had envisioned come to fruition, helps Jo and her crew out for one day.
From there, cue all the requisite plot devices. Cue the rival stormchasing gang, headed up by Jonas (Cary Elwes, Saw), who happened to lift Bill and Jo’s technology and pass it off as his own. Cue the romantic tension between Bill and Jo, and moreso over the course of the day as the tension becomes more visible to Bill’s fiancée. Cue Jo’s crew (among them an Oscar winner in Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who has their own stories and conceptions about who Bill was before leaving. Cue the family member who was injured in a storm, in a way designed to make things more personal or something. Jo lost her Dad in a storm when she was a girl and has a desire to “face” the storm. Combine all of these things with stale, unendurable dialogue, and what are you doing when you watch Twister? Well, you’re on there for the weather, and if you’re just watching the weather, you could just open a window.
Slightly disappointing in that there’s no DTS track, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is no slouch. Dialogue is crisp and clear in the center channel, directional effects and speaker panning are evident during the outdoor scenes with the fake twisters, and there’s even subwoofer activity on some of the more thunderous sequences. All in all, this sounded good, but I was kind of expecting it to be in the “great” category.
The folks at Warner remastered Twister to coincide with their next-generation disc releases, and the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation on standard definition looks good. Flesh tones are warm and natural looking, the color palette is reproduced very accurately here, and the picture is free of any issues to speak of.
For such a blockbuster, Twister was released in a blandish edition and this release has a few more extras and a second disc to boot. Starting off on this two-disc set of goodness is a commentary from de Bont and Steffen Fangmeier, the visual effects supervisor of the film. Jan recalls what was a visual effects shot and some of the Oklahoman production experiences, while Fangmeier talks about what challenges each effects shot contained. Most of the de Bont stuff is pretty topical; thoughts on the cast, etc., but he does manage to get in some specifics every so often. The duo apparently have worked together a few times so they enjoy poking fun at each other’s expense as the film goes on, but this is a pretty average track as far as commentaries go. The film’s trailers take care of that part, while on disc two, “Chasing the Storm” is a half-hour long retrospective documentary on the film since then, and includes new interviews with Paxton, de Bont and Fangmeier as they recall what occurred on set at the time. Production issues are talked about from time to time, and the visual effects shots are broken down a little bit, and overall it’s a decent piece, though nothing all that special. The “Making of Twister” is the on-set EPK with interviews from some more of the cast and includes interviews from the real-life stormchasers. The challenges of shooting are highlighted, and the visual effects are given time too. “Anatomy of a Twister” is slightly shorter at 10 minutes and is more focused on the computer generated and visual effects to make the twisters all ornery. “Nature Tech” is a History Channel piece on Tornadoes, presumably done in coordination with the film, and explains the causes for twisters with oodles of footage from the National Weather Service and interviews by those who really enjoy chasing the storms. It’s really interesting stuff and might be the best extra on both discs. The music video for the Van Halen song that was released in promotion with the film is next, and an ad for a video game named “Flat Out Carnage” is the last extra on the disc, which is a little bit goofy to include on the disc, but what do I know?
I don’t know, with more viewings Twister seems less and less harmful, but as it stands, I wouldn’t go out and get it. If you’ve got the earlier version and are concerned about the double-dip, you lose what could be a better picture (I didn’t have the older version to do a comparison) and the DTS soundtrack, and you pick up a small extra and a second disc. But as I said, if you’re new to the dance, I’d probably skip it on its own merits. Of course, there’s the Blu-ray and HD DVD versions to throw in a wrinkle or two…