(1996) *** Pg-13
113 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Director: Jan De Bont. Cast: Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes, Lois Smith.

/content/films/3068/5.jpgIt may not be fashionable to like Twister, but darn if it isn't an entertaining electro-shock of action cinema. When your snooty friends look down on you for watching it over and over again, just tell them you appreciate its camp value. Many remember the film only for its implausibility and dramatic simplicity, but it also received two well-deserved Oscar nominations for the film's best assets: special effects and sound.

Helen Hunt stars as Dr. Jo Harding, who leads a team of tornado chasers on a day that promises extreme storms (and even, just maybe, a chart-topping F5 twister). This day destined to rewrite the science books also happens to be the day Jo's husband and former tornado-chasing partner Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) shows up with two unwelcome items: his therapist fiancée (Jami Gertz) and a set of divorce papers. Though "human barometer" Bill claims to be in a hurry to start his new life as a married weatherman, he can't quite get away, and thus the stage is set for a cross between His Girl Friday and The Abyss: anyone want to bet against Bill falling for his wife and his old job before the day is out?

It's all cheerfully ridiculous, built on a silly childhood-trauma backstory for Jo that might work were it not laughably staged in a prologue that sees her daddy whisked away by a twister right before her eyes.  The driven Jo is pushing the team right up to twisters so that a better early-warning system can result from their findings, but because this is Hollywood, a twister isn't enough to serve as antagonist. We also get a professional rival to the Hardings, introduced thusly by Bill: "Jonas Miller. He's a night crawler. We all started out in the same lab, then Jonas went out and got himself some corporate sponsors. He's in it for the money, not the science. He's got a lot of high-tech gadgets. But he's got no instincts." Whoosh: instant exposition! (Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride plays the asshole with suave relish.)

And so, as Mark Mancina's Bruckheimer-esque action score pulses on the soundtrack, Jonas' fleet of tricked-out black vans races against the Hardings' scruffy pick-up trucks and prototypes to collect the data needed for scientific advancement.  he latter team features a who's who of character-actor talent, including future star Philip Seymour Hoffman (playing the most obnoxious man alive), Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Jeremy Davies (Lost), and Todd Field (Eyes Wide Shut). Horizontal rain, hail, a close call at a drive-in, a collapsing home, and a moment in which the heroes must drive through a house whet the appetite for the inevitable climax pitting Jo and Bill (now on foot) against an F5 and its whirlwind of sharp debris. The jargon flies, as does, famously, a cow, all of it prompting Gertz's nervous Nellie to conclude, "You people are all crazy!"

I must be crazy, too, but I have a soft-spot for this movie. Married screenwriters Michael Crichton (yes, that Michael Crichton) & Anne-Marie Martin go to the edge with their story and dialogue, but they also help Hunt and Paxton to make Jo and Bill a credible match-made-in-the-heavens, and the action setpieces come at a pleasingly fast pace in a way that complements de Bont's genius as a director (he is, after all, the man who made Speed). It all adds up to a genuinely spectactular blockbuster movie with no superheroes or supervillains and a still-unique historic entry in the summer-movie sweepstakes.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround

Street date: 5/14/2008

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warner's brand-new Blu-Ray special edition of this enduringly popular home-video title (mirrored in a simultaneous DVD re-release) will rock your system with a revelatory image and potent soundscape.  Though Twister was once a "reference quality" disc for DVD, it's never looked or sounded so good on home video.  A spotless print offers exceptional detail that does nothing to detract from the film's still-great special effects (quite the contrary), and the immersive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix will put the fear of Mother Nature in you.

The run-down of extras likewise impresses. A 2004  audio commentary by director Jan DeBont and visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier doesn't much get into the dark side of the difficult production, but DeBont does give kudos to the actors for playing along and offers plenty of insight into the filmmaking process and the intersection of science and fiction in the film. The 2007 doc "Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited" (28:58) sits down DeBont, Fangmeier, Bill Paxton, special effects supervisor John Frazier, and stunt coordinator Mic Rogers to talk about how cool the movie is—especially in the area of special effects; produced by the great Laurent Bouzereau, the doc is a bit more freewheeling than the promotional piece which follow it.

"HBO First Look: The Making of Twister" (13:51), from 1996, may be a bit fluffy, but it's the only feature to include comments by Helen Hunt; she's joined by Paxton, DeBont, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes, producer Kathleen Kennedy, VORTEX director Erik Rasmussen, and Fangmeier. The 2000 featurette "Anatomy of a Twister" (8:31) includes Paxton, DeBont, Elwes, Kennedy, Gertz, and Fangmeier doesn't add much insight, but the 2003 History Channel doc "NatureTech: Tornadoes" (45:18) is a fantastic bonus that's not only welcome but darn-near necessary to place the film in a proper scientific context.

Rounding out the disc are the music video "Humans Being" (3:36) by Van Halen, "Theatrical Trailer 1" 2:05), and "Theatrical Trailer 2" (2:08). These are essential and memorable snapshots of the film's mid-nineties promotional campaign. Especially as a Blu-Ray title, this special edition comes highly recommended, and a good way to show off your home theater.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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