INTO THE STORM – Blu-ray review

My wife summed “Into the Storm” up way better than I probably can, and she doesn’t write for this web site: “It’s sort of like part ‘Blair Witch,’ part ‘Jurassic Park’ and a whole lot of ‘Twister.’ I really liked ‘Twister!’”

After “Into the Storm” wrapped up its 89 minute run time, neither of us was exclaiming our love. Like those on-screen who had to navigate some pretty neat digitally created natural disasters, we were just so glad for it all to be over.

“Into the Storm” insults your intelligence by assuming you aren’t interested in character development, a decent screenplay or anything remotely close to quality filmmaking. It plays with the increasingly popular “found footage” approach unsuccessfully because it tries to blend it with the more traditional method where the camera merely watches the characters do their thing. It pushes multiple storylines and works to connect them together, but in doing so essentially crashes them into one another. At day’s end, “Into the Storm” leaves a path of destruction similar to the tornadoes it showcases on screen.

You’ve heard of storm chasers, right? You know, those nut jobs who literally drive their vehicles with millions of dollars worth of technology strapped to them toward things like tornadoes so they can either make a boat load of cash or get their name onto the cover of “National Geographic”? Some might think these individuals are crazy. Me? I think they’re just plain stupid. Regardless, two of them are Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Pete (Matt Walsh), who wind up in rural Oklahoma with a hunch that they can get some first-hand footage of the next big one. They don’t quite get along, and their support team, which includes Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta) and Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter), is left to watch the conflict go down.

Simultaneously, we meet Gary (Richard Armitage) and his two sons Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). Gary is the high school VP, and his sons are students trying to fit in socially and please their dad at the same time. Donnie’s the older boy, and he’s head over heels sprung on a young lady named Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), who knows as much about him as a cute girl like her does about preferential treatments based on physical attributes. As school is concluding at the end of the year, Donnie agrees to help Allison get out of a tough spot, but indirectly leaves Trey holding the paper with filming the graduation ceremony. Gary is just plain old mad at the world, and his sons, who react like most teens in movies like this do: with repressed anger and frustration.

Oh, there are also some local morons named Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep). They’re totally irrelevant, but director Steven Quale writer John Swetnam want you to know who they are anyway.

Long story short, tornadoes hit. People go nuts. The experts and the locals team up. Some people die. Most don’t. You’re unlikely to care all that much how it ends, but I still won’t ruin it for you. I will say that the film’s highlight, its special effects, isn’t good enough to save it from crashing and burning.

The tornadoes look real and convincing. They’re not, but what does that matter? They whip loose debris and cars and people around like a Vitamix whips frozen peaches, ice and a little juice to make a sorbet. It’s impressive, and the sound matches the visuals about as thoroughly as it could. I won’t say I was rooting for the tornadoes during “Into the Storm,” but I was hoping we’d get to see them do some pretty rad stuff. And they do! One even catches on fire. That’s a sight nicer than the gentle curls on Allison’s head which get ruined as she and Donnie get trapped under a collapsed building, which of course draws everyone else out into the middle of nowhere to save them from themselves.

Have I said too much? It doesn’t matter. And neither does this film as a whole. Don’t believe me? In the mood for a good disaster flick and want to give this one a whirl? Fine. But don’t come crawling back to me when you’re left as pissed off as I was after this nightmare finished its cruel spin in my Blu-ray player.

There is nothing original, creative or good here, and the fact that I can be that blunt about it is probably a bad sign. If you’re really desperate, wander into your garage and find some old paint, a brush and a wall. Apply the paint to the wall using the brush. Watch the paint dry. You’ll be just as, if not more, entertained.

Per the public relations team at Warner Bros., I have included a Q&A with “Into the Storm” director Steven Quale below.

Q: What is it like directing actors with the added distraction of extreme weather elements?
A: It was a real challenge to get a performance with all the distracting noises of the wind machines and rain towers.  The loud noise of the equipment made communication very difficult and I had to rely on hand signals.  One advantage to all the wind and rain is that it gave the actors something real to play against when shooting with green screens.

Q: What is the most exciting part about directing high-energy, intense films?
A: The most exciting thing about directing high-energy, intense films is taking the audience into a world that feels real.


Q: What can you tell us about Titus and how similar is it to a real storm chasing vehicle?
A: The Titus was designed by David Sanderford and has the same functions that a real storm chasing vehicle would have.  The most important features are two hydraulic outriggers that can fire spikes into the ground to hold the vehicle in place during the 100 mile per hour winds of a Tornado.  The Titus also has a motorized turret that allows a camera to photography a 360 degree view of any severe weather systems.


Q: What special features can we expect to see on the Blu-ray / DVD?
A: The Blu-ray/DVD for “Into the Storm” will have several behind the scenes features showing how we were able to realistically recreate the weather conditions of a tornado.  It also has a segment where world famous storm chaser Reed Timmer explains all of the types of tornados in or film and how they compare to the real ones that he has chased.


Q: What interested you in this story and joining as Director?
A: What attracted me to “Into the Storm” is being able to take the audience right into the center of a tornado.  To experience what it is like to see and hear the unimaginable power that a tornado can unleash.  I also wanted to explore how different people react to such an extreme event.


Q: How is Into the Storm different from previous tornado movies?
A: “Into the Storm” benefits from the advances in visual effects over the years so the tornados look much more realistic.  It also differs from other tornado movies in that we are not just following storm-chasers –  we have a  diverse group of unrelated people who are thrust together during the adversity of the storm and we get to experience how each of the different people react under the pressure of the storm.


Q: How does the film mix big visual effects with a grounded human element?
A: You experience the tornados through the eyes of the main characters and thus you have a vested interest in what everyone does.


Q: You have an extensive background in visual effects.  Tell us about what went into making this film look and feel real.
A: The most important thing to make this film look real was weeks and weeks of extensive research.  I studied every single video of any severe weather and tornado footage I could find.  Every major type of tornado was based on actual footage of real tornados.  In addition to the visuals I insisted on having the sound feel as real as possible and that is where academy award winning sound supervisor Par Hallberg shined with his amazing soundscape.  You really feel like you are in a tornado with the rumbling sound.


Q: Did the film require practical effects in addition to visual effects?
A: The films visual effects work so effective because they are a mix of practical physical effects such as wind machines and rain towers combined with the digital tornados and debris.  For the last half of the film, almost every shot required rain and wind machines.  We dropped a real truck in close proximity with Richard Armitage.


Q: How did the tornadoes act like characters in the film?
A: “Into the Storm” has several different types of tornados ranging from thing rope tornados, fire tornado to a large two mile wide wedge shaped tornado.  Each of these tornados act like characters in that they have unique qualities that make them different.


Q: Why do you think audiences are so interested in disaster films?
A: People are always drawn to what scares them and they love to experience something that takes them on a thrill ride in the safety of movie going experience at home or in the theater.


The only reason I’m putting down the film’s 1080p High Definition 1.85:1 video transfer specifics is because I have to. The star for the visual elements here is a no brainer. The tornadoes look awesome enough to get you to utter a bad word or two as they whip around the Midwest and demonstrate that Mother Nature is the real one in charge. The impressive detail here reflects many years of prior efforts to get this right, and the fact that it took a film so bad to bring tornadoes that look so good to life might be a red flag.

The film’s rather ordinary English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack isn’t all that appealing, save for the moments where the storm is doing its thing. You can hear the destruction occur and know, with little to no hesitation, exactly what is hitting what in the funnel cloud. It’s powerful for your ears to get to experience, and your speakers will appreciate it, too. Other audio choices are Dolby Digital 5.1 s for French and Spanish. English, French and Spanish subtitles are available.

Along with standard definition DVD and digital copies of the film, “Into the Storm” arrives with a few featurettes that highlight the film’s use of real science to inform its tornadoes, a look at the vehicles used on screen to pursue to violent weather and also a little insight on how the cast helped the filmmakers recreate the violent conditions.

A Final Word:
Is your paint dry yet? Mine is. And I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed “Into the Storm.”