TWISTER - Blu-ray review almost seems as though AV engineers invented high definition expressly for this movie.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

When I saw "Twister" in a theater, I really didn't care much for it. The management had the auditorium too bright, the screen too faded, and the audio system improperly adjusted for surround sound. Since "Twister" is essentially a special-effects extravaganza, being able to see and hear it correctly is a must. Then, I watched it at home a couple of years later when it first came out on DVD and fell in love with it. Now that Warner Bros. have made this 1996 movie available on Blu-ray in high-definition picture and sound, I've fallen in love with it all over again.

One thing about the movie is there's nothing to think about: The plot is thin and the characters are shallow. But who cares! The picture and sound are knockouts. For years, whenever I have had anyone over who hadn't seen or heard a good home-theater system before, I would wow them with "Twister." This movie never failed to impress them. Can you imagine what these kind of people will think when they see and hear something like this new Blu-ray disc?

In the story, Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt star as husband-and-wife meteorologists, Bill and Jo Harding, obsessed with tornadoes and leading a group of equally dedicated storm chasers around the country following any and all whirlwinds they can find. But the plot gimmick is that the couple are in the process of getting a divorce. Bill is only along because he wants Jo to sign the final papers releasing him to marry his fiancée, Melissa, played by Jami Gertz. And Melissa is only along for the ride. Bill and Jo's bickering momentarily takes our minds off the fact that the movie is really about the amazing computer graphics and the 5.1 surround sounds. Not that the high-def processing does any favors for the CGI, by the way, because in such crystal-clear detail they don't look quite as realistic as they once did. Still, they're pretty impressive.

Anyway, the goal of the team is to gather enough information about tornadoes to create an early-warning system that will prevent deaths like the one that claimed Jo's father. Following our heroes is another scientist, a bad guy named Jonas Miller, played by Cary Elwes, and his team of wicked, corporate-funded scientists, all of whom drive around in evil-looking black vans. Never mind any of this. Just pay attention to the amazing visuals and the spectacular sound, which, needless to say, you can't avoid doing in any case.

Enjoy also the supporting cast, many of whom you'll recognize instantly. Philip Seymour Hoffman practically steals the show as one of Jo's looney, gung-ho assistants; Alan Ruck is another of Jo's team who's hard to miss; and Sean Whalen, Todd Field, Joey Slotnick, and Wendle Josepher also stand out, each getting little segments of the story to themselves. Plus, there's Lois Smith playing Meg Greene, Jo's aunt. Ms. Smith has been around in movies and television since before I can remember, and that's a really long time. She adds a homey touch to the proceedings.

Director Jan de Bont keeps the pace moving at the speed of a tornado, too, hardly giving one time to breathe. "Twister" is not so much a conventional movie with a plot and characters as it is a roller-coaster ride, although I have to admit that after watching it so many times, I'm finding the characters more endearing each time I see it. This one is without a doubt a fun ride, too, with high definition playing a bigger part than ever in carrying the day.

I found WB's previous, standard-definition release of "Twister" somewhat compromised by noise and grain and a dark, murky tone. Hardly any such worries here. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer is excellent on practically all counts, presenting the 2.40:1 widescreen image in beautifully rich, vibrant, detailed colors and good delineation. There is still a small degree of natural print grain, understandable in a film the moviemakers shot largely on location under gray skies. Yet the overall picture is transparent and bright enough, and while it remains a tad dark in selected scenes and maybe a touch too well filtered, there is little of the murkiness or noise I experienced before.

The movie's CGI and high-definition picture may look great, but it's the movie's soundtrack that upstages everything else. That the audio is the movie's preeminent feature is not surprising considering that director Jan de Bont worked on the equally outstanding sound for the movie "Speed" a couple of years earlier. One can hardly fault the sonics here, especially now that Warners have transferred the audio to disc via lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The general impression is one of smooth, true-to-life sound; the distribution of information throughout all five-point-one channels is superb; the transient response is quick and clean; the voices are clear and realistic; the frequency range is extensive; and the bass is taut, the greater focus making it sound deeper and less woolly than in regular DD 5.1. There were several occasions when I swore the couch moved! If you want to demo your sound system for friends and neighbors, pick a scene--any scene--and crank it up.

This new Blu-ray edition of "Twister" comes with a lot of bonus material from the previous edition and several new items as well, all of them in standard def. Things begin with a commentary track by director Jan de Bont and visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier that is informative without being either cute or surly as some commentaries can be. Next up, we find a newly made, twenty-nine-minute documentary, "Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited," that includes comments from the director, star Bill Paxton, and several others of the filmmakers today. After that are the thirteen-minute featurette "The Making of Twister" that helps to explain the film's creative processes and a second, eight-minute featurette, "Anatomy of a Twister," that sheds further illumination on the subject. Then there is a forty-five-minute History Channel documentary on twisters, "Nature Tech: Tornadoes," followed by a music video, "Humans Being," with Van Halen.

The extras conclude with a pair of theatrical trailers; thirty-four scene selections; English and French spoken languages; English and French subtitles; English captions for the hearing impaired; and pop-up menus.

Parting Thoughts:
"Twister" is a film that has grown on me over the years. Even the movie's characters, which I had at first rejected as being too stereotyped, I have now grown to like. Sure, the plot still seems entirely computer generated, but to quibble about the plot of "Twister" is to miss the whole point of the film. This all about looking and listening, especially now that it's in high-definition picture and sound. The movie has never been more fun. Indeed, it almost seems as though AV engineers invented high definition expressly for this movie.


Film Value