TWISTER - DVD review

The plot is thin and the characters are shallow. But who cares! The picture and sound are knockouts.

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. When Warner Bros. made this 1996 movie available again in the Two-Disc Special Edition reviewed here, I fell in love with it all over again (a condition that lasted several days until I watched the Blu-ray version).

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 fails to impress them.

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. 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.

This is, I believe, the third time Warner Bros. have mastered the film for standard-definition DVD, and in this latest outing the picture looks better than ever, shedding much of the noise of the older transfers. It's smoother and cleaner, and, interestingly, framed slightly differently, revealing a somewhat wider, 2.40:1 scope. The anamorphic image is as vivid as ever, though, and it has less of the murkiness I found in the older editions, while retaining much of the clarity and definition.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is the disc's strongest point, not surprising considering that director Jan de Bont had worked on equally outstanding sound in the movie "Speed" a couple of years before. The sonics here are excellent. Channel localization is fine, transient response is quick and clear, voices are natural, frequency range is extensive, and bass is prodigious, if a trifle woolly at times. For regular DD 5.1, it doesn't get much better than this for demonstration material to wow family and friends.

The new Two-Disc Special Edition contains several bonus items on disc one. Among them is a commentary track by director Jan de Bont and visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier, the same commentary found earlier, but this time the two men both speak from the center channel rather than from the left and right channels respectively, which was a little awkward. Their comments are informative without being either cute or surly as some commentaries can be. In addition, we find two theatrical trailers, thirty-four scene selections, English and French spoken languages, English and French subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Disc two contains the bulk of the bonus materials. Some of it comes from the previous single-disc edition, and several items are new. First 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; and, finally, a video game promo for a race-and-crash simulation called "Flat-Out: Ultimate Carnage," whose title pretty much says it all.

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 one is all about looking and listening.


Film Value