Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Twister – The Tornadoes Get the Best Story

Written by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin
Directed by Jan de Bont

Being a Weather Channel junkie, I was already pretty familiar with storm chasers and what they did prior to the 1996 film, Twister. When this summer blockbuster was released, it brought storm chasing to mainstream awareness and suddenly it seemed everyone developed a fascination with the subject. Numerous shows and specials turned up all over the place not just on the Weather Channel, but also on network television and channels such as National Geographic and Discovery.

Twister tells the story of two recently separated meteorologists, Jo (portrayed by Helen Hunt) and Bill (portrayed by Bill Paxton). She’s more obsessed than ever chasing tornadoes across the open plains of Oklahoma while he’s settled down into a cushy job predicting the weather and has a new fiancee. He’s just out there to get Jo to sign their divorce papers and then he’ll be on his way. However, once she shows him DOROTHY, something he once dreamed of building to send sensors into a tornado and take recordings to help understand them better, his appetite is whetted. He’s soon pawning the fiancee, Melissa (portrayed by Jami Gertz) off on various members of their crew to go off with Jo and try to place DOROTHY in the path of a tornado.

The plot of Twister is so predictable, especially as it tries to incorporate a villain into the story. Surprisingly, it’s not the storms. The plot brings in an “evil” storm chaser, Jonas (portrayed by Cary Elwes) versus the “noble” storm chasers, Jo and Bill. The “noble” ones drive around in trucks that look like they are about to break down at any moment and the guys in their crew look like a rag-tag band but know their stuff. The “evil” storm chasers have corporate sponsors and a sleek look. They ride on the coattails of what the “noble” storm chasers do as they all compete to see who can send a probe into a tornado first. The “evil” ones ripped off Bill’s idea, with few changes, and the word “patent” is never mentioned.

Then there’s the total incomprehensibility of the protagonists being able to outrun a tornado bearing down on them in the final sequence. You are not watching Twister for its story, believe me. Suspending disbelief in this film would require a crane.

The acting is so-so. The actors are all trying to react to things that just aren’t there at the time in many cases, and do an adequate job of it. The problems I see in Twister are a lot the same that I saw in Jurassic Park. The actors don’t always do a terrific job convincing me that they are seeing what they are seeing.

That the story itself is weak doesn’t help. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt are believable in a sense, but Jo’s over-the-top obsession with tornadoes (her father was killed by one when she was a child) is overplayed. You would think having seen one kill a family member first-hand would have put some fear in her as to the lives of herself or the crew. That doesn’t happen. When she should run, she stands there looking at the tornado coming at her with fascination. It’s almost like she has a death wish although she keeps saying she doesn’t and she’s doing it “for the good of the world”. I just didn’t buy it. However, I don’t think that’s the fault of Hunt who did as good of a job as she could with the role. I think the problem there was the weak writing of the character.

Likewise, Paxton is supposed to be the man who walked away from all of the chasing when he walked out on Jo. He’s got a perky therapist for a fiancee and a comfortable, safe job as a weatherman, presumably for a good deal of money in a big city. In short, he went from a daredevil to a yuppie. It’s hard to believe he made such a life change simply because of bad blood between himself and Jo, or perhaps her deepening obsession, and then the minute a carrot is dangled in front of him he races back to it. If he was that easy to sway, shouldn’t it have shown before now? Shouldn’t the thrill of the chase have kept him enticed? And shouldn’t a therapist have seen it?

However, Twister isn’t a film people will see because of a great story. It was a summer film, which generally means mindless entertainment. It does provide that. Ten years later, I still could appreciate the special effects. We may have made strides in the years since then, but what was done in Twister ten years ago was still high-quality special effects that hold up over the intervening years. Not just the creation of the storms which seemingly continue to dog the team of chasers across the plains, but the destruction left behind in the various towns and farms as well. George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic digitally added the tornadoes to the film and they are very smoothly done. It doesn’t have an artificial quality I saw in Night of the Twisters, a made-for-television film out the same year.

The secondary cast is underdeveloped. Cary Elwes’ Jonas is a smarmy, one-dimensional villain. Jo’s crew is mostly wallpaper and it’s a credit to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who shines even in a mediocre, poorly-written role almost lost as one of Jo’s crew.

Twister is great to watch on a wide-screen television with surround sound. It feels like the storm is roaring right at me through the screen. There’s some artificial suspense that disappears after a viewing or two and it’s basically the effects that you’ll watch this for when you want to lose yourself in a mind-numbing movie on a hot summer night. The science isn’t accurate at all, so if you really want to learn about tornadoes, throw away everything you see here and check out the documentaries that popped up in the wake of this film.


• Cast & Crew Biographies
• Theatrical Trailers
• Commentary by Director Jan De Bont and Special Effects Coordinator Stefan Fangmeier
The Making of Twister featurette
Anatomy of the Twister featurette
• Music Video Humans Being by Van Halen

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