A wind-blown summer spectacle that, in effect, began the annual avalanche of overheated Hollywood action flicks relying heavily on gee-whiz CGI effects (after 1993's godfather Jurassic Park, of course), Jan de Bont's tilt-a-whirl thriller Twister has aged a bit in the 12 years since it was first released to multiplexes -- the seams in a few of those funnels are often very apparent -- but it's still enough cheesy fun to while away a Saturday evening. (And yes, as a native Oklahoman, it's hard not to have a bit of a soft spot for a flick that generally stays away from the yee-haw stereotypes.)
Authored by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin, Twister is only nominally about the stock characters populating the screen and primarily concerned with doling out bad-ass thrills in the form of town-swallowing tornados. Bill Paxton stars as Bill Harding, a no-nonsense former storm chaser, whose unpleasant divorce from Jo (Helen Hunt), has led him to pursue a quieter, non-academic life as a TV weatherman. On the day that Bill brings his fiancee, Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz) along to pick up his divorce papers, one of the most potent storm systems in years is bearing down on Oklahoma, where Jo and her motley team of researchers are preparing to launch "Dorothy," a sophisticated device that could potentially provide life-saving information about the physics and mechanics of tornados.
Again, all of the thinly written melodrama is an excuse to plop people into nail-biting action sequences, which, it must be said, de Bont stages with not a little bit of flair. The director was coming off of Speed, an equally ludicrous but addictive film, and was the perfect fit for this blockbuster, whose eternally quotable moment "We've got cows!" continues to live on. The slam-bang storm set pieces are augmented by his surprisingly star-stocked cast; everyone from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeremy Davies and Alan Ruck to future director Todd Field, Zach Grenier and the reliably slimy Cary Elwes pops up here -- fortunately, no one really embarrasses themselves.
The science sort of hangs together -- you won't earn any meteorology degrees, but you might actually learn a little bit about the formation of tornadoes -- but no one picks this one off the shelf hoping for education. No, you watch Twister for the moment where Jo and Bill drive a truck through a house, or the moment where tractors rain down from the sky, or -- yes -- where an errant cow goes flying by. In short, it's brainless summertime fun that, in the right frame of mind, skirts the edges of goofy pop art mastery. Twister was a shining moment for Oklahoma (believe me, they still gush over the film more than a decade later) and the first in a continuing string of effects-heavy "event" movies. It's not brilliant, but it's a helluva lot of fun.
Twister bears the distinction of being one of the first films to be offered on DVD and as such, is arguably ripe for an upgrade. The first edition of Twister, released in 1997, was anamorphic with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but relatively few extras (theatrical trailer and some cast/crew bio pages). The second DVD release of Twister, which hit shelves in 2000, sported a robust DTS track that still holds up as one of the better aural experiences on home video (in addition to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track), along with a commentary from visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier and de Bont, a pair of featurettes, some trailers and a Van Halen music video. This third "special edition" ports much of the previously available material over, while incorporating a few new elements into the mix.
The packaging claims that this edition boasts a "digitally remastered" image and, not having either of the previous two editions handy for comparison, I can only offer up that this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks fantastic, with nary a scratch or speck to be seen. Crystal clear and richly detailed, this late-Nineties film looks like it was released yesterday.
The much-vaunted DTS track has been scrubbed and only the Dolby Digital 5.1 track remains. It goes without saying that the speakers get quite a work-out during Twister and again, not having the previous two discs available for comparison, I can't speak to whether this Dolby Digital track has been improved upon. It sports no detectable flaws, at any rate, conveying all the chaos and all the dialogue with equal aplomb. An optional French Dolby Digital 5.1 track (also a likely holdover) is included, as are optional English and French subtitles.
The first disc includes a commentary track from visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier and de Bont. It's a fairly pedestrian track and, while I don't have the 2000 disc handy, I believe this is the same track that can be found on that release. The only other bonuses on the first disc are a pair of theatrical trailers, both offered in anamorphic widescreen.
The second disc houses the bulk of the supplements. A newly created retrospective, "Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited" runs 28 minutes, 55 seconds (presented in fullscreen) and features interviews with de Bont, Fangmeier, Paxton, special effects supervisor John Frazier and stunt coordinator Mic Rogers. The 13 minute, 50 second featurette "The Making of Twister" and the eight minute, 31 second featurette "Anatomy of a Twister" (both presented in fullscreen) are ported over from the 2004 disc, as the music video for Van Halen's soundtrack contribution "Humans Being." A 45 minute, 15 second History Channel special -- "Nature Tech: Tornadoes" -- is here (presented in fullscreen) with the utterly pointless one minute, 44 second ad for the video game "Flat Out Ultimate Carnage" completing the set.
The science sort of hangs together -- you won't earn any meteorology degrees, but you might actually learn a little bit about the formation of tornadoes -- but no one picks this one off the shelf hoping for education. No, you watch Twister for the moment where Jo and Bill drive a truck through a house, or the moment where tractors rain down from the sky, or -- yes -- where an errant cow goes flying by. In short, it's brainless summertime fun that, in the right frame of mind, skirts the edges of goofy pop art mastery. This two-disc set slightly expands upon features already available in other editions, but eliminates the acclaimed DTS track. Recommended.