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On May 10, 1996, Warner Bros. unveiled the Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton disaster thriller Twister in theaters. The film went on to nab two Oscar nominations, for sound and visual effects. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
Tornadoes, or “twisters” as they are commonly known, are measured on an intensity scale, F1 through F5, with F5 referred to as “The Finger of God.” In box-office terms, this Amblin monster (in the lineage of Jaws and Jurassic Park) should hit F4 or F5.
The monster in Twister is, of course, the tornado, and for sheer strength, ferocity and unpredictability, this incarnation is the most gripping and scary of its antecedent batch. Generically, this Michael Crichton- and Anne-Marie Martin-scripted horror-thriller has the same story DNA as Jurassic Park — a team of scientists and ragtag assistants go off to study a natural, if dangerous, phenomenon.
In this breezy, as well as blustering scenario, Helen Hunt stars as Jo, a gutsy meteorologist who heads her underfunded team deep into funnel territory, having devised a mechanism that, if they can center it in in the eye of the twister, will give valuable scientific information about the makeup of tornadoes. Essentially, the contraption (aptly named “Dorothy”) will allow people 15-minute warnings, instead of a deadly three, that a tornado is headed their way. There is no way to fight this type of monster — you can’t douse it or shoot it — a tornado is a force by itself, impervious to human assault.
As Jo and her ragtag group gleefully head into a swarm of Oklahoma twisters, her soon-to-be-ex husband and fellow gonzo meteorologist, Bill (Bill Paxton), arrives with his fiancee, Melissa (Jami Gertz), in tow. The thrill of the chase, however, sucks Bill in and before the sky can darken, the old meteorological juices are flowing: He becomes part of the expedition. A flustered and rightfully frightened Melissa hangs on for dear life.
Essentially, Twister is narratively structured much like an old-time war movie, as Jo’s little caravan of six vans does battle with an ever-increasingly hostile slew of twisters. And, in this full-blown production, each one is a white-knuckler of a confrontation.
With Jack N. Green’s subjective, high-shot lensing and dark slew of gray hues, Twister is shaded continuously with the dark and diabolic forces of its power. Enough can’t be said about the special effects work done by the scientific magicians at Industrial Light & Magic. The team, marshaled by visual effects producer Kim Bromley Carson, has painted the skies with the shades of death and created the funnels with the powers of raging anger. Audiences will gasp as oil tankers, cattle and farm implements are hurled into their paths.
While the special effects are clearly the star of this masterwork, the storyline itself, although predictable, is crisp and full of heart. Director Jan De Bont’s pacing is symphonic, orchestrating emotional moments, humor and then crescendoing to sheer terror. It’s a terrific blend and it’s greatly aided by composer Mark Mancina’s soaring, heartland-strained score.
The players are well-cast and sympathetic. Hunt is terrific as the obsessed scientist, torn between her work and her own demons, while Paxton also is winning as a man who had temporarily given up on himself. As Bill’s addled fiancee, Gertz is the audience touchstone; her terrified reactions to the fearless actions of the team mirror our own reactions. — Duane Byrge, originally published on May 10, 1996.
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Jamie Lee Curtis