Twister has it all: growling tornadoes, a battle of good vs. evil in the competitive world of meteorology, a young Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a megameta scene in which a funnel cloud decimates a drive-in just as Jack Nicholson hacks up a door at the Overlook. It's corny, it's scientifically iffy, and WE LOVE IT.
Welcome back to 'In Defense Of', a semi-regular io9 feature where we make the case for characters and concepts that we love, in spite of their detractors.
Where have ye gone, Jan de Bont? After Speed and Twister made the A-list cinematographer one of the most successful action-movie directors of the 1990s, he made a couple of legendary turkeys (most notably Speed 2: Cruise Control) and then vanished. Speed lives on as the movie that made Sandra Bullock a star (and Keanu Reeves an action hero), but Twister is mostly remembered for those charismatic tornadoes.
Twister should be appreciated for another reason, though: that rag-tag ensemble of storm chasers at its center, led by in-the-process-of-divorcing-but-duh-they-still-love-each-other-sorry-Jami-Gertz couple Bill Paxton (whose character "knows what a storm is thinking") and Helen Hunt (who survived a vicious storm as a kid, but remains haunted by the experience, and who ventures into rainy, muddy storms bravely clad in a white tank top).
More action movies should have characters like the ones that back up "Jo" and "Bill the Extreme, Who Once Threw A Bottle of Jack Daniels Into A Tornado" in the field. In addition to Hoffman's rock 'n' roll-loving Dusty, who explains to audience surrogate Gertz (as Paxton's hapless fiancee) how tornadoes work, with specific regard to their "suck zone," using a glass of lemonade and a straw as a prop, we get:
- Alan Ruck, aka Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, as "Rabbit" the navigator, who guides the team though back roads, and from whom we learn to ALWAYS ROLL THE MAPS.
- Jeremy Davies, later seen on Lost and Justified and anytime a movie needs a twitchy guy (he also played Manson in the Helter Skelter remake), as the nervous storm chaser who hides in his truck when a storm draws near.
- Todd Field as the team's computer whiz, who blasts the theme from "Oklahoma!" as the group zooms toward a storm; he also gets to deliver the line "That's no moon, it's a space station!" when they witness a particularly awesome touchdown. Field went on to direct Oscar nominated dramas Little Children and In the Bedroom.
- Character actors Joey Slotnick, Sean Whalen, Wendle Josepher, and Scott Thomson as the rest of the team. Thomson's character is who educates us on the particulars of the most-dangerous type of tornado: the F-5, aka "the finger of God." Pokin' ya, puny human.
Twister also boasts other memorable characters, too. True Blood's Lois Smith plays Jo's beloved Aunt Meg, who feeds the team a heart-stopping meal of beef and eggs, and later requires a dramatic rescue when her house is flattened by the finger of God. Cary Elwes is Jonah, a rival storm chaser so evil he commands a sleek fleet of coal-black SUVs (in contrast to Jo and Bill's mismatched caravan of junkers), and is "in it for the money, not the science." And then there's Dorothy, which is Jo and Bill's invention, ripped off by Jonah — which resembles a trash can full of sensors that (if deployed correctly, and at great danger, perhaps helped along by some Pepsi product placement) will revolutionize storm-prediction technology.
Shoutout to co-screenwriter Michael Crichton for coming up with such an array of characters (and Joss Whedon, who did some major rewrites on the script), but more shoutout to the casting department for assembling these folks to back up the movie-star leads. If Twister was made today, the storm chasers would be vapid college kids on spring break, or there'd be some forced subplot about a dad making amends with his kids (like the more-recent Into the Storm, which admittedly did have the most outrageous tornado special effects since Twister ... although Sharknado comes pretty close).
Even though the tornadoes make a lot of noise (I've always wondered if producer Steven Spielberg repurposed Jurassic Park dino howls) and look really cool, would anyone want to re-watch Twister if it didn't have such a solid cast filling in the gaps between special-effects shots? These actors KNOW the movie kind of blows, but they sell it anyway. They make storm chasing seem like the coolest job, like being on tour with your favorite rock band, except the band is a deadly-ass outbreak of tornadoes. Thank goodness Twister was made in 1996, when scrappy weather junkies could be ordinary-looking humans ... and a cow flyin' cross the screen was a corny, corny joke so nice, they do it twice.
Image via KBIA