Twister (1996)
USINFO | 2013-05-30 17:32

Twister is a 1996 American disaster drama film starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as storm chasers researching tornadoes. It was directed by Jan de Bont from a screenplay by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin. Its executive producers were Steven Spielberg, Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald and Gerald R. Molen. Twister was the second-highest-grossing film of 1996 domestically, with an estimated 55 million tickets sold in the US.

It is notable for being both the first Hollywood feature film to be released on DVD format and one of the last to be released on HD DVD. Twister has since been released on Blu-ray disc.

In the film, a team of storm chasers try to perfect a data-gathering instrument, designed to be released into the funnel of a tornado, while competing with another better-funded team with a similar device during a tornado outbreak across Oklahoma. The plot is a dramatized view of research projects like VORTEX of the NOAA. The device used in the movie, called Dorothy, is copied from the real-life TOTO, used in the 1980s by NSSL.

In June 1969, a family, including a five year-old girl named Jo, seek shelter in a storm cellar as a powerful F5 tornado strikes. The storm is so strong that the storm cellar door is ripped off and Jo's father is killed. Jo, her mother, and her dog Toby survive.

In the present day, Jo (Hunt), a meteorologist, is reunited with her estranged husband, Bill Harding (Paxton), a former weather researcher and storm chaser, who has since become a weather reporter. He is planning to marry sex therapist Melissa Reeves (Gertz), and needs Jo's signature on the divorce papers. Jo has built four identical tornado research devices called DOROTHY, based on Bill's designs. The device is designed to release hundreds of sensors into the center of a tornado to study its structure from the inside, with the purpose of creating a more advanced storm warning system. Bill and Melissa join Jo and her team of storm chasers, and the team encounters Dr. Jonas Miller (Elwes), a smug meteorologist and storm chaser. When Bill discovers that Jonas has created a device based on DOROTHY, called DOT-3, he vows to help Jo deploy DOROTHY before Miller can claim credit for the idea.

During the first tornado, Jo's truck and DOROTHY I are both destroyed. They continue chasing in Bill's truck, with Melissa in the back seat. They find a second tornado, a confirmed F2, and head off on a back road when it shifts its track. They soon find themselves driving through heavy rain and Bill's truck is spun around until the tornadoes dissipate.

The team visits Jo's aunt Meg's house in Wakita, Oklahoma for food and rest. They soon learn that a "hopping" F3 tornado is on the ground, but they have trouble finding it. Jo drives ahead of the team to intercept the oncoming tornado, but a telephone pole falls on the back of Bill's truck and knocks DOROTHY II out onto the road, disabling it. As the tornado lifts and touches down closer, Bill pulls Jo into the truck and moves to safety. The two confront each other over their marriage and Jo's obsession with stopping tornadoes, due to her father's death.

That following night, an F4 tornado devastates a drive-in cinema, forcing everyone to take shelter in a nearby warehouse. Melissa is traumatized by the experience, and leaves, recognizing the unresolved feelings between Jo and Bill. The tornado hits Wakita, devastating the town and injuring Meg while destroying her house. After Bill and Jo rescue Meg from her collapsing house, they hear that an even stronger storm, an F5, is forming 25 miles south of their position. Inspecting Meg's wind chime sculptures, Jo realizes that the most likely method to successfully deploy DOROTHY's sensors into a tornado would be to add additional body surface to catch the wind.

As they reach the F5, the team adds aluminum to work as wind flaps, but the deployment of DOROTHY III is a failure. Meanwhile, Jonas attempts to deploy DOT-3, but after ignoring warnings from Bill, his truck is caught by the tornado and he and his driver are killed. Jo and Bill set out on their own and are able to deploy the last DOROTHY successfully. Their celebration is cut short, however, as the tornado shifts course towards them. They take shelter in a shed where they anchor themselves to irrigation pipes. The tornado destroys the shed and Jo and Bill find themselves in the vortex of the massive funnel.

After the F5 dies out, Jo and Bill find themselves alone on the floor of the former shed. They then decide to run their own lab and rekindle their marriage.

Twister was a joint production between Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures. Both studios had often collaborated with Amblin Entertainment prior to this film.

The original concept and 10-page tornado-chaser story were presented to Amblin Entertainment in 1992 by motion picture business consultant and award-winning screenwriter Jeffrey Hilton. Steven Spielberg then presented the concept to writer Michael Crichton.

After spending more than half a year on pre-production on Godzilla, director Jan De Bont left after a dispute over the budget and quickly signed on for Twister. The production was plagued with numerous problems. Crichton and his wife, Anne-Marie Martin, were paid a reported $2.5 million to write the screenplay. Joss Whedon was brought in to do rewrites through the early spring of 1995. When he got bronchitis, Steve Zaillian was brought in. Whedon returned and worked on revisions right through the start of shooting in May 1995. He left the project after getting married and two weeks into production, Jeff Nathanson was flown in to the set and worked on the script until principal photography ended.

Halfway through filming both Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were temporarily blinded by bright electronic lamps used to get the exposure down to make the sky behind the two actors look dark and stormy. Paxton remembers that "these things literally sunburned our eyeballs. I got back to my room, I couldn't see". To solve the problem, a Plexiglas filter was placed in front of the beams. The actors took eye drops and wore special glasses for a few days to recuperate. After filming in a ditch that contained bacteria, Hunt and Paxton had to have hepatitis shots. During the same scene, she repeatedly hit her head on a low wooden bridge because she was so exhausted from the demanding shoot that she forgot not to stand up so quickly. Hunt did one stunt in which she opened the door of a vehicle that was speeding through a cornfield, stood up on the passenger side and was hit by the door on the side of her head when she let it go momentarily. As a result, some sources claim that Hunt got a concussion. De Bont said, "I love Helen to death, but you know, she can be also a little bit clumsy." She responded, "Clumsy? The guy burned my retinas, but I'm clumsy ... I thought I was a good sport. I don't know ultimately if Jan chalks me up as that or not, but one would hope so".

Some crew members felt De Bont was "out of control" and left five weeks into filming. The camera crew led by Don Burgess left the production after five weeks, claiming that De Bont "didn't know what he wanted till he saw it. He would shoot one direction, with all the equipment behind the view of the camera, and then he'd want to shoot in the other direction right away and we'd have to move  and he'd get angry that we took too long ... and it was always everybody else's fault, never his". De Bont claims that they had to make schedules for at least three different scenes every day because the weather changed so often that "Don had trouble adjusting to that". When De Bont knocked over a camera assistant who had missed a cue, Burgess and his crew left, much to the shock of the cast. Burgess and his crew stayed on one more week until a replacement was found in Jack N. Green. Just before the end of the shoot, Green was injured when a hydraulic house set, designed to collapse on cue, was mistakenly activated with him inside it. A rigged ceiling hit him in the head and he injured his back and had to go to the hospital. Green missed the last two days of principal photography and De Bont took over as his own director of photography.

De Bont had to shoot many of the film's tornado-chasing scenes in bright sunlight when they could not get overcast skies and asked Industrial Light & Magic to more than double its original plan for 150 "digital sky-replacement" shots. Principal photography had a time limit because Hunt had to return to film another season of Mad About You but Paul Reiser was willing to delay it for two-and-a-half weeks when the Twister shoot was extended. De Bont insisted on using multiple cameras and this led to the exposure of 1.3 million feet of raw film (most films use no more than 300,000 feet).

De Bont claims that Twister cost close to $70 million with $2–3 million going to the director. It was speculated that last-minute re-shoots in March and April 1996 (to clarify a scene about Jo as a child) and overtime requirements in post-production and at ILM, raised the budget to $90 million. Warner Bros. moved up the film's release date from May 17 to May 10 in order to give it two weekends before Mission: Impossible opened.

Critical response
The film received mixed reviews from critics. It holds a 58% "rotten" score at Rotten Tomatoes based on 52 reviews. It holds a score of 68 at Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "You want loud, dumb, skillful, escapist entertainment? Twister works. You want to think? Think twice about seeing it". In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Somehow Twister stays as uptempo and exuberant as a roller-coaster ride, neatly avoiding the idea of real danger". Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B" rating and Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, "Yet the images that linger longest in my memory are those of windswept livestock. And that, in a teacup, sums up everything that's right, and wrong, about this appealingly noisy but ultimately flyaway first blockbuster of summer". In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, "But the ringmaster of this circus, the man without whom nothing would be possible, is director De Bont, who now must be considered Hollywood's top action specialist. An expert in making audiences squirm and twist, at making us feel the rush of experience right along with the actors, De Bont choreographs action and suspense so beautifully he makes it seem like a snap". Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "when action is never shown to have deadly or pitiable consequences, it tends toward abstraction. Pretty soon you're not tornado watching, you're special-effects watching". In his review for the Washington Post Desson Howe wrote, "it's a triumph of technology over storytelling and the actors' craft. Characters exist merely to tell a couple of jokes, cower in fear of downdrafts and otherwise kill time between tornadoes".

Box office
The film opened on May 10, 1996 and earned $41,059,405 from 2,414 total theaters, making it the #1 movie at the North American box office. It has gone on to earn a total of $241,721,524 at the North American box office. As of November 2012, it has earned a worldwide total of $494,471,524. It currently sit at #76 on the all time North American box office charts, ahead of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but below Bruce Almighty. Worldwide it sits at #105 on the all time earners list, not adjusted for inflation. It is second highest-grossing film of 1996.

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