Twister (2008)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Jami Gertz
Extras: Commentary, Featurettes, Music Video, Theatrical Trailers

Perhaps it is the area I live in, but I've always had something of a fascination with tornadoes. They are so transcendental and at the same time their power is undeniably brutally destructive. There is an eerie peace and quiet that permeates before one actually touches down, and the sky turns so many different shades of color, not to mention the pressure in the air, and of course huge chunks of ice start falling from the sky. All of this played out with these very loud sirens that echo across the city like an air raid is taking place. Although I've come close, I have yet to see an actual tornado with my own eyes, even though they often take place literally within my very city limits. 2008 has certainly been a record breaking year for freak tornadoes, and if you follow the news you know this already, sadly the death count is actually record breaking in itself since the season just started.

You may also recall that a twister landed in downtown Atlanta recently and even caused severe damage to CNN's international headquarters. Over the Memorial Day weekend deadly tornadoes struck in Iowa, but you may have also noticed Oklahoma has been hit many times in recent weeks. I watched footage taken by a helicopter of one of them live on, fascinating stuff. And you may have also seen the recent footage of the extremely rare double tornado that actually touched down in Southern California. The advent of almost everyone having a digital camera handy has also increased the amount of fascinating footage we can view, and although still it seems very little is known about them, the technology we have now available makes a film like "Twister" seem dated, even though it is only twelve years old. Who would have thought that maps would seem so old fashioned and unreliable in just a few years time? Perhaps these are perilous times, or perhaps we are noticing these events more because whenever anything happens, it is covered relentlessly by our new media culture. It is fascinating to watch. You used to have to hunt this footage down and pay a premium, now you simply go to You Tube and you can find some of the most fascinating footage out there.

In the area of weather on film, no movie has had more of an effect on public consciousness than the now legendary weather disaster film "Twister" from 1996, directed by Jon DeBont, who proved his audience-pleasing-action skills with "Speed". It was a huge hit at the box office upon its release, and offered some groundbreaking special effects as well as some undeniably top notch sound; after all, the sound of these things is probably one of the more terrifying aspects. "Twister" was also the first DVD I ever watched, and I recall being quite impressed, it was one of those must-have titles. And it was of course followed by a DTS version that also included more special features, even if it still featured an identical snapper case.

One thing is certain, you don't go to see a film like this to follow a complicated soap opera or to discover a philosophical insight through well rounded and deep characters. No, you won't find that here. But you will see some amazing tornado fury, and that's exactly what audiences came to see. Yes, the film is still as cheesy as you remembered, but if you like disaster films like I do, then this is always a pleasure to watch. Never before had these events been captured in such detail, and now it has been released on the ultimate home video format that is perfectly capable of delivering the chaotic weather sequences in full 1080p high definition, so hold on to your popcorn.

The plot is almost impossibly simple, as it should be. After setting up the film with a devastating scene where a man is sucked into the sky through his storm cellar in front of his family, we meet a likeable couple driving through the Oklahoma landscape in a big red truck. Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) is a weatherman who is engaged to be married to a city-girl/psychologist Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz), after his soon to be ex Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) signs the divorce papers. The screenwriting credit goes to husband and wife, Michael Crichton and Ann-Marie Martin and they capture some perceptive tension between the threesome.

Jo is hard at work with a group of stormchasers trying to get a device Bill invented to release many little balls filled with sensors into a tornado to break new scientific ground with measurements from inside during a soon-to-be outbreak of tornadoes. A young Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote", "Mission Impossible III") plays Dusty, an audience favorite because of his undeniably contagious enthusiasm and passion for blaring classic rock. Each stormchaser is their own unique character, one of them you may recognize is a young Jeremy Davies ("Helter Skelter" and most recently "Lost"). Be careful not to get too caught up in the drama though because no sooner than ten minutes into the film, it's time to chase some twisters, and that is one thing these guys love to do.

If you haven't seen any documentaries about these obsessive-compulsive stormchaser types, I'm not sure what to tell you. Having met a couple, their enthusiasm for chasing these events is usually less rooted in science than what appears to be something of a mental disorder. Like extreme athletes, they seem to get a rush off of the excitement and danger and probably talk about little else. In this film they all seem like well-adjusted and overly romanticized geniuses, but I wouldn't have it any other way, since this is a movie, and the lives of their real-life counterparts must be somewhat dull and disturbing by comparison. Also this was executively produced by Steven Spielberg, so you know what to expect.

The sweeping cinematic score by Mark Mancina plays in the background as they go off into the great unknown and encounter many different types of twisters in a span of a couple of days. They are competing with some better funded but passionless bad guys who try their hardest to get their almost identical technology into the tornados first. I know it sounds silly, and it is, but these menacing baddies in their black SUVs underestimate these underdogs. The action is intense and the tornado special effects were groundbreaking for their time (somewhat outdone by Weta in the recent disaster epic "Day After Tomorrow"). Along the way our heroes realize that their love of disasters may be the key to saving their disastrous relationship.

And the picture looks even better than I expected, to be quite honest. I expected it would be overly cleaned up and look unrealistic. What I like is that the transfer actually retains a nice amount of film grain and therefore looks like an actual film. The special effects blend perfectly with the film and it is simply outstanding to behold in full 1080p high definition. Framed at 2.40:1 the movie really gets the moody weather across quite nicely and the black levels are outstanding. The details in the tornadoes themselves take on a whole new level, not to mention the dusty chase sequences, this film appears to be a very faithful recreation of the actual theatrical experience and I was simply blown away.

The sound has also received a wonderful upgrade, presented in Dolby TrueHD, we have a track that truly uses the surround field to full effect, and the subwoofer really gets a workout. If you are looking for an excellent and extremely loud demo disc to show off you won't go wrong here, when the storms kick in the entire room is swirling with all sorts of sound effects, including cows flying by and trucks falling from the sky. Sonically, "Twister" delivers just like you will want it to. And the dialogue comes through quite clearly as well, but the real star of the show is obviously the havoc created by the storms. The whole living room will shake, so turn it down if you don't want to disturb the neighbors. This is a really fun and aggressive mix that is every bit as good as I wanted it to be.

The special features aren't overwhelming and are all in standard definition. They've included a wonderful 'History Channnel Documentary' called 'Nature Tech: Tornadoes' that really stands out because it clocks in at almost 45 minutes and includes a lot of informative information about these storms along with a lot of tornado footage that fills the screen at 1.85:1. This is just the type of feature that truly adds to a release like this one. 'Chasing The Storm: Twister Revisited' is a well done thirty minute retrospective that includes interviews with the cast and crew and is certainly worth watching and quite informative as to some of the technical aspects involved in creating the effects and goes into detail about the lasting appeal of the film.

The commentary by director John DeBont and Visual Effects Supervisor Stefen Fangmeir is a little dry and quite technical. But if you make it all the way through, you'll come away impressed by their obvious knowledge of the subject and may learn a thing or two about making a movie such as this.

We also have a couple of short featurettes, 'HBO First Look: The Making Of Twister', and 'Anatomy Of A Twister', both standard fare and generic in approach, thankfully they are quite short. Along with two trailers for the film and a Van Halen music video for 'Humans Being' we have a pretty well rounded amount of supplements that thankfully don't go overboard. These are the same features included on the new DVD release as well.

So, "Twister" may not be cinematic art at the highest level in the character development area and may be a little over romanticized at times, however, it is a good solid entry in the disaster genre and also looks and sounds amazing on this new Blu-ray release. If you are looking for a disc to show others what Blu-ray is capable of, this is one. It also retains a very filmlike feel and can feel like a whole new experience. This is the way I think the film was intended to look, and that is what a great high definition title should do. Certainly worth a look.