Twister (1996 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jan de Bont|
|Music by||Mark Mancina|
|Cinematography||Jack N. Green|
|Edited by||Michael Kahn|
|Box office||$494.5 million|
Twister is a 1996 American disaster film 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. The film stars Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz and Cary Elwes, and depicts a group of storm chasers researching tornadoes during a severe outbreak in Oklahoma.
Twister grossed $494.5 million worldwide, and became the second-highest-grossing film of 1996; an estimated 54.7 million tickets were sold in the US. The film was met with a mixed critical reception, receiving criticism for its screenplay and praise for its visual effects and sound design. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound, but lost both to Independence Day and The English Patient respectively.
In June 1969 Oklahoma, young Jo Thornton and her family are awakened by an approaching F5 tornado. The family seeks refuge in their storm cellar, but the tornado rips the cellar door off and pulls Jo's father to his death while Jo and her mother look on. The next morning, they awake to find their farmhouse destroyed.
In the present day, 27 years after the death of Jo's father, the National Severe Storms Laboratory predicts a record outbreak of tornadoes in Oklahoma over a 24-hour period. Now an adult, Jo, a meteorologist and storm chaser, is reunited with her estranged husband, Bill Harding, a former weather researcher and fellow storm chaser, who has since moved on to become a popular television weather reporter. He has a brand new Dodge Ram pickup truck and is planning to marry reproductive therapist Melissa Reeves. However, his plans are delayed until Jo signs her long overdue divorce papers. Arriving to Jo's camp in order to get her to complete the forms, he finds that she and her team have built four tornado research devices called DOROTHY based on Bill's groundbreaking design. Each unit contains hundreds of sensors that, if picked up by a tornado, will provide data that could lead to revolutionary breakthroughs in meteorological research. Before Jo can finish the paperwork, her team rushes to intercept a nearby forming F1 tornado, forcing Bill and Melissa to chase after her. Bill encounters Dr. Jonas Miller, a corporate-funded meteorologist and long-time rival storm chaser, and learns that he has created a device called DOT-3, a blatant copy of DOROTHY. Bill vows to help Jo deploy DOROTHY before Jonas can deploy DOT-3 and claim credit for the idea.
In an attempt to deploy DOROTHY and get back to his regular life, Bill maneuvers Jo's Jeep Gladiator off-road into a muddy ditch towards the rapidly growing tornado. They collide with a small wooden bridge and find themselves trapped in the direct path of the oncoming tornado. As they take cover, Jo's truck and DOROTHY I are both picked up and destroyed by the tornado.
A second tornado is spotted in another part of Oklahoma, and they continue on in Bill's Dodge with Melissa, who has no choice but to tag along in the backseat. Jonas and his team are also moving to intercept the storm cell, which has at this point grown into an F2 tornado. However, Bill's intuition that the tornado will shift towards another direction sends them off seemingly in the wrong direction. He is quickly vindicated, which sends Jonas into a fit of rage. The team is then led off-road, eventually hanging back as the storm cell worsens, while Bill, Jo, and Melissa have a dangerous encounter with twin waterspout tornadoes on a enclosed road and they're spun round, which leaves Melissa shaken. The rest of the team, however, is ecstatic about the encounter and convince Jo to let them go visit Jo's Aunt Meg in the nearby town of Wakita for food and rest.
The team arrives in Wakita, where Aunt Meg prepares a big meal for the storm chasers. While there, the team discusses Bill’s past as a sometimes heavy drinker with no fear and informs Melissa about Jo's backstory, explaining that Jo has since become obsessed with ensuring nobody else suffers the same fate as her father. Jo, realizing she is falling in love with Bill again, isolates herself from the rest of the group and is confronted by Aunt Meg, who tells her that no matter what happens, they will always end up together. They learn an F3 tornado is quickly forming in a neighboring county, forcing them to hit the road once again.
As the team attempts to intercept the F3, the tornado fails to appear and they begin to drive blindly through thick hail. They make yet another attempt to deploy a DOROTHY unit, but the tornado forms on top of them, damaging the truck and destroying DOROTHY II in the process. Overwhelmed by these recent events and racked with guilt over her father's death, Jo begins to despair. As their emotions run high, Bill tells Jo that he's still in love with her, unaware that Melissa is hearing the conversation over CB radio.
That night, the team stays in a hotel next to a drive-in cinema, which is showing Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining. Jo decides to fill out the remaining divorce papers but is interrupted when an F4 tornado forms nearby, forcing her team as well as townspeople caught in the storm to take shelter. The theater, a repair shop, and much of the team’s equipment is heavily damaged. Finding herself traumatized by the recent near-death experiences and recognizing the re-blossoming love between Bill and Jo, Melissa peacefully ends her relationship with Bill and makes her own way home. The tornado continues on to devastate the town of Wakita, injuring Aunt Meg and flattening her home. While her injuries do not appear serious, she is taken to a nearby hospital and pushes Jo not to give up, reminding her of Wakita having essentially been hit blind by the tornado as they had no warning, the tornado sirens having barely gone off before it struck. The team hears that an F5 is forming close by and in a brief moment of quiet, Jo absently watches Aunt Meg's wind chimes. The image inspires an epiphany in her and she begins to form a plan to improve and deploy the next DOROTHY unit.
As the sun starts to rise, the team sets out to intercept the F5 tornado, which has grown to be over a mile wide. Bill and Jo lay the newly-altered DOROTHY III directly in the F5's path, but it is destroyed by an uprooted tree. Meanwhile, Jonas attempts to deploy DOT-3 in a similar fashion, ignoring Bill's repeated warnings that his team is too close and that the tornado is shifting directly towards them. A metal tower impales Jonas' driver, Eddie, and their vehicle is swept into the tornado and thrown to the ground, killing both men and destroying DOT-3 in the resulting explosion. Bill and Jo press on, realizing that the only way to successfully deploy DOROTHY IV is by driving directly into the tornado and jumping out before Bill's truck is swept away. The plan works and the rest of the team celebrates the successful deployment of DOROTHY IV. However, Bill and Jo's celebration is cut short when the F5 shifts direction towards them. They flee into the nearby cornfields and take shelter in a water pump facility, fastening themselves to deeply rooted pipes. As the tornado passes overhead, they are able to see the interior of the tornado, before the storm dissipates altogether. The rest of the team arrives on scene to celebrate the achievement while Jo and Bill excitedly plan the next phase of research, deciding to run their own lab and rekindle their marriage.
- Helen Hunt as Dr. Joanne "Jo" Harding
- Alexa Vega as Young Jo Thornton
- Bill Paxton as Bill "The Extreme" Harding
- Jami Gertz as Dr. Melissa Reeves
- Cary Elwes as Dr. Jonas Miller
- Philip Seymour Hoffman as "Dusty" Davis
- Alan Ruck as Robert "Rabbit" Nurick
- Sean Whalen as Allan Sanders
- Jeremy Davies as Brian Laurence
- Joey Slotnick as Joey
- Todd Field as Tim "Beltzer" Lewis
- Scott Thomson as Jason "Preacher" Rowe
- Wendle Josepher as Patty Haynes
- Lois Smith as Aunt Meg Greene
- Zach Grenier as Eddie
- Richard Lineback as Mr. Thornton
- Rusty Schwimmer as Mrs. Thornton
- Jake Busey as Mobile Lab Technician
- Abraham Benrubi as Bubba, the Mobile Lab Driver
Twister was produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, with financial backing from Warner Bros. Pictures and Universal Pictures. In return, Warner Bros. was given the North American distribution rights while Universal's joint venture distribution company UIP got the international distribution. The original concept and 10-page tornado-chaser story were presented to Amblin Entertainment in 1992 by screenwriter Jeffrey Hilton. Steven Spielberg then presented the concept to writer Michael Crichton. Crichton and his wife, Anne-Marie Martin, were paid a reported $2.5 million to write the screenplay.
The production was plagued with problems. Joss Whedon was brought in to do rewrites through the early spring of 1995. When he got bronchitis, Steven Zaillian was brought in. Whedon returned and worked on revisions right through the start of shooting in May 1995, then left the project after getting married. Two weeks into production, Jeff Nathanson was flown to the set and worked on the script until principal photography ended.
Filming was to originally take place in California, but De Bont insisted the film be shot on location in Oklahoma. Shooting commenced all over the state; several scenes, including the opening scene where the characters meet each other, as well as the first tornado chase in the Jeep pickup, were filmed in Fairfax, Oklahoma and Ralston, Oklahoma. The scene at the automotive repair shop was filmed in Maysville, Oklahoma and Norman, Oklahoma. The waterspouts were filmed on Kaw Lake near Kaw City, Oklahoma. The drive-in scene was filmed at a real drive-in theater in Guthrie, Oklahoma, though some of the scene, such as Melissa's hotel room, was filmed in Stillwater, Oklahoma near Oklahoma State University's campus. The real town of Wakita, Oklahoma was used during filming, and a section of the older part of town was demolished for the film. Additional scenes and B-roll were filmed near Ponca City and Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, among several other smaller farm towns across the state. However, due to changing seasons that massively transformed the look of Oklahoma's topography, filming was moved to Iowa. The climactic scene with the F5 tornado was almost entirely shot around Eldora, Iowa, with the cornfield the characters run through being located near Ames, Iowa. The "twister hill" scene was shot on 130th Street near the small town of Pilot Mound, Iowa. After primary filming had wrapped, additional pick-up shots and reshoots, which included the opening scene and additional footage of the drive-in tornado, took place in Bolton, Ontario.
Halfway through filming, both Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were temporarily blinded by bright electronic lamps used 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 particularly unsanitary ditch, Hunt and Paxton needed hepatitis shots. During the same sequence, Hunt repeatedly hit her head on a low wooden bridge, so exhausted from the demanding shoot that she forgot not to stand up so quickly. During one stunt in which Hunt opened the door of a vehicle speeding through a cornfield, she momentarily let go of the door and it struck her on the side of the head. Some sources claim she received a concussion in the incident. 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, feeling that De Bont was "out of control", left the filming five weeks into filming. The camera crew led by Don Burgess claimed 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 [everything] 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 schedule at least three scenes every day because the weather changed so often, and "Don had trouble adjusting to that". When De Bont knocked over a camera assistant in a fit of rage who missed a cue, Burgess and his crew walked off the set, much to the shock of the cast. They remained one more week until Jack N. Green's crew agreed to replace them. Two days before the end of filming, 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 injured his back, requiring him to be hospitalized. De Bont took over as his own director of photography for the remaining shots.
Because overcast skies were not always available, De Bont had to shoot many of the film's tornado-chasing scenes in bright sunlight, requiring Industrial Light & Magic to more than double its original plan for 150 "digital sky-replacement" shots. Principal photography was originally given a deadline to allow Hunt to return to appear in another season of Mad About You, but when shooting ran over schedule, series creator and actor Paul Reiser agreed to delay the show's production for two-and-a-half weeks so Twister could finish. De Bont insisted on using multiple cameras, which led to the exposure of 1.3 million feet of film, compared to the usual maximum of 300,000 feet.
De Bont claims that Twister cost close to $70 million, of which $2–3 million went 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 10, to give it two weekends before Mission: Impossible opened.
Twister is known for its successful product placement, featuring a Dodge Ram pickup truck and several other new vehicle models.
Prints of Twister came with a note from De Bont, suggesting that exhibitors play the film at a higher volume than normal for full effect.
Twister featured both a traditional orchestral film score by Mark Mancina and several rock music songs, including an instrumental theme song composed and performed for the film by Van Halen. The film's music was released on compact disc.
Twister: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack
- Van Halen – "Humans Being"
- Rusted Root – "Virtual Reality"
- Tori Amos – "Talula" (BT's Tornado Mix)
- Alison Krauss – "Moments Like This"
- Mark Knopfler – "Darling Pretty"
- Soul Asylum – "Miss This"
- Belly – "Broken"
- k.d. lang – "Love Affair"
- Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories – "How"
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – "Melancholy Mechanics"
- Goo Goo Dolls – "Long Way Down" (Remix)
- Shania Twain – "No One Needs to Know"
- Stevie Nicks & Lindsey Buckingham – "Twisted"
- Edward & Alex Van Halen – "Respect the Wind"
The song queued up on a TV in Dusty's van is Eric Clapton's "Motherless Child".
Twister: Motion Picture Score
- Oklahoma: Wheatfield
- Oklahoma: Where's My Truck?
- Oklahoma: Futility
- Oklahoma: Downdraft
- It's Coming: Drive In
- It's Coming: The Big Suck
- The Hunt: Going Green (feat. Trevor Rabin on guitar)
- The Hunt: Sculptures
- The Hunt: Cow
- The Hunt: Ditch
- The Damage: Wakita
- Hailstorm Hill: Bob's Road
- Hailstorm Hill: We're Almost There
- F5: Dorothy IV
- F5: Mobile Home
- F5: God's Finger
- Other: William Tell Overture/Oklahoma Medley
- Other: End Title/Respect the Wind - written by Edward and Alex Van Halen
There are some orchestrated tracks that were in the movie but were not released on the orchestral score, most notably the orchestrated intro to "Humans Being" from when Jo's team left Wakita to chase the Hailstorm Hill tornado. Other, lesser-known tracks omitted include an extended version of "Going Green" (when we first meet Jonas) and a short track from when the first tornado is initially spotted.
Twister: Expanded Archival Collection
In January 2017, La-La Land Records released a limited edition remastered and expanded album containing Mark Mancina's entire score plus four additional tracks.
- Wheatfield (Film Version)
- The Hunt Begins
- The Sky
- Dorothy IV (Film Version)
- The First Twister
- In the Ditch / Where's My Truck?
- Walk in the Woods
- Bob's Road
- Hail No!
- Futility (Film Version)
- Drive-in Twister
- Wakita (Film Version)
- Sculptures (Film Version)
- House Visit
- The Big Suck (Film Version)
- End Title
- Wheatfield (Alternate)
- Waterspouts (Alternate)
- The Big Suck (Alternate)
- End Title / Respect the Wind
The film holds a 57% score at Rotten Tomatoes based on 54 reviews and an average rating of 6/10. The critical consensus states "A high-concept blockbuster that emphasizes special effects over three-dimensional characters, Twister's visceral thrills are often offset by the film's generic plot." As of May 2019[update], it held a score of 68 at Metacritic based on 17 reviews, 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".
The film opened on May 10, 1996, and earned $41 million from 2,414 total theaters, making it the number-one movie at the North American box office. It went on to earn a total of $241.7 million at the North American box office. It earned a worldwide total of $494.5. It sits at number 76 on the all-time North American box office charts. Worldwide, it sits at number 105 on the all-time earners list, not adjusted for inflation. It was the second-highest-grossing film of 1996 after Independence Day and became Warner Bros.' most successful film at that time.
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Twister was released on home video on December 20, 1996 in Japan and March 24, 1997 in the United States, and is considered to be the first home release of a movie to use the now widely used DVD optical media technology. Subsequent special editions on DVD and Blu-ray followed.
On May 24, 1996, a tornado destroyed Screen No. 3 at the Can-View Drive-In, a drive-in theater in Thorold, Ontario, which was scheduled to show Twister later that evening, in a real-life parallel to a scene in the film in which a tornado destroys a drive-in during a showing of the film The Shining. The facts of this incident were exaggerated into an urban legend that the theater was actually playing Twister during the tornado.
On May 10, 2010, a tornado struck Fairfax, Oklahoma, destroying the farmhouse where numerous scenes in Twister were shot. J. Berry Harrison, the owner of the home and a former Oklahoma state senator, commented that the tornado appeared eerily similar to the fictitious one in the film. He had lived in the home since 1978.
Bill Paxton would later narrate storm chaser Sean Casey's 2011 documentary Tornado Alley. After the death of Paxton in February 2017, hundreds of storm chasers and users of the Spotter Network used their markers to spell out his initials across the states of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma in tribute to the late actor.
A Twister museum located in Wakita, where much of the particularly destructive scenes of the movie were shot, contains various memorabilia and artifacts related to the film.
In other media
Theme park attraction
The film was used as the basis for the attraction Twister...Ride It Out at Universal Studios Florida, which features filmed introductions by Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt. The attraction opened on May 4, 1998 and closed on November 2, 2015 to make way for Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.
The original screenplay, written by Crichton and then wife Anne Marie Martin, was released as a mass-market paperback in conjunction with the film.
The story of Bill's drunken encounter with a tornado is referenced in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dragonborn downloadable content when asking the bartender of the Retching Netch in Raven Rock, Geldis Sadri, about how the inn got its name. He explains about a Dark Elf (Dunmer) that was one of his regular customers and very drunk offering his drink to a netch, before tossing the bottle at the netch. The netch apparently caught and swallowed some of the alcohol as the bottle never hit the ground, but this caused the netch to become intoxicated itself, and this resulted in it throwing up due to the drink making it very sick.
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