Crichton's Twister a predictable, contrived disaster
Directed by Jan De Bont
Starring Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary ElwesBy A. Arif Husain
Going into Twister's preview featuring a local weatherman as a guest host didn't do wonders for my expectations. I couldn't imagine what director Jan De Bont, acclaimed for his directorial-debut on Speed, could do to squeeze out a full-length feature on tornadoes. But with Michael Crichton as screenwriter, Industrial Light and Magic on effects, and Steven Spielberg lurking in the background, I was willing to be surprised. Unfortunately, as on every other aspect of the hollow and contrived film, my predictions on the whole were validated.
Twister stars Helen Hunt as weather scientist Dr. Jo Harding and Bill Paxton as her estranged husband meteorologist Bill Harding. Hunt's character leads a motley band of pseudo-scientist storm chasers who are energized by the rush to test out a new revolutionary device they invented to study tornadoes from the inside. Tension mounts when former member Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes), who is now loathed by the group due to his apparent selling out to big-money corporate sponsors, appears with an identical device for which he takes credit. The leading couple, on the brink of divorce, are inadvertently thrown together over the chase to top Miller's high-profile team of science goons.
In a sentence, the film relies on more formulas than a physics textbook. I don't claim any psychic powers, but I was nonetheless able to make a fairly accurate outline of the story as it played out after watching just the first ten minutes. Perhaps I've just watched too much television, but there was hardly a single unique plot element throughout. Jo Harding (Hunt) is driven by a childhood trauma, and hopes to someday conquer the force that killed her father. Bill Harding wants to get out of the storm-chasing business, even though his instincts are renowned and unmatched by anyone in the field.
A mixed bunch of crazed hippies compose Harding's group, which is out of grant money, but deeply committed to science. The bad guys are therefore with Miller, whose clean-cut sleek fleet of scientists revel in their corporate-sponsored high-tech gadgetry. Take away the shameless Silicon Graphics plugs and the situations could be straight from Leave it to Beaver or Aesop's fables.
To make things worse, the film suffered from sappy melodrama and contrived conflict. Most of the central areas of intended suspense and tension were so obvious in the means of their resolution, that they became ineffectual and cumbersome. Every death-defying near escape in an action sequence seemed so predictable that the potential for thrills was massively reduced.
On the drama side, Hunt and Paxton seem puppeted in many instances, with Hunt even performing a brief G-rated shower scene, whose relevance I have yet to understand. The subplot of the torn marriage could not have been more fake, with the light-hearted abuse of Bill Harding's out-of-place therapist girlfriend seeming almost uncaring at times. The most prominent example of pure gut-wrenching sap is an early scene in which Bill Harding taps into his tornado instincts by gazing thoughtfully into the storm as he sprinkles sand into the air. His primal prowess, of course, leads the team to top Miller's purely textbook know-how.
With a script written by Crichton straight for the screen, I expected more from the man responsible for the exciting meat of Jurassic Park and ER. My advice to Mike: Stick to dinosaurs.
Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the film lies in its visual appeal. In usual form, the wizards from ILM, whose credits include Jurassic Park and Terminator 2, put on a stunning display of computer animation and spliced real footage. The scenes of destruction were nearly too beautiful in their cinematography and embodiment. The highlight for me was a semi-humorous inclusion of wind-carried cattle which verified that technical excellence doesn't have to rule out some fun creativity. Complementing the effects, the on-location setting in Oklahoma and Iowa brought natural beauty as a pleasant contrast to the destructive force the film portrayed.
Overall, Twister was a disappointment as I had pessimistically expected. But I wouldn't deem it a complete waste. If for no other reason, the film offers some great eye candy and is sure to please the retinas. But if it's pretty pictures you're interested in, I'd recommend the Museum of Fine Arts. Unlike the local movie theater, admission there is free for students.