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Twister

Year: 1996
Production Co: Amblin Entertainment
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Jan de Bont
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy/Michael Crichton
Writer: Michael Crichton
Cast: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck, Cary Elwes, Jeremy Davies
At the height of the new effects boom came one of the most anticipated action films of recent times. It was the days when computers were starting to do anything and everything, from sending dinosaurs crashing across the screen to blowing cities away with alien death rays.

Many of those early digital blockbusters made a simple mistake – they hung a hackneyed plot with pat action characters and hammy dialogue on the money shot of the bomb falling, the explosion wiping out the city, the asteroid hitting or in this case, the prickles-at-the-back-of-the-neck sight of a tornado touching down.

And Twister is the best example of the worst. Take away the tornado effects and action sequences, and you've got one of the corniest films ever. The 'relationships' between the 'characters' are straight from the studio production notes playbook, but the human flaws are only the beginning.

Many of the less obvious drawbacks only strike you on subsequent viewings, and that's ironically Twister's biggest strength – the anticipation of seeing what you've paid for overcomes almost everything that's wrong.

But wrong is it. First, filming a movie about approaching thunderstorms would be a continuity nightmare – making sure the sky becomes darker, the clouds lower, etc. in subsequent shots. Maybe it was so impossible a task they abandoned most of it, but is that forgivable? The result is a shot of a sky thick with black storm clouds, then a shot of the principal characters bathed in sunshine, and that's just the beginning.

Just watch the final chase not only for continuity but meteorological errors. The hero and heroine are chasing a tornado with a mile-wide base. The conditions that would give rise to such a monster would render it almost completely invisible through rain, hail, wind and cloud, yet there they are just a few hundred yards away from it dappled with sunlight.

You can still find messages on chat forums the world over pleading for reason in the face of the then-burgeoning movement of cowboy tornado chasers, a collective sigh from the frustration that the truth would be steamrolled by Warner Brother's marketing.

There's a throwaway comment that it's the result of a decades-long weather system that culminates in a series of killer storms, but these guys have a knack for being in the right place with startling degree of accuracy. Not only do they see half a dozen or so tornadoes over the course of just a few days – when most seasoned chasers are lucky to see a handful in a whole season – they're like killer sharks, seeking them out across fields and water alike.

How they manage to regularly end up in the middle of these human-seeking tornadoes and survive is incredible enough, but in every case, the twister in question just happens to descend like an axe-wielding maniac from the dark, stops to hover inexplicably wherever the heroes are huddled, and dissipates dramatically right on top of them.

And that's just the major stuff. It doesn't even scratch the surface of stuff like a tornado that can pick up a semi trailer full of fuel and not a pickup truck with two people in it just metres away, the flurry of hairstyles that go from wet to dry and windscreens that go to smashed to unblemished, car windows that alternate between open and shut and jackets that go between on and off.

Maybe I was a lot less jaded about cookie-cutter movie conventions in 1996, but you just can't see it first time around without your heart quickening in anticipation of seeing what people risk their lives to capture on film.

Bill (Paxton) and Jo (Hunt) are on the verge of divorce. Why they split up is never explained but hinted at because of her obsession at conquering the phenomenon of the tornado after losing her farmer dad to one in the laughable opening sequence.

But they used to run in a ragtag band of tornado chasers. They did it for the rush, but that's bad, kids – it should be for the science, got that? When Bill's drawn back into the old gang after tracking Jo down to sign their divorce papers, their plan is to put a device in the path of a tornado that will release thousands of sensors which will transmit the behaviour of the winds and make prediction easier. What director de Bont and the screenwriters (including Serenity's Joss Whedon in an early draft) want to say but feel guilty about is that they're all there for the same reason we are; thrills and spills.

If the attention to detail in the digital effects was put in another movie with a scientific basis, good characters, much better continuity and far more realistic science, it could have been fantastic.

De Bont (with the backing of Spielberg through Amblin Entertainment) wanted an old-style movie where everything could be wrong but it was just about the extravaganza, but even in 1996 audiences didn't buy that sort of fakery any more, and it was the first nail in a career we last saw directing the slightly-less-than-dire sequel to the dire Tomb Raider.

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