Twister is a 1996 disaster film from a screenplay written by Michael Crichton.
10 out of 10 stars. No other film has captured the awe, the fear, and the destructive power of tornadoes so well. Michael Crichton wrote the screenplay and captured what few writers could ever express in words.
If you are one of those lucky people who have never been in a tornado or never seen one up close, then know that this is very real. There is a 200 mile vertical swath of land going through the United States that is called Tornado Alley. The towns in this area have an average of 200 tornadoes a year. On any one evening in the hot, humid summer, as many as twenty tornadoes can rip through town leaving destruction in their wake. Corn stalks will be found embedded in trees counties away. Cattle will be found dead counties away. Houses will be sucked up into the vortex and never be seen again except as unrecognizable debris. And believe it or not, people and animals have been lifted by tornadoes and dropped without injury although it’s incredibly rare.
A type of tornado rarely discussed by films or even meteorologists is called a white tornado. This is usually a narrower tornado that drops from the sky and bounces along without touching the ground long enough to bring up debris (which turns them gray). White tornadoes are almost soundless. Because they blend so well into the sky and make no noise, they are the most terrifying because you don’t see them or hear them coming. A white tornado is in this film and it splits into two, sisters, as the protagonists are chasing the storm.
Non-white tornadoes are usually gray to black in appearance and get wider the longer they are on the ground. They pick up everything in their path and destroy it. These tornadoes sound like freight trains, but right before they hit, it will go eerily silent. Then the freight train comes through. If the eye passes over you, it will return to silence. Then the freight train comes again as the other half of the tornado passes over. Most tornadoes follow the paths of rivers. In Tornado Alley there are rivers everywhere, tributaries of the Mississippi River, the largest river in the United States. Tornadoes often accompany thunderstorms which means torrential rain and strong winds. They’ve also been known to accompany flash floods making them particularly deadly.
The first time a person sees a tornado they are usually in awe. That is, they stand there and gawk when they should be ducking for cover. It is best to seek shelter underground. If you can’t, then go to the lowest room in your home to the north side and against the wall. Try to put a blanket or something over you so any broken glass won’t injure you. You can hide under a table, but if the windows blow and the house is sucked up, the table will be sucked up too and you along with it. In North America, the strongest winds come from the north and by crouching against the lowest point on the northernmost wall, you’re averting the winds that will take you up into the tornado. If your basement floods, stick to the first floor. Do not stand in water while trying to avert a tornado during a thunderstorm. You’re more likely to be electrocuted. If you are on the road driving, leave your car and find the largest tree you can. Hold onto that tree. Better yet, anchor yourself to it with a belt or rope. If you can find a concrete culvert, that would be even better, a lifesaver. Culverts are one of the few structures to survive tornadoes intact. (Google what one looks like.) If you have children, strap them to something safe. Holding them in your arms won’t be enough. Trust me. Imagine your kid in your arms in a car crash going 100 mph. You will not be able to hold on.
A tornado watch is when the conditions are right for a tornado. For most people in Tornado Alley that’s all summer. A tornado warning means one has been spotted on the ground near you. “Near” can be as much as 200 miles away which for some states is on the other side of the state. So tornado watches and tornado warnings are not particularly helpful. That’s what this film is about–getting enough data from an actual tornado to create an early warning system to save lives. And if you know anything about Michael Crichton’s writing, he always does meticulous research.
So here’s the plot.
The film begins in 1969 when Jo, the heroine of the film, is a young girl. A tornado comes and her parents take her outside to the root cellar where they hide from the tornado. The door flies open so her dad holds it down while the tornado passes over. Bad idea. The door flies away into the tornado, taking her dad with it.
Thirty years later, Jo is a meteorologist who chases tornadoes. She has an excellent team of scientists (mostly grad students) who help her. She and her soon-to-be ex-husband Bill designed a device called Dorothy, a large container that holds hundreds of little flying orbs that will measure wind speed and other metrics from the tornado as it is released into the tornado’s path. After several years, and one marriage, they finally have it completed. They have three prototypes ready to launch.
Sometime in the past few years, Bill left Jo and became a TV weatherman. Now he wants to remarry and comes to see Jo to get her to sign the divorce papers. But he comes on the biggest tornado day of the year. When he sees Dorothy he’s hooked. He drags along his girlfriend, a reproductive therapist, as they chase tornadoes all day. She’s traumatized, realizes he’s still in love with Jo, and leaves him. But Bill, Jo, and their team finally deploy Dorothy.
10 out of 10 stars. Amazing cinematography and CGI. The love interest story was okay, but the tornadoes and the grad students really stole the show. So did Aunt Meg and her beautiful garden sculptures that put even the best wind chime to shame.