Twister: Two-Disc Special Edition
Directed By: Jan de Bont
Starring: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Twister was included in the first group of titles released by Warner Bros. on DVD way back in 1997. Three years later, It was upgraded to a dual layered disc including a rare for Warner DTS surround track with some beefed up extras. For this "triple dip", release, Warner ups the film to a 2-disc special edition adding more extras and a remastered presentation.
Twister follows a couple of days in the life of estranged storm chasers Bill (Paxton) and Jo (Hunt) Harding. As the film opens, tornado-savant Bill has tracked down Jo and her team in the field in order to get her to sign the papers that will finalize their divorce, allowing Bill to settle into a quiet life as a television meteorologist with his therapist girlfriend, Melissa (Gertz). A "perfect storm" of … well … storms develops, and Bill finds the pull of his past life irresistible. While they race against a well funded team of jerks led by Jonas Miller (Elwes) to be the first to launch an array of sensors into one of the several tornadoes that develop in the region, Bill and Jo work out their relationship issues while Jo confronts emotional baggage stemming from her storm-ravaged childhood.
As much as any summer in the wake of Jurassic Park's proof of concept of the possibilities of CGI effects and multi-channel digital sound in 1993, I remember 1996 as the summer of big dumb spectacle. My wife was pregnant with our first child (due in July), she was on restricted activity, and our house had no air conditioning. As a result, we saw just about every widely released movie that came out that season. Leading the charge was Jan de Bont's Twister. While it would be surpassed in "bigness" and at least equaled in "dumbness" by Independence Day, Twister was certainly an appropriate harbinger of things to come when it unofficially kicked off the summer movie season in May.
The screenplay is a shameless amalgamation of elements so familiar that they transcend "formula" and rise to the level of "cliché". The talented cast, featuring early cinematic turns from future Oscar winners and nominees Helen Hunt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Todd Field, are saddled with pedestrian dialog and a lot of yelling over strong winds. Faring worst of all is Cary Elwes as the alleged antagonist in the film. His character's essential cartoonishness is underlined by a ridiculously exaggerated accent that de Bont never should have let him employ. As far as compelling villains go, he is outperformed by the special effect tornadoes.
To be fair, witty repartee is not what this film is about. Flying cows, on the other hand, are exactly what this film is about. If the viewer can manage to look past the pedestrian plot and dialog, the storm sequences are impressively realized through a combination of both practical and digital effects which still hold up surprisingly well compared to films being produced today. While hecklers will no doubt catalog the numerous violations of the laws of physics inherent to the storm action set-pieces, there is no denying the fair amount of visceral excitement on hand for viewers willing to go with the flow.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.4:1 transfer is marred only by some vertical edge ringing that is low intensity but noticeable on very large displays. This was predominantly an issue during early parts of the film, and is a substantial improvement over the heavier edge ringing that was noticeable in both previous releases of the film. Otherwise, this is a very nice SD transfer with solid colors and contrast and few compression issues despite a lot of small detailed object motion during the action sequences.
While Warner did not carry over the DTS track from the previous release, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that they do provide is outstanding. The dynamic mix exploits the 5.1 channels thoroughly with excellent fidelity. For those who prefer the sound of people yelling over wind noise in French, a dubbed 5.1 track is also available.
All extras are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound with video format as indicated below.
The first disc includes a screen specific audio commentary from Director Jan de Bont and Visual Effects Supervisor Stefen Fangmeier. This is a carry over from the previous edition, a fact given away when de Bont mentions how happy he is that the film is being released with a DTS soundtrack on DVD (not included in this edition). While there is some discussion of the cast early during the course of the commentary, the majority of their comments are technical in nature, which was fine by me since the technical aspects of the film are easily the most interesting.
Also included on the first disc are two theatrical trailers including one running 2:03 that reproduces a good deal of the film's prologue and a more traditional trailer running 2:06 with lots of clips from the film's storm set-pieces. Both are presented at an aspect ratio filling the entire 16:9 enhanced frame.
The second disc includes a number of featurettes as detailed below:
Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited (4:3 letterboxed - 28:56) is a newly produced documentary directed by Laurent Bouzereau. Like the commentary, it features some information about the cast, but concentrates primarily on technical issues, with some genuinely interesting discussion about how many of the visual and physical effects were accomplished. On-camera interview participants include Director Jan de Bont, Visual Effects Supervisor Stefen Fangmeyer, Bill Paxton, Special Effects Supervisor John Frazier, and Stunt Coordinator Mic Rogers
HBO First Look: The Making of Twister (4:3 - 13:51) is a slightly less promotional than usual entry in the HBO "making of" series carried over from the second release of the film on DVD. It features behind the scenes footage, film clips, and on-set interview comments from Paxton, Helen Hunt, and de Bont.
Anatomy of a Twister (4:3 letterboxed - 8:31) is a brief electronic press kit style featurette carried over from both previous DVD releases of the film with on-set interview comments from Paxton, de Bont, Cary Elwes, Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Jami Gertz, and Fangmeier.
History Channel Documentary - Nature Tech: Tornadoes (4:3 - 45:15) is a very interesting episode of the series which looks at real life storm chasers and the technology they employ to study and predict tornadoes.
Van Halen "Humans Being" Music Video - If you are looking for the absolute nadir of Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen, look no further than this terrible song. The video mixes performance footage with clips from the film in a not too imaginative manner. This video was carried over from the second DVD release of the film.
Finally, a promotional trailer for the Flat Out Ultimate Carnage video game is included (4:3 letterboxed - 1:45).
The film is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with a hinged tray allowing the accommodation of two discs. The cover image is an adaptation of the familiar promotional image of the two leads running from a tornado that is destroying a house. It has been altered so that the image of the actors in the foreground is bigger relative to the background. Additionally, a blue tint is added to make it distinctive from previous DVD covers which had predominantly brown hues.
Warner's third release of one of their original DVD titles carries forward all of the essential extras of previous editions and adds a new but far from comprehensive retrospective featurette and an interesting television documentary on real life storm chasers. While it does not carry over the DTS track from the second release of the film on DVD, it does improve significantly on the image quality of both previous versions.