Photo: Partial of the movie poster

Jan de Bont’s ‘Twister’ Wreaks Havoc for 25 Years

In the 25 years since Jan de Bont released Twister, it has not stopped tearing through my life. This is my devastating love story.

Jan de Bont
Warner Bros. | Universal Pictures | United International Pictures
10 May 1996 (US)

Collectible Debris

I don’t mean to list the various Twister accouterments swirling around my apartment. It’s just that I want to set the scene. I’m not just a guy on the internet telling you I love the 1996 cinema masterpiece Twister, although, I am. Something could be said about the material component of obsession and memory, though.

A couple of things: As a going-away present, the AV students gave me an old VCR, the joke being it, and I, are both old. Haha. The joke’s on them: I hadn’t been able to rescue my VCR from my parents’ house before they sold it, but I least could still watch the old VHS release of Twister. It features an original Looney Toons short of Bugs Bunny outrunning Taz the Tasmanian devil as he spins like a fierce little tornado, which leads into the feature film on the tape.

All these Twister objects do not represent my love of Twister, rather, they augment it. But unlike the thinning reels of footage inside the VHS tape (don’t worry, I have a spare), my memories of the vilm, my love of it on each successive viewing, will not fade. I’ll probably throw away those German press photos of Helen Hunt and Jami Gertz next time I move, but I can’t as easily separate myself from those weird afternoons when my brother and I – of all the scenes in the film – would reenact the brunch at Aunt Meg’s house, making up our own storm chasing tales trying to imitate the braggadocios Paxton, or self-mythologize our own “Extremes”.

There’s a joke that people in the American Midwest, dads specifically, will take in some insidious weather report from the television and immediately step out onto their front porch to make their own assessment. Not yet a father, nor an owner of a porch, I can only speak out of the shadow of the great men in my life on this phenomenon: it isn’t an arrogance that they might somehow confirm something a professional meteorologist has been unable to, nor is it a sense of curiosity, and definitely not wonder.

When I imagine the thankful few tornado warnings of my youth, while my mom was gathering the dog, my brother, me, a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, and some photo albums, into the basement stairway, I like to think my dad was taking noble watch, a frontline duty to stand between the possibility of nature’s destructive force and his family and our house. I remember the few times I’d been allowed to join him in this watch, driven by my own sense of curiosity and adventure, not being able to read anything: fear, excitement, nothing. He read the greening sky and wind-swept branches of our great front yard trees as if he were reading the newspaper.

This is, in part to say, I have been blessed to have never experienced a tornado, which is a crucial detail for understanding my most obtuse pop culture obsession. For goodness sakes, at my seventh birthday party, one year after Twister’s release, I had a tornado-themed cake. I did not have tornado themed gifts, although, my Uncle Bob did give me a glow-in-the-dark pocket watch and when a severe thunderstorm interrupted the festivities and briefly knocked out the power, instead of being terrified, I was gleefully reporting the time to my parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.

Twenty-five years have passed since the release of Jan de Bont’s second film (and 24 since that birthday party) and while I have switched to a wristwatch, I have not stopped loving Twister. It seems obvious to me that no small part of my love of the film is deeply connected to the memories of watching it as a child, but that isn’t the whole thing, it can’t be. The film i a rock-solid relic of a bygone era in Hollywood blockbusters. I can (and have) talk for hours about 1996 cinema masterpiece Twister’s merits as they specifically relate to my experience as one of the film’s biggest fans, but I also want to talk about the film as a film. It is my favorite film, but it is also–in my tornado-struck heart–the best film ever made.

Twister is most often cast as an action film, or most accurately as a disaster film, but really, the film is an unprecedented mash-up of multiple genres, which I will break down now:

  • The Horror Film, or, “The Dark Side of Nature”Twister is like any classic monster film: the beast is faceless, it appears at will to kill your family and destroy your house, it is mean, vengeful, and seemingly unstoppable. It lurks in the dark, under the cover of clouds, in broad daylight, it spews fire and chews automobiles. It throws shards of glass and daggers and trucks at you. It is dispassionate to your suffering. It roars like an animal, which makes sense, because the cries of camels are part of the complex sound design that bring these beasts to life.
  • The Romantic Comedy, or, “The Suck Zone” – How many disaster pictures include a bulletproof lovers’ triangle? Jami Gertz’s Dr. Melissa Reeves and Helen Hunt’s Dr. Jo Harding duel for the affections of Bill Paxton’s Bill Harding, torn between the wild passionate love of his youth, and the sleek sexiness of his newfound comfort.
  • The Buddy Cop/Adventure Film, or, “Goin’ Green” – Both Bill Paxton and Phillip Seymour Hoffman have since passed away, but in their performance as two tired and true friends in the pursuit for adventure, Twister reveals itself to fit in the same canon as Richard Donner‘s Lethal Weapon (1987) or Michael Bay‘s Bad Boys (1995), but instead of busting criminals, these two–a maverick and a goofball– re trying to lasso tornadoes. In the pursuit of science, and whatnot.
  • A Family Comedy, or, “Losers, Move On” – Every single line in this film that doesn’t feature made-up meteorology terms is absolutely hilarious: there’s crude humor in the form of a description of a drunken Bill Harding throwing a bottle of whisky at a tornado; there’s ‘adult’ humor in Dusty’s coining of “the suck zone”; there’s light banter as Aunt Meg teases the crop of farm animals the crew is eating at her table: “Meg,” Dusty hollers, “slaughter your own cows, nice.”  In the midst of a tornado bearing down on them Bill manages a sarcastic joke about his and Jo’s marriage: “Why can’t we spend a normal day together?” But more than that, the film is edited as a comedy. Not once, but twice, does a character assure you something is not going to happen only for a smash cut to reveal that exact thing happens: “No, we are not going to invade my Aunt,” Jo assures, as a crisp wipe between scenes takes us to Aunt Meg’s house; “That’s a nice truck, you got insurance on that truck?” Jo asks Bill. Bill: “Liability only” – long pause – “no way.” Cut to Bill, Jo, and Melissa in Bill’s truck. Hilarious.