TwisterTwister on Blu-ray

If you open a dictionary, looking for the definition of "summer popcorn movie", chances are you'll find Twister there right next to Independence Day.

They're the same kind of movie, special effects extravaganzas that dispense with such trivialities as a logical screenplay and believable characterizations in favor of eye candy and a good surround soundtrack. And sometimes that can be enough. But here it isn't.

Twister is purported to be from the imagination of Michael Crichton, which is hard to believe. Oh, he's had a couple of stinkers in his illustrious writing/producing/directing career (Jurassic Park II comes to mind), but you can be assured generally that projects bearing his name will be well thought out.

Such is not the case here. We have no idea about the scientific accuracy of the tornado stuff, other than what's on display in the supplements, but the script is so silly it got in the way of our enjoyment of the special effects - and, it being a popcorn movie, we were there for the effects!

Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton star as storm chasers and former spouses thrust back together in the heat of twister season. Jo Harding's (Hunt) emotional baggage stems from a childhood experience in which a tornado swept her father away. This makes tornadoes her Moby Dick.

Paxton's Bill Harding is formerly a brilliant storm chaser but now a TV weatherman engaged to a shrink (Jami Gertz) who's also a shrinking violet. He shows up at Jo's (Hunt) location to pick up their divorce documents just, fortunately for those of us who interested in special effects, at the wrong time.

Jo's plan is to put a device that'll release a bunch of little sensors into a tornado, have the twister take them up into itself and from there they hope to learn how to predict where a tornado will go.  It's an ambitious and interesting plan, but Jo and her crew aren't the only ones pushing such a concept: Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes), whose main crime seems to be accepting corporate sponsorship, though he also lacks the empathy to understand a tornado properly, has a similar idea Bill thinks was stolen from his original concept. Alas, Jonas is also media savvy and therefore he gets the attention.

Fortunately, we get plenty of action scenes and for the most part they're very well done. If real life tornadoes are anything like these Hollywood ones, they're frightening and destructive indeed.

The CG work is terrific, with good detail including hundreds of little bits of debris sent a-whirling by the storms, though the high resolution of the Blu-ray disc also tends to reveal a couple of seams. Still, overall it's very well done.

The Blu-ray isn't as well done, despite its high resolution. The 1080p picture, with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, is indeed clean, sharp and very colorful, but it also tends to look rather flat, displaying little of the depth we've come to know and love from many excellent Blu-ray titles. We'd been hoping the twisters would practically leap out of the screen at us (we'd thought about bringing out a big fan to enhance our enjoyment), but it was not to be.

The audio is about the same. Warners includes a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, which is very welcome considering some of their less happy-making soundtrack choices, and the use of all five main channels is excellent, with beautiful separation and localization. Details come through nicely, and the low frequency effects channel is, not surprisingly, used a lot. But again, the audio just didn't leap out of our speakers the way we had anticipated - and had hoped it would.

The picture and sound quality aren't fatal flaws by any means (that honor still goes to the screenplay), but they combine to make this a Blu-ray disc you probably won't use as a reference.

There's a good selection of extras on the disc as well. First up is a commentary track with director Jan de Bont and visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier. It's interesting but a tad dry.  "Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited" is a new retrospective featuring interviews with Paxton and de Bont that shows clearly how much fun they had working on the film.

"The Making of Twister" is an HBO feature that's pretty superficial and includes more clips than are necessary, since you've probably already seen the movie anyway by the time you watch this. And  "Anatomy of a Twister" is little more than a long trailer.

Better is "Nature Tech: Tornadoes", a History Channel documentary that looks at real life twisters, the havoc they can and do wreak and how science is trying to understand them.

There's also a Van Halen music video that made us want to see Shania Twain's Twister-based video again. You also get theatrical trailers.

And nowhere do they discuss the game of Twister! How can that be?

Twister, from Warner Home Entertainment
113 min. 1080p (2.40:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Ian Bryce and Michael Crichton
Written by Michael Crichton & Anne-Marie Martin, directed by Jan de Bont

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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