Twister (1996) 
Blu-ray Action-Adventure
Written by Noah Fleming   
Friday, 24 July 2009

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In 1996 I was mesmerized as a teenager went I went to theaters and saw "Twister."  The film brought back the disaster genre.  After "Twister," disaster films such as "Armageddon," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Dante's Peak."  And just one month after "Twister" came alien disaster film, "Independence Day."  While "Twister" is not perfect be any means, there is just something about it that draws you in, making you want to watch it many times over.  While many will not agree with me, I stand by my opinion.

"Twister" stars Helen Hunt as Jo Harding, a storm chaser.  Her almost ex-husband, Bill (Bill Paxton) left the storm chasing group to pursue a weatherman career.  However, it is obvious that he still longs to be in the field.  As the film opens we see a young girl, destined to become the adult Jo Harding, running to a storm cellar with her parents.  An F5 tornado is about to strike their house.  Due to her father's stupidity, Jo loses him to the F5 tornado.  Here is the first sign that the film is going to be haunted by poor decisions and meaningless dialogue.  Her father sees the storm cellar door rattling so he goes to hang onto the door.  Well, as you can guess he and door are ripped away by the tornado.  However, Jo and her mom are able to stay safely in the back of the cellar.  There was absolutely no need for her father to go hold onto the door other than to create the agony in Jo which drives her devotion to storm chasing.

In the future, Jo and her team prepare for one of the biggest tornado days in history.  She brings Bill into the field in order to get the divorce papers that he so desperately wants.  Tagging along with Bill is his new fiancée, Melissa (Jami Gertz).  She is completely out of place, the opposite of everyone in the storm chasing group.  When Jo and her team take off on the first tornado of the day, Bill realizes she didn't sign the last page of the divorce papers and takes off after them.  This keeps Bill interested for the rest of the day.  Also peaking his interest is the fact that Jo has brought their concept idea to fruition, Dorothy.  Dorothy is an instrument pack for studying tornadoes.  Inside the device are hundreds of sensors that get sucked up by the tornado and relay information back to the teams' recording devices.

Complicating matters further is Jo and Bill's ex-partner, Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes).  He stole the idea for Dorothy and received major corporation grants.  In other words, he has sold out in the name of money and not science.  We all know that he will receive his just desserts in the end.  Bill gives Jo one day to get Dorothy flying.  There are four Dorothys and obviously it will come down to the last one.  Each time a Dorothy fails the team learns about a new problem.

Meanwhile, Melissa begins to realize that Jo still loves Bill and vice-versa.  The film comes down to a final showdown between Bill and Jo and an F5 tornado.  Yes, it is silly, but the movie works as a whole.  The biggest issues are how Bill and Jo outrun a tornado and how they never get hit with debris when around and inside the tornado.  Nevertheless, "Twister" has some good action and some good sentimental moments.

"Twister" was one of the last Warner titles to be released on the HD DVD format.  Warner Bros. has carried over the same transfer to the Blu-ray disc.  It is framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio and a VC-1 encode.  The transfer is not the best presentation by any means, but it is certainly a massive upgrade form the standard DVD.  Some of the issues that people point out are merely aspects of the intentions of the filmmakers.  The flat image is due more to the stylistic choice than the black levels.  In order to maintain the illusion that you are there with the storm chasing team, the lighting was intentionally flat as anyone who has been in the Midwest during these storms knows that shadows seemingly disappear leaving hardly any dimensionality.  Colors are a strength of the Blu-ray presentation.  Despite stormy skies colors remain natural and solid.  The black levels also are stable but don't reach the ultimate depth of blackness.  The contrast level and brightness is nicely balanced.  Film grain seems to be mostly wiped clean from the image, which is also a contributing factor to the overall softness of the image.  Details are not as strong as the Blu-ray format is capable, but they are certainly acceptable.  The most distracting issue with the image is the CGI effects, including blue/green screen.  They don't really hold up well over time.  Those sequences are where the contrast levels suffer.  This film still looks good on Blu-ray.

Pleasantly, Warner Bros. has included a Dolby TrueHD audio track.  The standard Dolby Digital track is also included.  The audio is quite excellent.  Even on the standard DVD the soundfield is well utilized.  However, despite the lossless audio track, the audio still suffers from audio compression.  The dynamics are not as explosive as they should be.  The LFE channel comes out strong during a couple of the tornado attack sequences, but is unbalanced throughout the film.  The dialogue is a bit weak.  It sounds a bit muffled at times, and the sound designers seemed to have gone too far in burying the dialogue among the disaster striking around the characters.  It is understandable that the dialogue should be amidst the chaos, but the audience still needs to hear what they are saying.  Sometimes this becomes difficult.  Thunder is well placed in the surround channels.  Even during dialogue sequences, thunder cracks can be heard spreading across the soundfield.  There are times in which the entire soundfield loses its clarity and just becomes a wall of sound.  This is still an ungrade from the standard Dolby track, but audio track is limited by the original sound design.  The inconsistencies in the audio track are what is preventing it from receiving four and one half stars.

"Twister" comes to Blu-ray with the same set of bonus materials that were present on the standard DVD.  They remain in standard definition.  The only new featurette is, "Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited."  This featurette is still in standard definition and is a look back at the film by director Jan de Bont.  There is an audio commentary by director Jan de Bont and Visual Effects Supervisor Stefen Fangmeier.  This is a very technical track, discussing primarily visual effects.  "The History Channel Documentary - Nature Tech: Tornadoes" is the longest featurette and discusses tornado warnings and advances.  "Anatomy of a Twister" examines how a tornado forms.  "HBO First Look: The Making of 'Twister'" is a typical featurette.  Lastly, the disc contains a music video of Van Halen's "Humans Being" as well as two theatrical trailers.

"Twister" is not perfect by far, but it a lot of fun and contains some striking visuals.  The video quality may not be an exceptional presentation, but it is more than adequate.  The audio quality is terrific, suffering only from some inconsistencies.  I highly recommend this disc.
Studio Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating PG-13
Starring Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lois Smith, Alan Ruck, Sean Whalen
Director Jan de Bont
Film Release Year 1996
Release Year 2009
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 480i (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
Running Time 1 hr. 53 mins.
Sound Formats English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 • English Dolby Digital 5.1 • French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles English • French
Special Features Director & Visual Effects Supervisor Audio Commentary; "Chasing the Storm: Twister Revisited"; "The History Channel Documentary - Nature Tech: Tornadoes"; "Anatomy of a Twister"; "HBO First Look: The Making of 'Twister'"; Van Halen "Humans Being" Music Video; Theatrical Trailers
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Reviewer Noah Fleming

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