Release year: 1996
Director: Jan de Bont
Screenwriter: Michael Crichton, Anne-Marie Martin
Starring: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes, amie Gertz, Philip Seymor Hoffman, Lois Smith, Alan Ruck, Sean Whalen, Zach Grenier
Ratings: 2 Oscar nominations: Best Sound, Best Visual Effects.
Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) meets up with his wife Jo (Helen Hunt) and her tornado hunting team to get her to sign the divorce papers that will make it possible for him to marry new fiancee Melissa (Jamie Gertz). But as the team starts chasing the storms Bill, who used to be known as something of a badass in the business, can’t resist following and soon he is caught up in their attempt to insert a measuring device into the heart of a twister, much to the dismay of the new woman in his life.
With Jan de Bont (Speed, 1994) directing and with a script by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, 1993) it would almost be strange not to expect a thrilling rollercoaster ride of a movie, which is excactly what you get. After the flashback-opening that leaves you shaken, you don’t have to wait long before the action kicks in the the present time. Without ever feeling overwhelming, the movie slowly builds up through the size of the tornados until the unavoidable climax, all delivered in Oscar nominated special effects that easily holds even today. The story of the data-gathering device they try to release into a tornado is a dramatized view of real life projects, with the ‘Dorothy’ device copied from TOTO used in the 1980s by NSSL. The legit reason for chasing some of the world’s most dangerous weather conditions ensures that the reckless characters continue to appear likeable and able to keep us caring about them throughout. Paxton (Aliens, 1986) and Hunt (What Women Want, 2000) are a great match and manage to bring out an emotional tornado of their own between them while tackling extreme weather and life threatening situations, while especially the always watchable Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War, 2007) is charming as the enthuastic crew member and Smith (How to Make an American Quilt, 1995) so charming that she even in her small part as aunt Meg becomes the warm centre of both the crew and the movie. With great effects, great performances and a story that takes you from one thrill to the next, this is one of the best disaster movies of recent times and will leave you in awe and respectful of Mother Nature.
The first movie to be released on DVD.
Picture copyright: UIP