' ' Cinema Romantico: Guilty Pleasure For One Right Reason

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Guilty Pleasure For One Right Reason

The 1996 blockbuster "Twister" is not a good movie. It's driven not by story but by special effects. The screenplay doesn't even feel like a rough draft. It feels like the director and producers wrote a few notes down on a cocktail napkin ("lots of tornadoes", "bickering ex-lovers/storm chasers", "flying cow", "possibly include evil weathermen") and took it to a studio who bit on the shady concept when visions of dollar signs began dancing in their heads.

There's that one scene which could be the worst summer movie scene ever filmed, outside of Michael Bay's work (no one can compete with the awfulness of the esteemed Mr. Bay). Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt are our storm chasers on the verge of a divorce (though Bill Paxton is now a local weatherman and out of the storm chasing game) who have invented some type of weather contraption called "Dorothy" which you put in the path of a tornado, or something, and then it provides information regarding the tornado that no one else has ever been able to get.......or something. I don't know. But what it does isn't the point. What is the point is that the evil weathermen (whose evilness is given away by the fact they all drive black vans) have ripped off the "Dorothy" design and made their own. And the evil weathermen are in the parking lot of some restaurant giving an interview to the local news station about their "Dorothy" and Bill Paxton sees this and confronts them and yells something to the effect of, "You stole Dorothy, you son of a bitch!"

But then the head evil weatherman (Cary Elwes) stares down Bill Paxton and delivers the immortal line, "I really enjoy your weather reports." Apparently, this is smack talk in the world of tornado chasers because Bill Paxton flips out and has to be restrained.

Then Bill Paxton steps out of the fray and stands off to the side and looks up at the ominous sky and runs some dirt through his fingers and instantly deciphers when and where the next tornado will strike.

I would have been proud to write this scene, though my pride would differ from the type of pride possessed by the actual writers of this scene.

Yeah, so the movie's terrible. But that's not what I'd like to discuss today. I'd like to discuss why I love the movie so much.

There was a time I was a resident of Phoenix, Arizona. I didn't like it. There comes a point in May when the thermometer raises to 108 degrees and stays there - morning, noon and night - for the next 3 months. Seriously. It doesn't change. And the sun never stops shining. Never. Every morning you wake and pray for rain, but your prayers are never answered. (Supposedly, the one summer I lived there was one of the rainiest in Phoenix's recent history but I think it only rained, like, 3 times.)

Being from the midwest, an Arizona summer is not fun. I mean, it's hot in the midwest, too, but there's always the possibility of severe weather. And a summer night of severe weather in the midwest is glorious. Dark, ominous thunderheads rolling in. Local weathermen going into "the President has been shot" mode. The rumble of thunder in the distance. The stillness when you know the bad weather is near. The elegant wail of tornado sirens. All the neighborhood men defiantly going outside and looking to the sky as the sirens wail (this is how you act macho in the midwest). I crave summer days and nights of severe weather like I crave college football season (114 days and counting). And in the valley of the sun you just don't get them.

At some point during my Phoenix summer, my roommate Jed and I happened upon "Twister" on television. We did not change the channel. We were entranced. I can still feel my smile. I've never, ever been so homesick. I wanted to stand beneath a threatening midwest sky and run dirt through my fingers and comment "something's brewin'".

I'm almost certain "Twister" director Jan de Bont did not intend for this effect. I'm sure making those computer generated tornadoes real-looking was #1 on his list and suitable "summer in the midwest feel" was down near the bottom but that's all right. Ed Wood was trying to make a masterpiece with "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and ended up making, well, something slightly south of a masterpiece.

De Bont had to film outdoors in the midwest (in fact, I know portions of it were filmed in my home state of Iowa) and so despite adding in so many of those computerized twisters he still managed to capture the majesty of being under a tornado watch in the great midwest. This feeling has nothing to do with the characters, or the weak-as-my-office-coffee plot. It's all on the edge. Observe the corner of the frames carefully. The menacing clouds, the cornfields with nowhere to hide from the impending storm, the little towns through which they traverse.

I've left Iowa for Chicago and I like Chicago a whole bunch more than Phoenix because it retains a significant midwestern vibe. But you just can't have a proper tornado watch in Chicago. Gathering storms lose resonance if they are not gathering over cornfields. Weathermen here don't know how to properly hype bad weather.

That's why I love "Twister" despite the flying cows and evil meterologists skulking about in black vans. "Twister" itself knows what it feels like to be in the midwest this time of year even if its creators don't.


Sabina's hat said...

Sort of odd timing to discuss your love of a movie about tornado's.

Rory Larry said...

I used to come home from school put "Twister" on the tv and then immediately I would fall asleep. "Twister" was so boring I couldn't even stay awake for it.

Anonymous said...

Um... so since no one else has shared the love may I be the first. Twister has wedged itself into a very soft spot in my heart, and I have no plans of ever trying to pry it out... Being from Minnesota the beauty in the danger is also appriciated.