Occasionally on my podcast – yes, the reference to my show is a bit self-promotional, but nonetheless – I talk about movies that I love so much that it’s hard for me to write about them, even though I really want to. 

Twister is one of those movies, and it’s been on my blog schedule for years, gathering digital dust alongside Real Genius, The Fifth Element, and a few others. They get pushed when the deadline comes and I publish something else on the blog. So to kickstart this post, I watched some of Twister’s extra features and read up about the production and pre-production online.

The name that jumps out at me was Michael Crichton, because I love Jurassic Park, too. Crichton had his hand in both screenplays. They also start out similarly with a tragic death and then some bad news for a main character to jump-start the rest of the plot. In the case of Jurassic Park. it’s the death of a worker on the island followed by news of an inspection; in Twister, it’s the death of Joe’s father followed by news of the finalization of her divorce from Bill.

The other two large similarities between both movies are the special effects that combine the practical and the digital. Most importantly, however, both films focus on the humanity of it all. Despite the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the awesome power of nature demonstrated in Twister, both films focus on the characters’ humanity.

Not to be forgotten, Twister was filmed by a production crew in Tornado Alley during tornado season. This means that those who were on location during the shooting got to experience tornado warnings. They were able to live the awe-inspiring terror of massive thunderstorms. All of this led to the actors and crew getting a better feel for just what a real reaction would be, even for storm chasers who want to keep going. 

Director Jan DeBont, whose previous blockbuster success at the time was only Speed, wanted the cast and crew on location and to mix those effects. His direction for both the on-location stuff and the digital creation of the six twisters in the film was pretty amazing. 

The production actually worked closely with the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla., which features in the film as well. This also allowed the cast and crew to work with the professionals and even go on some actual storm chases. 

The team at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) did some groundbreaking work again for Twister in the same way they did for the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The leaps that ILM made in digital effects in the 1990s are on display in both films. And of course, both are done with Universal and Amblin with Spielberg attached in some capacity. 

A lot of this so far is simple comparison and behind-the-scenes information, but none of it covers why I love this film. 

The answer to why I love this film is the humanity of this film and the truly Generation X nature of it. The group of storm chasers that make up our lovable team are Helen Hunt as Dr. Jo Harding, Bill Paxton as Bill, Alan Ruck as Rabbit, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dusty. These are incredible characters that are relatable to that and future generations.

While Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton are the two leads, and they are wonderful, it’s Rabbit, Dusty, and the rest of the team who typify Generation X here. Dusty is a bit of a slacker type who can easily get overlooked as an underachiever unless it’s a topic about which he’s passionate – in this case, extreme weather. 

Rabbit is a by-the-book, button-down geek who’s not afraid of the extreme nature of the chase and danger of the storm. The rest of the team falls somewhere between these two bookends, but they all seem like characters from other Gen X films. And then there’s the rival storm chasers led by Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes) who is basically the yuppie of the group. As Bill explains, “He’s in it for the money, not the science.”

Perhaps being born in an in-between generation and looking up to the Gen Xers in my life has something to do with why I love Twister. 

But there is also something specific about the singular passions in life and going after what you really want. Jo is focused on learning more to create more advanced warning systems. The whole team is very much like a sports franchise, all doing different jobs and filling different roles to achieve the same goal. 

Is this a movie I should like? Who knows? I’ll say this, though: the first trailer doesn’t really do much for the humanity of the film. It just focuses on the tornadoes. That’s also exactly how the upcoming Twisters film is being marketed, too, so I hope the humanity in the new film is equally powerful.

The other thing this film has that’s really exciting for a blockbuster is its humor and educational value. This film makes sure you have the most basic understanding of tornadoes, not necessarily in how they work but about the nature of their destructive power and their unpredictability. It also taught many of us that don’t hail from Tornado Alley about the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale), which is the way tornadoes are measured.

The truth of the matter is, this film opened tornadoes up to a generation of us who didn’t grow up on the Great Plains. We knew they existed, but this really demonstrated their power to those of us living near the coasts and far away from tornadoes as a way of life.

I also think Twister has a great marriage between its musical score and movie soundtrack. Mark Mancina’s score is brilliant and it weaves in and out of a soundtrack that includes Van Halen, Rusted Root, Soul Asylum, Lisa Loeb, Tori Amos, The Goo Goo Dolls, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mark Knopfler, k.d. Lang, and Stevie Nicks & Lindsey Buckingham, in a veritable who’s who of the eclectic nature of mid-nineties pop music. The sound design is also not to be overlooked. It is imaginative and inventive and puts you right in the middle of the storms. 

Yes, Twister was a bonafide blockbuster, too. It was the second-highest-grossing movie of 1996 behind Independence Day. Twister also kicked off the mid- to late-nineties disaster movie wave. The success of Twister in 1996 may have paved the way for the sister films about volcanoes – Dante’s Peak and Volcano in 1997 – and about asteroids – Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998.

Sure the 1970s and 1980s had their fair share of disaster films like Cyclone, Earthquake, Flood!, Hurricane, and Meteor, but Twister really kickstarted the next wave, and the drama hasn’t really let up since.

On the behind-the-blog side of things, I hit play on Twister and challenged myself to write this before the 113-minute minute film was finished. It’s fun to challenge yourself when you know the source material pretty well.

So as I type this, the tornado has ripped apart the drive-in theater showing The Shining, which means I still have some time if I need it. 

But the truth of the matter is, there is no real quantifiable way to define my love for this film, but I do love it. I will put it on just to put it on, and when I come across it on cable, I will often keep it on until the end no matter where I pick it up.

Perhaps that’s the truth of the matter. A movie you love will be a movie you will watch whenever, and that’s all there is to it. For me, Twister is one of those films, and I think that’s the point. When you love a film or a book you can get lost in the behind-the-scenes magic, you can get lost in a conversation about it, and you can and will always have time for it.

So, maybe you’ll give it another try. Maybe you won’t. It’s hard to me to predict because I’m not Rabbit, and, “Rabbit is good, Rabbit is wise.” But 1996’s Twister is one of my favorite films, period. Perhaps now you have an idea why and learned a little bit about it. 

Now, with time to spare, I’m going to watch the end of the movie again, just because I can, and perhaps I’ll use this same approach to write about those other movies I mentioned. Once is good, but perhaps two or three times would make it a viable exercise for me.