Sunday, February 4, 2018

Night of the Twisters

Night of the Twisters (1996)

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This movie came up in a youtube playlist of cult science fiction movies, so naturally I assumed it was about sentient tornadoes or, possibly, a person making tornadoes and sending them after people. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out it was a Family Channel original loosely based on a young adult novel, which is a fictionalized account of real events, wherein a family lives in a town that tornadoes happen to. Okay, so the tornadoes behave unusually, and there's like, two or three tornadoes in a row but that's nothing in disaster movie world.

The movie was really obviously made for television, and replete with inoffensive cinematography, garbage music, terrible sound recording and editing (I get that it's supposed to be windy because tornadoes, but when the wind noise is louder than the dialogue during a normal scene, get a fucking wind sock), and tepid melodrama. It's even infused with morals and I felt like I learned valuable lessons both about the importance of responsibility, and the importance of family.

The writing is mediocre at best, with different characters using the same expressions - this is probably something that most people wouldn't notice unless they were really looking for it. I'm really looking for it because it really bothers me.

The whole plot of the movie is just people driving around trying to find other people who manage to leave where they're at right before their loved ones get there, which is pretty boring after an hour or so.

The only people the movie cares about at all are the small band of central characters which include the main kid (Devon Sawa), his parents (John Schneider and Lori Hallier), his aunt (Jhene Irwin), his best friend (Amos Crawley), and his best friend's sister (Laura Bertram). Twisters rip through trailer parks with no fucks given, a twister destroys the main kid's entire neighbourhood and the only people we even see emerging from the wreckage are the main characters. There's a thing where the best friend's parents went "to the lake" for the weekend, which sounds like a horrible fucking place to be when there's a bunch of twisters happening, but we never get any mention of whether they turned out to be okay or how the siblings were dealing with the trauma of experiencing back to back tornadoes without their parents because the only parents the movie cares about are the main kid's parents.

The unfortunate thing is that the best friend character is actually the more interesting of the two kids. He's really into tornadoes and weather patterns, he's from California so he doesn't know what the fuck to do during a tornado, and he's suddenly saddled with the responsibility of looking out for his sisters (which he does a fine job of, by the way). The actual main character is a whiny disappointment who's struggling with the fact that his dad is a jock and he's... not a jock (I may have missed it but I don't think the movie ever told us exactly what he is into), and coping very well with having a new baby brother. So the boring character is the focus and the actually good character is used primarily to remind us that chubby kids like to eat. I'm not even going to get into that beyond saying, fuck that movie trope.

The other character I liked was the super anxious meteorologist (David Ferry) who is tracking the storm and provides useful information to me, the viewer, about why this particular tornado event was so devastating. He became an important-ish part of the plot later but still, could've used more screen time, probably should've been the main character.

The third interesting character was the dad, who was kind of a fucking dick to his kid, but obviously cared about him, and then boom it turns out he's not the kid's dad, he's his step dad and maybe he's got this insecurity thing about the kid's relationship to his dead dad. What an interesting family dynamic that actually managed to make the movie more engaging.

The truly interesting thing about this movie is that it was released a full three months before Twister, and about a year before Dante's Peak, which is weird because it feels like a mashed up rip off of both of those movies. When I was watching it I assumed that it had been made to capitalize on the popularity of Twister, but nope, it came out first.

The other thing worth noting about Night of the Twisters is that, even though for the most part it's lame and dull, the parts where the tornadoes are happening are fucking intense.

When the first tornado hits, the mom is at work, the dad has gone to get grandma, and the kid and his friend are alone in the house. Twister starts twisting and the main kid goes upstairs to get the baby and like, the tornado rips the fucking wall off the nursery and you can see the funnel cloud through the hole and it's getting closer and closer and I'm sitting in the library at school getting goosebumps coz it was fucking great.

It took a long time for there to be another tornado and this one did not disappoint. The family has to outrun it in their car and there's this other car behind them and that person apparently isn't driving fast enough because you just see their headlights get sucked up into the funnel and if that wasn't the coolest fucking thing I've seen in a movie this year I don't know what is.

So, yeah, ultimately I have mixed feelings about this movie. It was mostly stupid and boring but also has some of the best storm scenes I've ever seen so I guess I'll call it a draw? The whole movie is available to watch on youtube here (the part with the car getting sucked into the twister is around 1:22:00).

- The tornadologist character (+1)
- Fucking great tornado action (+4), yes I am giving that many points the tornado stuff was that good
Total: (+5)

- Made for TV feel (-2)
- Denim everywhere (-1)
- Movie says "fuck you" to everybody who isn't the main character (-3)
- Lessons (-2)
- "Ha ha, fat people like to eat" (-1)
- Guy is pinned underneath pickup truck, probably for hours, and still cogent enough to hold a conversation (-1)
- The movie had an epilogue to tell me what happened to all the characters I don't give a fuck about a year later (-1)
- Too much chat not enough splat (-1)
- Set in Nebraska, shot in Ontario (-1)
Total: (-13)
Final Score: -8

Directed by: Timothy Bond.  Written by: Sam Graham and Chris Hubbell, based on the novel by Ivy Ruckman.  Starring: Devon Sawa, John Schneider, Lori Hallier, Amos Crawley, Laura Bertram, David Ferry, Jhene Irwin, Helen Hughes.

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