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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 5/17/00



Twister

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits


Twister: Special Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Twister
Special Edition - 1996 (2000) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B+/B

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A+

Specs and Features:

113 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:09:25 in chapter 20), Snapper case packaging, audio commentary (with director Jan De Bont and VFX supervisor Stefen Fangmeier), 2 theatrical trailers, The Making of Twister featurette, Anatomy of the Twister featurette, Van Halen's Humans Being music video, cast & crew bios, animated film-themed menus with sound effects, scene access (34 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & DTS 5.1) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned



Twister (original release)

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

THX-certified
Twister
1996 (1997) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/A/D-

Specs and Features:

113 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame, dual-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, THX-certified, theatrical trailer, cast & crew bios, quasi film-themed menu screens, scene access (32 chapters - only 9 are menu accessible), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Melissa: "Is there an F5? What would that be like?"

Preacher: "The finger of God..."

From Jan De Bont, the director of Speed, comes yet another hyper-kinetic ride into the heart of chaos... Twister. The film stars Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as Jo and Bill Harding, a pair of formerly-married storm chasers - meteorologists who follow thunderstorms around the Midwest in the hopes of studying tornados to better understand and predict them. But their marriage has gone south, and Bill's moved on, leaving the thrill of the chase behind to settle down. That means a job as a TV weatherman and a new therapist fiancée (Melissa, played by Jami Gertz). But Bill needs Jo to sign their divorce papers before he and Melissa can start a new life, so he drags Melissa out into the Oklahoma countryside to get Jo to sign on the dotted line.

There Bill is reunited with all his old storm-chasing buddies, and he gets a surprise from Jo - a special project he conceived has come to fruition. Nicknamed "Dorothy", it's an instrument package designed to study the inside of a twister by sending up little sensors into the funnel. There's just one problem - you need to place the device in the path of a twister, and that means getting dangerously close. Before Bill can get Jo's signature, the team gets a lead on a storm brewing nearby and they're off in a motley caravan of vehicles in pursuit. Although he'd never admit it, Bill is thrilled at the opportunity to go on one last chase and see his idea realized. But another team of storm chasers is also in the hunt. Led by a former colleague (played by Cary Elwes) and with corporate funding, they're also trying to prove the Dorothy concept, using Bill's stolen idea. Complicating things further, this is no ordinary day of thunderstorms. Brewing over the heartland of America is a super storm of greater destructive power than anyone's seen in years.

I should probably confess right up front that I like Twister. For me, it's one of those guilty pleasure flicks... except that I don't feel any guilt about enjoying it. I mean, sure... it's got implausibility in spades and plot holes you could sail an aircraft carrier through. There are a plethora of continuity errors in its 113 minutes (like constantly changing sky conditions from shot to shot). And some (oh, hell... most) of this dialogue is just lame. Sometimes these lines are so bad that it makes the performances seem painfully awkward. The whole relationship between Bill and his new love falls horribly flat. And the subplot involving the rivalry between the two teams is equally bad ("They're just a bunch of corporate kiss-butts, man!"). It should be noted that the vast majority of this film's problems could have been fixed by a script polish. But whatever. Twister is still fun enough that if you can slap on the blinders, it's a good ride. De Bont keeps the action moving and the effects are mostly great. Having grown up in North Dakota, I've seen real twisters (and the damage they can cause) firsthand. Let me tell ya... what you see in this flick is pretty convincing.

But enough about the film. Let's talk DVD. When Twister first appeared on DVD, it was literally one of the very first titles available on the format. Thank God Warner decided to revisit it. This new DVD special edition is pretty great.

One of the biggest problems with the initial release, was very mediocre video quality. The initial DVD was in anamorphic widescreen (and featured full frame on the flip side of the disc), but it was so bad looking that, despite the THX seal of approval, the disc is widely regarded as a disaster. In fact, this first disc is what caused many people to lose faith in THX when it came to DVD quality. The original widescreen video is plagued by MPEG-2 compression artifacting. It's also got some unneeded edge-enhancement, resulting in a too-crisp, edgy looking image. Unfortunately, when combined with the artifacting, the result was often muddy looking video, especially during any scenes of chaotic motion. In other words, whenever the twisters were on screen, the video looked like crap. There are also contrast problems with the original release - the blacks are a bit too deep and lack detail, and the brights are often too bright. Finally, there are serious color-timing problems, which mean that colors are often over-saturated and slightly unnatural looking. The new DVD version lacks the THX seal, but you'll be glad of that. This is a brand new transfer, and it's much more appealing. The artifacting is largely gone and less edge-enhancement has been used. The result is a slightly softer but smoother and more pleasing image. The colors are better timed, meaning that they're more muted looking, but also more natural and accurate. There's also a lot more detail in the darkest picture areas, and the bright spots aren't overblown. This isn't reference quality... but I don't know if you could ever make this film look reference quality. What it is is darned good, and much improved over the original.

On the audio aide, the original DVD did feature very good Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. This new disc seems to have the very same English and French 5.1 tracks, which is fine. The Dolby 5.1 track is very active and aggressive, with deep bass and plenty of surround channel effects, panning and adequately clear dialogue (this is, after all, a twister film - it's hard to shout above that roar). The DTS 5.1 track improves the sound experience in small, but noticeable, ways. The stage here is broader and deeper, with more seamless panning and a generally more unified soundfield. It's also got a bit of a more airy sound quality, which I'm not sure isn't appropriate (again, this is a twister film). My personal preference is for the DTS track, but you can't go wrong with either. And I'm just very glad to see Warner jumping behind DTS as an alternate option for DVD soundtracks.

Bonus material is where Warner's new special edition of this film really trounces the earlier version. The original DVD, being one of the first releases on the format, had really lame-duck, primitive looking static menu screens. And by way of extras, you got a teaser trailer and some cast bios - that's it. Even the "Jump to a Scene" section bites - the original disc has 32 chapters, but you can only select from 9 in the menu. On the other hand, this new disc boasts some cool animated menus screens, which are made to look as if everything you're seeing was captured by one of the storm chasers' camcorders (thankfully, they're not too digitally compressed-looking either, as are many of Warner's other DVD menus).

And you get some nice features on the new special edition. There's an audio commentary track with De Bont and visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier. It's not too bad, but deals mostly with scene-specific production anecdotes. You know what I mean - "Ah.. here we have..." and "Oh... this is where..." It works for what it is, but don't expect a lot of plot or character insights. You've got a 14-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, The Making of Twister (which is pretty good), and a shorter, 8-minute featurette, Anatomy of the Twister (which is more cheezy). There's also some cast & crew bios and the film's teaser and theatrical trailers. Rounding things out is a good music video for Van Halen's Humans Being from the film's soundtrack - the last great song the band managed to record before guitarist (and band leader) Eddie Van Halen's ego exploded the group from the inside out. Come on - the band loses three lead singers and we're supposed to believe it's the singers' fault?! Give it up, Ed.

Anyway you look at it, Warner's new Twister: Special Edition is by far the better of the two DVD versions. It's definitely a welcome addition to my collection and is LONG overdue. The only reason to own the first disc is if you really absolutely have to have the full frame version... and I just don't know what to make of that. The new disc gives you great Dolby Digital AND DTS surround sound, much-improved anamorphic widescreen, and some nice extras to boot. Plus, you get a great flick to kill a lazy afternoon with. If you don't have the film on DVD yet, this new disc is worth buying. And if you do have the original... replace it fast and be glad you did.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Twister: Special Edition


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