Like so many others, I adored the 1996 film Twister, now a classic in the “disaster porn” genre and still in frequent weekend and holiday rotation on broadcast and cable networks nearly 30 years later. We’re finally getting a follow-up with Twisters, directed by Lee Isaac Chung (Minari). Universal Pictures dropped the official trailer during the Super Bowl on Sunday.
(Some spoilers for the original film below.)
Twister rocked the 1996 box office, racking up $495 million worldwide and snagging an Oscar nomination for special effects. Critics’ reactions were more mixed. The film earned well-deserved praise for its special effects and sheer entertainment value. Who can forget the flying cows, the jaw-dropping CGI twisters, and that classic scene when a tornado suddenly rips through a drive-in movie screen right in the middle of The Shining? But others criticized the thin character development and dismissed the film as “loud,” “dumb,” and “a triumph of technology over storytelling and the actor’s craft.”
Was the film often ridiculously over-the-top (especially that final encounter with the F5)? Yes indeed. Were the supporting characters a bit one-note? Granted, especially Cary Elwes’ smarmy corporate-funded rival scientist. But Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton had genuine chemistry as estranged storm-chasing spouses Jo and Bill; their relationship was the heart of the film and clearly resonated with viewers.
And yes, the scientific elements were exaggerated for the big screen, although flying cows (plus pigs, horses, and various vehicles) are absolutely a thing during real tornadoes. The fictional sensing system DOROTHY was inspired by a 1970s instrument to measure real-time conditions of tornadoes called TOTO (Totable Tornado Observatory). And so many young people loved the movie so much they wanted to become tornado scientists themselves. The number of meteorological majors in the US grew by 10 percent in the 1990s, and the University of Oklahoma doubled its meteorology program. That’s pretty impressive for supposedly loud and dumb mindless entertainment.
Rumors were circulating back in 2020 about a possible remake of Twister, with Joseph Kosinski directing, but that had dissipated by the following year. Hunt then proposed a sequel, with herself writing and directing, but the studio nixed that idea. (Apparently Hunt killed off her own character, Jo, in the draft script. Bold move.) Eventually the project morphed into Twisters, centered on the daughter of Hunt’s and Paxton’s characters from the original. It’s now being touted as a standalone sequel, however, so that connection might have fallen by the wayside during development. Per the official premise:
[Daisy] Edgar-Jones stars as Kate Cooper, a former storm chaser haunted by a devastating encounter with a tornado during her college years who now studies storm patterns on screens safely in New York City. She is lured back to the open plains by her friend, Javi (Anthony Ramos) to test a groundbreaking new tracking system. There, she crosses paths with Tyler Owens (Glen Powell), the charming and reckless social-media superstar who thrives on posting his storm-chasing adventures with his raucous crew, the more dangerous the better. As storm season intensifies, terrifying phenomena never seen before are unleashed, and Kate, Tyler and their competing teams find themselves squarely in the paths of multiple storm systems converging over central Oklahoma in the fight of their lives.
The cast also includes Maura Tierney, Brandon Perea, Daryl McCormack, Sasha Lane, Kiernan Shipka, Nik Dodani, Harry Hadden-Paton, David Corenswet, Tunde Adebimpe, and Katy O’Brian.
The trailer itself is just a series of spectacularly frenetic storm chasing sequences interspersed with a bit of human interaction, such as a few romantic sparks between Kate and Tyler the exhibitionist YouTuber (at least Tyler seems to feeling it). Screenwriter Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) consulted with all kinds of scientific experts while working on the screenplay and the storyline incorporates more of the causes and effects of climate change as it pertains to more frequent and violent weather—including tornadoes.
Twisters seems to have all the same requisite elements of its predecessor, including the DOROTHY system—an unusual choice for something meant to be a completely original story—but it still can’t help feeling at best like a pale reflection. And the performances come off as much more shrill and over-the-top, at least in the trailer. The cast is game enough, but screaming “Twins! We got TWINS!” when a tornado splits in two is far less effective than Hunt’s Jo casually glancing at random livestock flying past their truck and blithely commenting, “Cow.” Even Bill’s citified fiancee (Jami Gertz) only managed a wide-eyed “I gotta go, we got cows” over her cell phone. Sometimes less is more.
Then again, the original 1996 trailer for Twister captured nothing of that film’s charm, humor, and sheer entertainment value. We’ll have to wait and see if Chung can pull it off; he’s an able director and an interesting choice to helm this particular project. And who knows? Maybe Twisters will inspire another new generation of storm chasers and climate scientists.
Twisters hits theaters on July 19, 2024.
Listing image by YouTube/Universal Pictures