It’s a Twista, a Twista! Friday Fight Celebrates Bill Paxton

Friday Fight

Beating the other crop of movies based on Hasbro toys and games, by a good 10-15, Twister still remains the best of the bunch, by far. Somehow everyone involved managed to squeeze a cast of great characters and a rip-roaring adventure yarn out of some pretty thin source material. Give me Twister over Battleship, Transformers, or GI Joe any day.

But in all seriousness, I had no idea this would hold up as well as it does. Twister isn’t merely fun. It’s a good movie (a lot better than I ever realized). It works on a number of levels. First off, I loved the way Twister portrayed science in such a positive, enthusiastic way. The gang of storm chasers are unabashed nerds, and the film celebrates that as something really positive. Not to get overly nostalgic here, but rewatching this triggered my memory to a time when scientists were the heroes of a lot of these kinds of action movies, and it dawned on me that that isn’t exactly common these days. Now, I’m no expert in the science of tornados, but man does Twister make science look cool.

Secondly, I want to say how unexpectedly feminist the movie is. Dr. Jo Harding, as played by Helen Hunt, is a well formed, interesting character with agency; a leader of her team of scientists. This depiction of a woman scientist still feels ahead of its time. Like, she’s not just a good scientist; she’s obsessed, almost to an unhealthy degree, driven by the death of her father. While this is pretty standard disaster/action/blockbuster pop psychology, the fact that it’s a woman, and the fact that she is treated as an equal with her co-star in terms of ability and skill, and the fact that the movie never really comments or makes a big deal out of it is still unusual to this day.

We chose to do this movie for Friday Fight to honor Bill Paxton, a wonderful character actor who is sorely missed. Watching him act never felt like watching someone acting. He always seemed like Bill Paxton, and simultaneously perfect for whatever role he was put in. Paxton doesn’t really stand out in Twister. Not because he isn’t good or memorable. But because he was an actor who worked exceptionally well with ensembles, with a lot of humility and a low key charm that he never allows to overshadow his co-stars. With Philip Seymour Hoffman, Helen Hunt, Cary Elwes, Alan Ruck, Lois Smith, Jeremy Davies and Sean Whalen, it’s a really strong ensemble cast.

Jacob GehmanJACOB GEHMAN: I was born in Illinois, where we lived until we moved to Pennsylvania when I was four years old. I don’t remember much about those early Illinois years, but the one memory I have is being woken up by my parents in the middle of the night to get taken into the basement with flashlights, a crackling radio, and the eerie sound of tornado sirens blaring. Compared to many people’s tornado experiences, it’s a slight memory; one quaint in its simplicity. I didn’t see the tornado, nor do I recall it even hitting town, much less our house. But it was a formative moment in my life.

Might explain why I’ve always loved Twister. It’s a film that places you in the heat of stormchasers’ scientific quest for information and in the heart of the tornadoes themselves. Certainly the tornadoes are the stars of the show–large, twisting monsters that took mid-90s CGI technology to its breaking point. While the CGI work is obvious and, at times, muddy, the tornadoes maintain large, ominous edge; it’s an impressive feat that few CGI-heavy films have matched.

It’s not just the tornadoes, but what they actually do. There is an impressive level of destruction, courtesy of whipping winds that feel real and cascading rains that appear wet. Seeing buildings deteriorate or a tractor being picked up and spun like a plastic bag? It engages a primitive part of my brain that loves seeing the futility of humanity’s attempts at totally conquering nature.

It’s a rush.

Garrett Smith GARRETT SMITH: A star for every dollar I spent renting this.

If I’ve seen this before, it was in pieces at a friend’s birthday party when I was at most 10 years old. I have vague memories of some of the set pieces, but didn’t really remember a thing about this. And man did I enjoy watching it.

Jan Da Bont really knows how to make a movie. I love the way this looks, how he uses his camera, and the way he evenly bounces between big set pieces and small character moments. Thanks to a really good script by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin and an incredible cast of character actors, even the side characters, of which there are a ton, feel like real people. And with the focus on two really strong leads and an interesting relationship drama unfolding between them, the stakes of every action sequence amount to more than just wanton destruction. We actually root for these characters as the movie goes on, or at least I did.

But even if you’re just watching this for the set pieces and effects, they’re actually really incredible and hold up surprisingly well. I loved how much was done in camera, and because tornadoes are so amorphous and indistinct in their appearance, the digital effects even hold up well, proving once again they work best in support of great, practical effects work.

Twister has aged into a fine bit of 90s flavored B-movie fun, and I found it surprisingly effective and entertaining. When they drove straight through that house I cheered with joy, and I especially loved every second of Paxton and Hunt’s simmering chemistry.

“I’m not back!” We really wish you were, Bill.

Justin HarlanJUSTIN HARLAN: I’ve done some straight up Paxtonian binging in the past few weeks, from Club Dread to Terminator to Aliens to Near Dark to Frailty and then some… but I didn’t get around to Twister until last night. Damn, it really holds up!

As Garrett noted, it’s basically aged its way into a stellar B-movie action flick, which is a hell of a feat, in my estimation. I am honestly not sure I ever liked the film as much back when it was a new one as I do now. It’s a wonderfully fun time, even if not quite on par with Club Dread (my favorite Paxton film and Paxton role, without question). In this one, Paxton is a regular guy type, who is really great at his job and not so great as relationships. He blends into the stellar ensemble, while also being a true leading man. This isn’t an easy task, seeing as the two seem diametrically opposed; yet, Paxton makese it feel so effortless. He was a natural… a real actor, if there ever was one.

The long and short, this is a strong film and more evidence that the world lost a truly great talent the moment Bill Paxton’s heart beat for its last time. We’ll miss you, Bill. Thanks for the great memories that you left us!

Luke Tipton
Criterion Junkie / Wearer of Awesome Beards
Luke is a cinephile, dad, and handclap aficionado (not necessarily in that order) out of Valparaiso, Indiana. He works as a safety coordinator for a steel erector in Chicago, and is an occasional musician and producer. His lifelong obsession with the movies may-or-may-not have been caused by growing up without a TV in his home, and the rush of sneaking off to friends’ houses to watched copied VHS tapes of Star Wars and E.T.
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