In the 50s and 60s, it was creature features. Audiences wanted to be scared, and the strides being made in special effects makeup using foam, latex and the ability to cast full-body suits meant almost anything your brain could conjure could be brought to life - even a creature from the black lagoon. The 70s and 80s saw horror take centre stage with the likes of 'Jaws' (1975), 'The Thing' (1982) and 'Alien' (1979)... and, of course, their subsequent sequels. But it was the 90s when shit got real. Visual effects reached a new dawn, the likes of which meant that cinema couldn't keep up with the technological advancements. All of a sudden, anything was possible. If you could dream it, it could happen - until eventually, with thanks to Pixar and James Cameron, it was the film industry that was leading the way and guiding the tech.
As for audiences, the fantastical took a (temporary) back seat in favour of more realistic horrors - like the weather. Climate change has been spoken about for decades, but it wasn't until the late 20th century when it was no longer confined to the theoretical ideas of a scientist, spreadsheets or geological readouts. Natural disasters were coming in thick and fast and getting worse with each passing year. All of a sudden, the idea of an active volcano popping up in the middle of Los Angles didn't seem so farfetched ('Volcano', 1997), nor did the notion of New York being hit by a tsunami and freezing over, among other things ('The Day After Tomorrow', 2004). But it was 1996's 'Twister' that really got the ball rolling for the disaster genre. Despite a myriad of production issues - such as the film's leads getting their retinas burned thanks to some special effects equipment, the sudden need for hepatitis vaccinations, concussions, cast and crew injuries, uncooperative weather (the irony!) and an "out of control" director - this slightly-above modestly budgeted film whose breakaway star was a cow (!) went on to be a blockbuster, even with 'Mission Impossible II' hot on its heels, being released just two weeks later.
'Twister' was the first movie ever to be released on DVD. Depending on your age, I understand that some of you may need to Google "What's a DVD?"
'Twister' wrote the book, broke the mould, and all those other clichés. It cast a TV star as its lead - a female TV star at that - and was also smart enough to see the potential in a 28-year-old Philip Seymour Hoffman... and as the comedic relief, of all things. PSH was just one year away from 'Boogie Nights' and nine years away from 'Capote' (and aaaaallll that good stuff in between) when 'Twister' was released. Little did we know he was also just a short 18 years away from departing this mortal coil as a legend, with a talent that was the envy of actors the world over.
Sadly, he wasn't the only cast member who left an unfillable hole in this world. Bill Paxton left us just four years ago after carving out quite the résumé. He made us laugh as Chet Donnelly, the world's worst big brother in 1985's 'Weird Science'. We loved and hated him in 1986's 'Aliens', he was cool in 'Tombstone', stole the show in 'True Lies', and helped take us back to the Titanic in 1997. He became such a fan favourite we were even able to rewatch 'The Terminator' and scream "Holy crap, is that Bill Pullman!?" - to which our viewing buddy would reply; "It's Bill Paxton, ya idiot!" for his small yet memorable blue-haired roll as Punk Leader in his first - but certainly not last - James Cameron collaboration. He even took a stroll through the MCU on his way out of town. However, it was his role in 'Twister' that is so beloved that 200 storm chasers in the U.S. were choreographed to spell out BP using their GPS tracker blips upon his passing.
Not only were prints of the film sent with a note from director Jan de Bont himself asking cinemas to crank the volume, but 'Twister' was notorious for destroying speaker systems worldwide courtesy of its bass-heavy sound design.
Now, back to that cow. One of the things I loved most about each and every one of these disaster films is that, despite the A-list casts they boasted, no cast member was bigger than the film... or should I say, the disaster they were promoting. Seriously. Take a look back at the early trailers to 'The Day After Tomorrow' and name one actor in it. I dare you. For months in 1996, citizens were subject to just three ominous characters - ID4 - in the lead up to 'Independence Day'. Now, as for 'Twister', sure after its release and box-office success it made Helen Hunt a movie star and future Oscar winner, but before that the film's breakaway star was that damn cow. It was everywhere! Six seconds of unforgettable screen time and that bovine was a superstar! There were standees in every cinema foyer, posters and the token joke of the trailer that made every kid declare that they wanted to see the flying cow movie, myself included. If 'Twister' was 15 years younger, the cow would definitely be a meme. Do kids still use memes?
Edited out for the VHS and DVD releases, but the cinema print of 'Twister' had a split second shot of Philip Seymour Hoffman's genitals when he lifts his leg while seated in a lawn chair. Oops. I guess he liked going commando.
'Twister' seamlessly cohabitated action, disaster, comedy, science, romance and airborne farm animals. It even managed to sell more than a few Dodge Rams in its wake. With the pitch for 'Twister' first surfacing in 1992, it's no wonder it eventually saw a Twin Film with 'Night of the Twisters', which was released the same year - albeit in a straight-to-video capacity, however three months earlier. That original 1992 pitch was so good it attracted Steven Spielberg as its original director, before he stepped aside and eventually produced the thing. Even Tom Hanks was cast in the roll Paxton would eventually inhabit. It's funny how things just work out sometimes.
The sound of the tornado was achieved by slowing down the sound of a camel's moan. Foley artists are equal parts weirdos and geniuses.
So the next time you see a hurricane, tornado, volcano, tsunami, earthquake or superstorm hitting a major city on the silver screen and some hunky so-and-so is sent in to save us all, just remember that Helen and Bill were there first.
'Twister' is awesome. Happy 25th birthday.