Have you ever experienced a natural disaster close up?
I know that living in Canada, my experiences with natural disasters have been mostly limited to torrential downpours and blizzards. I think the worst disaster that I ever lived through was the great Ice Storm of 1998 which knocked out power to various parts of Ontario, Quebec, and Upstate New York. My home was without power for five days, and many surrounding areas didn't get electricity back for almost a month after the initial storm. But, in the end, we survived it. It was tough going at times, but that experience made all of us who lived through it a little stronger, and helped us appreciate the simpler, little things in life.
I guess I can count myself lucky that a severe ice storm is the worst natural disaster that I have personally experienced. Yes, my area has had a couple of minor earthquakes over the last thirty years or so, but nothing near as catastrophic as what happened in Haiti, Japan, and New Zealand over the past two years. We sometimes get the tail-end of weakened hurricanes or tropical storms, but we have been spared the damage caused by past storms named Andrew, Iniki, Katrina, and Wilma.
I honestly don't even remember experiencing a tornado. I've experienced days in which the winds were so strong, I felt as though I would blow away, but I've never seen a tornado up close.
And, I really don't want to either. Tornadoes are very scary things to live through. Last year, the small community of Goderich, Ontario was devastated by a powerful tornado, in which they are still trying to recover from. And, by now, everyone has heard about the devastating series of tornadoes that struck the United States earlier this month, leaving residents homeless, and killing several.
Tornadoes can be quite dangerous and deadly if one is not prepared. It doesn't matter whether the storm is an F1 or an F5. Tornadoes are not something that can be taken lightly.
That said, there are lots of people who find tornadoes (or twisters as some people call them) to be a fascinating case study. Some people find storm chasing to be a thrilling hobby. They chase storms as they happen, with many of them snapping photographs and recording them with hand-held video cameras. In some cases, the footage and efforts brought forth by storm chasers have resulted in better warning systems, so maybe there is some good to be found in storm chasing, even though it is one of the more dangerous and risky hobbies that one can partake in.
Today's Monday Matinee takes a look at the activity known as storm chasing, as well as the destructive power of tornadoes, and the impact that they can have on communities.
We're going back sixteen years in time to talk about the movie “Twister”.
“Twister” was a movie that boasted quite a bit of star power. With stars like Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Cary Elwes appearing in the film, it's so surprise that the film did well at the box-office. It was the second highest grossing film of 1996 right behind “Independence Day”, and made almost $500 million dollars on a budget of $92 million.
It's just too bad that the making of the film itself was plagued with so many production problems.
The film was a joint effort between Universal Studios and Warner Brothers, and almost immediately after director Jan De Bont took the helm as director of “Twister”, problems began. The screenplay was written by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin to the tune of two and a half million dollars, and initially, Joss Whedon (the man behind such television adaptations as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”) was brought on to rewrite parts of the script. When Whedon developed bronchitis, Steve Zaillian was brought onto the project to fill in until Whedon recovered. Whedon returned to the project once more, but left again after he had gotten married, and was replaced by Jeff Nathanson.
Things did not improve much in the stability of the shoot, for just weeks into the production schedule, a group of people who worked on the film walked off production, citing clashes with the director. The final straw came when De Bont knocked over a camera assistant that missed his cue. This prompted Don Burgess and his camera crew to leave the project. To add to the bad luck, Burgess' replacement, Jack N. Green was injured in a freak accident, and De Bont was forced to become the director of photography himself just to get the movie finished.
And, don't think that the stars of the movie got out unscathed either. Both Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton were left with temporary blindness caused by bright electronic lamps. The lamps were used to simulate a dark and stormy sky on days in which it was too bright to film, but they were so bright that it caused production to shut down for a few days while Hunt and Paxton recuperated. In addition, Paxton and Hunt were forced to get a shot for hepatitis after filming in a ditch that contained bacteria, and Hunt almost suffered a concussion while shooting a scene.
After that much bad luck, it's a miracle that the movie was even released at all!
I suppose that the behind-the-scenes delays and injuries probably didn't help the script at all. Sure, the movie was visually pleasing to the eye, and the special effects were quite well done...but in my opinion, the story kind of suffered, and lost something along the way. Of course, that's just my opinion.
Anyway, “Twister” starts off with a flashback. We see images of a five year old girl and her family trying to take cover from a tornado that is fast approaching. It is an F5, the strongest tornado that could be measured. The tornado kills Jo's father.
Years later, Dr. Jo Harding (Hunt) is unexpectedly reunited with her estranged husband, Bill Harding (Paxton). Bill used to be a weather researcher who did storm chasing on the side, and now holds a job as a weather reporter. The only reason Bill wanted to meet with Jo was to get their divorce finalized so he could go ahead and marry his new girlfriend, Dr. Melissa Reeves (Gertz). But, Bill discovers that Jo has been a busy beaver. She has created four tornado research devices, appropriately named “DOROTHY”...a design that was based off of a similar one he had invented. The purpose of “DOROTHY” was simple. When activated, the device would send hundreds of tiny sensors straight into the core of the tornado to study its structure. Jo hopes that her invention will serve as a breakthrough, because if she could figure out more about how tornadoes were formed, she could also devise a better warning system to be put in place to hopefully save more lives.
There's just one problem. Jo's rival, the smug and up himself Dr. Jonas Miller (Elwes) has been doing some inventing of his own, and has come up with an almost identical to Jo's own creation. This causes Bill to team up with Jo to deploy “DOROTHY” before Dr. Miller can take all the credit. Bill ends up dragging Melissa along for the ride when he joins Jo and her team of storm chasers on their quest to find a suitable tornado to test “DOROTHY” out.
As you might have already guessed, there would automatically be a lot of tension in the air when you have two exes together in a crammed truck. Certainly, this was the case between Jo and Bill, as it became clear that both of them had issues with each other that remained unresolved since their split. The tension is further increased when they end up having lots of close calls with some dangerous tornadoes, and on the team's first attempt to deploy one of Jo's “DOROTHY” devices, Jo and Bill are forced to jump out of her truck into a ditch, which is subsequently destroyed.
One “DOROTHY” gone...but there was still three more chances to get it right.
Bill offers up the use of his own truck, and with Melissa in the back, the team sets off to locate another tornado. The second one is an F2, stronger than the first one, but in the attempt to chase it, the tornado changes paths, and they end up losing it (but get an amazing view of a cow flying through the air at the same time).
The team decides that they need to take a break, and after having lunch with Jo's Aunt Meg, they're back on the road. It doesn't take long for the team to come across yet another tornado, this one being classified as F3, their strongest one yet. But before Jo and Bill can act, the tornado takes down a power pole and it smashes right onto the back of Bill's truck, smashing open the second of Jo's “DOROTHY” devices, scattering the sensors all over the ground. The tornado fast approaches, and Bill knows that if they stick around, it's certain death. But, Jo is in a different frame of mind, and as you'll see by viewing this clip, it becomes clear as to why she acted in such a manner.
So, Jo feels somewhat guilty that her father ended up dead because of a tornado, and her work with studying tornadoes was a way that she could make his death make sense. It's also clear that Bill understands this, knowing exactly what loss she had to endure back when she was just five, which could explain why he was so eager to assist her.
It's not until the team stops off at a drive-in movie theater which is literally blown away by yet another tornado (seriously, how many tornadoes can occur during this movie?) that Bill comes up with a theory to make Jo's “DOROTHY” device have a 100% success rate. But with a strong tornado threatening to tear apart the home of Jo's Aunt Meg, as well as Bill's conflicting feelings for both Jo and Melissa, as well as the constant threat of Dr. Miller upstaging Jo with his own tornado measuring devices, it doesn't give much time for Bill to test that theory out.
But, that's just something that you'll have to see for yourself.
Not even the threat of a tornado will make me reveal this movie ending.