Free Natural Disaster Films: 02: Night of the Twisters

As I said before, I started watching movies that are available for free online since I have little access otherwise. Previously, I reviewed Absolute Zero, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I’m rating these free films based on Believability, Graphics, Story, and Acting. The latter three—Graphics, Story, and Acting—are judged simply:

* Poor

** Below Average

*** Average

**** Above Average

***** Excellent

Believability is based both on the scientific principles presented in the film and on the activities of the actors within the movie. There may be times when scientists generally agree with the basic concept, but the details of how it is accomplished in the movie may make it unbelievable.

* Completely unbelievable

** Mostly unbelievable

*** Moderately believable

**** Mostly believable

***** Completely believable

night of the twisters

Night of the Twisters (1996, MTM Enterprises, Atlantis Communications, and PorchLight Entertainment)  *2.5

Warnings: Not Rated (but I would call it PG primarily for suspense and thematic elements). Blood/Gore—one instance of a tiny spot of blood on a bandaged head; although the characters also come across a dead body, the body is intact with no apparent trauma so not gory, just a thematic element source for caution if viewed by young children. Language—none. Violence—none. Sexuality—none.

Summary: This movie is based on a novel by the same name, which was based on an actual event. In the movie, a tornado touches down in Nebraska and the weather unpredictably moves southeast and multiple tornadoes hit Blainsworth, the home of the main characters in the film. Although a storm chaser employed by a weather center follows the storm to Blainsworth and arrives ahead of the tornadoes, he does not attempt to predict what will happen, admitting that this storm has not followed the usual patterns and that he therefore cannot predict what patterns it will follow. The mother of the family is working at a diner while her sister is on the way to pick her up, the father leaves home to check on the grandmother, and the teenaged son Dan (the main character of the film), Dan’s infant brother, and Dan’s teenaged friend remain at Dan’s house. The storm hits before the father makes it to the grandmother’s house. Dan’s house collapses with him, his baby brother, and his friend in the cellar, but they survive and escape, pick up his friend’s sisters (the oldest of whom is named Stacey), hijack a car from the deceased driver, and head toward the grandmother’s house. When they discover the road to the grandmother’s house is blocked, Dan and Stacey break through the barrier while the others stay behind with law enforcement, who take them to a shelter in town. They pick up the grandmother and, with help from firemen, rescue Dan’s father from where he is trapped under his overturned truck. Dan and his father go with the sheriff to the diner and find it destroyed and all survivors already evacuated, then head toward the shelter where they hope to find the mother. Meanwhile, the mother and aunt are at the shelter with the storm chaser and worried about their family, who haven’t arrived yet. The storm chaser offers to take them to their house to check on their loved ones. Therefore, when Dan, his father, and Dan’s infant brother arrive at the shelter, they cannot find the mother or aunt, but another survivor informs them they went home in search of family. Finally, the whole family plus the storm chaser reunite at the rubble that was their house, then look up to see several tornadoes heading their way. The storm chaser comments that there is nowhere to take shelter and advises trying to outrun the tornado by car. They manage to make it to shelter beneath an overpass and survive the storm, then walk out arm-in-arm into the sunrise.

Believability:  ****  I gave it so many stars on believability primarily because it’s based on a true story. In reality, the storm did behave unpredictably, did involve multiple tornadoes, and did occur in Nebraska (though in Grand Island rather than in Blainsworth), as depicted in the film. However, they occurred in the spring in reality versus the fall in the film (but both spring and fall are tornado season, so both are believable); all stayed within Grand Island city limits and moved only 8 mph in reality versus first touching ground far away from Blainsworth and moving quickly toward the town in the film; and numbered seven in reality versus 10-15 in the film. Nevertheless, it seems the filmmakers primarily just upped the ante rather than creating something that is genuinely unbelievable. However, the one issue of believability that I have with the film is the very end, when at the storm chaser’s recommendation they try to outrun the tornado by car in spite of the storm chaser admitting in the middle of the film that most people who die in tornadoes do so in their cars (in fact, when threatened with a tornado while in your car, it’s recommended you get out of your car and lie down in a ditch beside the road because it’s very unlikely that you can outrun a tornado); they take shelter beneath an overpass (in reality, tornadic winds move at over 200 and up to 300 mph and wind moves far more quickly under a bridge than over it due to the wind tunnel effect, putting you at far greater risk of injury or of being blown/sucked up into the tornado, so it’s recommended that you avoid bridges or overpasses when there’s a tornado); and the back window shatters and Dan is almost sucked out of the car (in spite of some research, I’m still not sure how believable that is with only the back window and not the front windshield shattered). One of the characters states incorrectly that tornadoes only move northeast; in reality, they usually move northeast or east but can actually move in any direction, even completely backtracking. But perhaps this statement was correct based on the most current knowledge at the time the film was made. Midway through the film, before the tornado hits Dan’s house, he opens all the windows. This was once thought to be an appropriate step to take because it allegedly equalizes the air pressures and reduces the risk of damage to the house. In reality, if a tornado is close enough to damage your house, opening the windows won’t do jack squat. Furthermore, taking the time to open the windows puts you at further risk of injury. Nevertheless, because it was believed appropriate at the time the movie was made, Dan’s actions were scientifically sound and believable. If you survive a disaster such as a tornado, the best way to be reunited with your family is to stay put and wait for rescue workers rather than to go wandering around. In contrast, the family in the film goes gallivanting all over the area looking for each other. However, it’s not uncommon for people to do this, even though it’s not recommended, so their doing so was certainly believable.

Graphics:  **  The graphics were surprisingly good for such a low-budget film, though that may be because the tornadoes occurred primarily at night and so were shrouded in darkness. Even so, they could have been much better than they were. The low-budget quality of the graphics was most noticeable in the prologue, when a tornado is seen in the daytime. The low quality of the graphics might not have been noticeable at all had all the tornadoes in the film occurred at night.

Story:  **  The story was very predictable, very much a Hallmark Family type of film. There’s a conflict between the kid and a parent, primarily due to the kid not realizing how much the parent loves him. Ho hum. It’s also typical Hollywood in that the kid is practically perfect and the parent is in the wrong. A lot of the kids’ interactions with each other was unrealistic, the result of very flat writing. Furthermore, I felt the epilogue where Dan explains what happened to each character in the movie was entirely unnecessary, but since this is a book adaptation, perhaps it was included in the movie because it was in the book. There was one glaring issue with the story: In the end, as the family is walking away into the sunrise after the last tornado disappeared, Dan comments that the tornadoes occurred over three hours… but it’s sunrise, which occurs at about 7:50 am in Nebraska in the Fall, implying that the whole thing started at 4:50 am—while the mother was at work in the diner, the father was checking on the grandmother, and Dan and his friend had just finished eating dinner.

Acting:  **  The father is unrealistically harsh on Dan, which in this case I felt was more acting than writing. The remainder of the acting was average (for example, the mother, the aunt, and the storm chaser) or sub-par (for example, all of the kids in the movie). Some of the acting was downright wooden.

Overall: Worth seeing once if you’re willing to watch low-budget films. Very similar to Hallmark family films. Very much a family-friendly film, though all disaster films will have some suspense and thematic elements not suitable for young children.

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