“Cow!” says Jo Thornton Harding, as a black-and-white bovine, caught on the edge of a tornado, sweeps, legs flailing, in front of the truck she’s sharing with her soon-to-be ex-husband, Bill “The Extreme” Harding.
The creature is swept out of view. And then: “Another cow!” Jo says.
“Actually,” Bill replies, “I think it was the same cow.”
It’s an exchange that, apologies to Casablanca and Gone With the Wind, may well be the best bit of dialogue in American cinematic history: elegant, sparse, ironic. And even if it isn’t, it is still perfect in the context of Twister, which was released 20 years ago today and which is not a good movie but definitely a great one. Twister was a summer blockbuster that embraced its own delightful mediocrity, combining, among other things: tornadoes, water spouts, a main character nicknamed “The Extreme,” a love triangle, a wackily stonerized Philip Seymour Hoffman, a gently villainous Cary Elwes, and Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. NPR’s Linda Holmes recently crowned Twister as her choice for the “best bad movie” ever, and she made an excellent case, against many worthy competitors, for the film’s triumphal terribleness.
What is in retrospect most remarkable about Twister, though, is what the film got right about its primary antagonist: the eponymous tornado. Twister is a movie about weather that was released right before the era when “weather” got political. It came about largely before “global warming” became “climate change,” and during a time when the existence of those phenomena was still considered to be, in the culture at large, a viable matter of debate. Twister, in 1996, embraced an assumption that is helping to define 2016: the fact that, of all the monsters we fight against in our action movies, one of the most dangerous may be the planet we call home.