In “Twister”, Bill Paxton plays a meteorologist who seeks to get as close as possible to a phenomenal tornado. After the death of the actor in February 2017, storm chasers paid him a poignant tribute to thank him for having highlighted their vocation.
Twister : at the heart of the tourbillon
Director of photography having worked on many cult films including Turkish Delights, Roar, Cujo, Crystal Trap or Basic Instinct, Jan de Bont began directing in 1994 with Speed. Before offering a sequel to this reference in action cinema which she would have done well with Speed 2: Heading for danger, he turns Twister.
In this feature film released in 1996, the threat does not come from a psychopath embodied by the brilliant and cabotin Dennis Hopper, but from nature. Twister began in 1969. As a child, Jo Harding saw his father being taken to the heart ofa category F5 tornado, the highest degree on the Fujita scale. Almost thirty years later, the heroine embodied by Helen hunt is fully dedicated to studying these phenomena, as well as creating a way to measure and anticipate them further in order to avoid the worst.
At the head of a team of meteorologists, she is preparing to get closer to the most violent tornado to hit Oklahoma in three decades. A dangerous expedition joined by his ex-companion Bill Harding (Bill Paxton), who had however promised to hang up to take on a post of weather presenter.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes, Lois Smith and Alan Ruck round out the cast. In 1997, the film was nominated for the Oscars for Best Sound and Best Special Effects.
A perilous shoot
If Jan de Bont agrees to carry out Twister, it’s partly because he knows that practical special effects are on the decline and that he will probably not be able to use them as much in the years to come. For the reconstruction of tornadoes, in addition to digital effects, machines reproduce wind and rain. Besides, some of the countless debris appearing on the screen is real.
As they shoot a scene in a car, Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton almost get hit by a suspended harvester, as the second recounted on the set of Oprah Winfrey. Tease, the director cuts him off (at 12.59 in the video above) and launches:
It wasn’t that dangerous. They are very quickly frightened.
Jan de Bont welcomes Bill Paxton’s involvement
But in March 2017, a few days after the announcement of the death of Bill Paxton at the age of 61, Jan de Bont returns to the involvement of the actor. When he inherits Bill Harding’s character, James Cameron’s favorite actor truly finds himself headlining, despite prominent roles in On the edge of dawn, Predator 2, Les Pilleurs or Apollo 13.
He does not hesitate to to invest fully for the spectacular sequences, as the filmmaker remembers for The Hollywood Reporter. Jan de Bont recalls:
He liked the physical part of acting. He did his own stunts – he wouldn’t have let anyone take that away from him. This scene in Twister where they’re on their way to the great tornado – he did it all himself. Back then, we didn’t have visual effects – we had to do it for real. (…) He hurt himself. It was as if stones (pieces of ice, editor’s note) were falling on him. In the movie, you can see the cuts on her face – they’re real. But by the end of the scene, he was full of adrenaline. (…) Most of the actors I’ve worked with don’t even want to get close to this kind of thing. But that’s what Bill stood for. He kept saying, ‘Some things cannot be played, you have to feel them’.
The tribute of tornado hunters
After the announcement of his death, storm chasers also pay a touching tribute to Bill Paxton. As reported CNN, they use the Spotter storm and tornado tracking network for this. The latter recording the GPS coordinates of its members, he transcribes the initials of the late actor on February 26, 2017 between Kansas and Oklahoma, taking as a central point the city of Wakita, where part of Twister.
President of Spotter Network, John Wetter then declared about the actor and the feature film, which would have influenced many young meteorologists :
The character of Bill Paxton in Twister helped make meteorology – and the hobby of hunting …