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Posts Tagged ‘Twister’

“It is not easy to cut through a head with a hacksaw.”
                                           Michael Crichton 
                                           Travels 
                                           Writer/producer/director and former medical student 

“Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”
                                           Jurassic Park
                                           Novel & Screenplay by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton died last week and he always seemed to me someone interested in what it meant to live.

The first movie I ever saw of his was Westworld when it first came out in the theaters when I was a youngster. Yul Brynner was stunning as a robot-gunslinger who malfunctions. I haven’t seen that film since it was first released, but after Jurassic Park came out I did recognize similar themes before I even connected them both to the mind of writer Michael Crichton. 

On one level both deal with amusement parks gone wild when the technology man has created back fires and lives become endangered. 

Crichton was a different kind of writer. Taller than average standing 6′ 7″ as well as being smarter and more talented than most of us.  He graduated from Harvard Medical School and was still a student there when he wrote his first best selling novel, The Andromeda Strain. According to his website he also “taught courses in anthropology at Cambridge University and writing at MIT.”

Anthropology is is the study of humanity. That is a deep field of study and one that is naturally connected to screenwriting. Movies allow us to explore ourselves and our surroundings, as well as other people in other cultures. They allow us to see how others react in a given circumstance and in turn we ask what we would do. 

One reason why The Shawshank Redemption is so highly revered is because while most people won’t spend time in prison they can relate to the situation–their own personal prisons. (Perhaps at home or work.) They can identify with a character or two–the good and the bad. Over and over again people write and talk about that movie giving them hope or helping them get through a difficult situation.

Knowing how humans interact is why President-elect Barack Obama says that The Godfather I & II are his favorite films even though Italian is not a part of his multi-cultural background.  He said it’s for the theme of family respect and honor.  I bet somewhere there is a class somewhere called Anthropology 101; The Godfather.

Crichton’s medical background explains why he knows “It is not easy to cut through a head with a hacksaw” as he wrote in his opening line in his book Travels. Of all of his writings that is the one I return to most. He traveled for the experience not for something to write about. But years later felt drawn to convey his thoughts:

If you’re a writer, the assimilation of important experiences almost obliges you to write about them. Writing is how you make the experiences your own, how you explore what it means to you, how you came to possess it, and ultimately release it.

Thirteen of his books became movies and as the creator of the long running TV show ER he won an Emmy, a Peabody, and a Writer’s Guild of America Award. Of course, Crichton had a Midwest connection being born in Chicago and co-writing the screenplay for Twister filmed partly here in Iowa.

Crichton was an insightful writer and long before it he was diagnosed with cancer he wrote an article for Redbook Magazine in 1991 called Happiness that’s worth a few minutes of your time.

Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg had this to say about Crichton is friend of 40 years:

“He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth. Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place.” 

Michael,  thanks for the thoughts, words and provocations. 

 

copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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Auntie Em: “Why don’t you find a place where there isn’t any trouble?” 
Dorothy:
“A place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place Toto? There must be.”
                                                                               The Wizard of Oz

Melissa: “Is there an F5?… What would that be like?”
Jason ‘Preacher’ Rowe
: ”The finger of God.” 
                                                                               Twister
 

Chances are if you think back to where you were in 1996 it may seem like 100 years ago. A lot can happen in 12 years.

1996 is on my radar today because it’s the release date of a two-disc special edition of the movie Twister that was made that year. Iowa was not on my radar back then and neither were storm chasers.  Those strange people who in the name of science roam the region known as tornado alley chasing monster-sized tornados looking for data to improve warning systems and hopefully save lives. (And also a good excuse to have an exciting day at the office.)

Twister was shot in Oklahoma and Iowa and according to some reports it was one of the most demanding films ever made. It earned every penny of its almost $500 million worldwide gross. According to Box Office Mojo Twister is #50 in all-time domestic box office draw.

It was everything that you expect from a big Hollywood tent pole movie. Special effects and more special effects. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that in the Twister screenplay the story is basically there to bridge one spectacular special effect with the next. The filmmakers and the studios told us what kind of film they were making and delivered on their promise.

I look forward to seeing the special edition DVD just to see the behind the scene footage and listen to the added commentary material. In fact, the commentary material may be the only way I watch some films from now on. I did that for the first time with the movie Cloverfield. I just rented it to listen to the director’s commentary. (I love learning little things like one phrase producer J.J. Abrams is fond of saying to keep the budget down is “We can make this whole movie with a ball of yarn.” Abrams and director Matt Reeves did an amazing job with special effects on Cloverfield given their budget was only a third of Twisters.)

A couple weeks ago I was meandering in a used book store next to the University of Northern Iowa looking for something different and came across a book called Twister: The Science of Tornadoes and the Making of an Adventure Movie by Keay Davidson.

I flipped through it and found this quote:

“If you want a spiritual experience, you should go spend April to June in the Midwest, because you have never seen cloud formations like this! You watch everything in the sky happening in front of you as if you were watching time-lapse photography. We would literally watch cloud towers shoot into the sky and within fifteen minutes one little cloud would rise to become one 30,000 feet high.” 
                                                                     Producer (Twister) Kathleen Kennedy

Now when Kathleen Kennedy talks you should listen. She has flat out had an amazing career in Hollywood and has had a hand in producing some of my favorite films: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Seabiscuit (the only movie poster I own), and most recently The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. If you’re still not impressed, she also produced the upcoming Indiana Jones film being released later this month. (Not bad for starting out as a secretary/production assistant for Steven Spielberg.)

To top it off Kennedy is married to Frank Marshall who produced Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Bourne Ultimatum and a whole lot in between. Together the Kennedy/Marshall duo have produced films that have made over 5 billion dollars. 

Here’s another passage from Davidson’s book:

Twister’s setting is as grandiose as its subject: the Midwest. A terrain as rich in myth for Americans as the Aegean is for Greeks…What makes the Midwestern sky “so interesting is that the terrain is so flat—more than half of what you’re seeing is sky! So you tend to pay a lot of attention to it, said (Twister) director of photography Jack Green. “They’ve got these incredible cloud patterns passing through—clouds that contrast against a clear, intense blue and nearly unpolluted sky.”

The blue sky here in Iowa can be mesmerizing. (Especially if you’ve ever been on the Disney lot in Burbank and not been able to see the Verdugo Mountains just a few miles away because of the smog.) And while some Hollywood producers only know that blue sky as they’re flying over this part of the country, there are stories to be told from here. And I hope you’re doing your part to write them down wherever you live.

On a closing note the first week of May is not even over and already around 100 tornados have been spotted in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana and Iowa. Unfortunately it’s cost hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damages and claimed several lives.

And even more tragic, in Myanmar (next to Thailand) they report over 20,000 deaths due to a cyclone this week.

None of us know where we’ll be 12 years from now. But one thing we can be sure of is there will be more disasters like Hurricane Katrina, 911, and the Tsunami that killed over 200,000 in Asia.  There will be many prayers said and much relief work done. But remember that stories can also bring healing power and help give us perspective on life.

“Today is Father’s Day. Until my stroke, we had felt no need to fit this made-up holiday into our emotional calendar. But today we spend the whole of the symbolic day together, affirming that even a rough sketch, a shadow, a tiny fragment of a dad is still a dad.”
                                                                       The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
                                                                        Jean-Dominique Bauby 

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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