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Ten questions inspired by ''Twister''

A head-scratcher’s guide to a blockbuster that might be better if it only had a brain

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Question: Can a pickup truck barrel through a house unscathed? Answer: It’s only a movie. Question: Can a person sense a tornado by sifting a handful of dirt? Answer: It’s only a movie. Question: Would a cow really moo while airborne? Answer: Signs point to yes.

Sifting through the dozens of questions raised by Twister‘s highly unstable mix of dense scientific fact and sci-fi-fueled hot air, we’ve set aside most of the improbabilities the movie leaves flapping in the breeze (five tornadoes in one day!) and the little imponderables littering the landscape (Why don’t we see Dusty smoking a joint?) in favor of chasing down the truth about the really important issues in the year’s first blockbuster.

1. What happened to the tractor tire flying toward us in the trailer? The preview’s gasp-inducing final shot was part of a test sequence created by Industrial Light & Magic in 1994, before the Twister script was even completed. Since it ”didn’t have the high quality of effects now in the movie,” says ILM’s Dennis Muren, it didn’t make the final cut.

2. How close can you get to a tornado before being sucked in? Not very, says Harold Brooks, meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla. Even ”keeping a vehicle straight when winds are 70 miles per hour is a nontrivial issue,” he adds. As for riding out tornadoes rated F5 — winds start at 261 mph.

3. Would cows really moo while in a tornado’s grip? ”I don’t think she’d have a contented moo,” says Dr. Harry James, a veterinarian in Pond Creek, Okla., ”but cows, when they’re scared, have an agonizing, shrill, exclamatory type of thing.”

4. Does a tornado growl like a caged beast? Brooks: ”That was something of a surprise to me.”

5. When Jo’s dad is whisked out of the storm cellar, how come Jo and her mom aren’t too? ”They were further underground,” notes Brooks, who adds, ”If he would just have sat [on the ground] in the cellar, everything would be fine.”

6. Can those little sensor balls really be ”too light” to fly and in need of Pepsi-can beanies? ”Of course not,” scoffs University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Dr. Howard Bluestein. ”Cloud droplets are extremely light, and they fly.”

7. Is anything in ”Twister” too heavy to fly? Let’s see, Helen Hunt plus Bill Paxton is 300 lbs., give or take. A Holstein, about 1,100 lbs. The Dodge Ram pickup, 4,200 lbs. A two-story house: 340,000 lbs. ”An F5 tornado can lift a house,” Bluestein observes.

8. Does everyone in Wakita drink Pepsi? ”Wakita drinks nothing but Coke,” attests Wakita Foodland owner Cleta Hulsey. ”I sell eight times as much Coke as I do Pepsi.”

9. Where do you get those white tank tops that both women competing for Bill Paxton wear? In nearby Enid, where Wakita residents shop, Doris Posey, ladies’ wear manager at Wal-Mart, says, ”What I did get in are already gone.”

10. Why didn’t Aunt Meg’s cooking kill the chasers? Their meal of steak, fried eggs, mashed potatoes, gravy, and biscuits amounts to 746 mg of cholesterol — more than twice the recommended daily intake — and 1,377 calories, nutritionist Elisabeth P. Sonoff reports. ”These people will need a very lean diet for the next few days to make up for lunch.”

Reporting by Dave Karger, Marlene McCampbell, Richard Natale, and Erin Richter