Actual email received at the time of compiling this review:
Due to a tornado that came through Greensboro this morning, the Greensboro
office of Manchester has been closed. Because of so many trees and power
lines being down, the Greensboro office building has lost their electrical
power. You can divert your phone calls or urgent e-mail messages to the
Raleigh Office (919) xxx-xxxx. Hopefully they will be up
and running by tomorrow morning, otherwise, we will keep you up-to-date.
W hile I have long respected Warner as a “leader of the pack” of sorts for DVD production and releases and their long-standing commitment to backing the DVD format, I must admit that the upcoming re-release of Twister presents a bit of a surprise. I guess I’m just accustomed to re-released titles being some sort of “Special Edition” with something amazingly different from the original release, and this disc does contain some new material, but there are some weaknesses that I am not very keen on. I will cover all the significant differences between the original and new release of this title, making special note of the weak points. Understand that the majority of these points are only minor gripes in a disc that clearly offers more than the first release.
First and foremost, the most obvious addition to the title is the presence of a DTS 5.1 sound track. It is said to be amazing however I am not blessed with a DTS audio system, and so I am afraid that I cannot report on it. [Ed. Note: The audio is summarized in the ‘Update’ section at the end of this review.] Nonetheless, the track is present on this title, co-existing with two DD5.1 tracks (English and French) which I find to be a fairly remarkable use of resources, especially given the history of DTS on DVD. It was once questionable whether anything other than the DTS audio track would fit on a disc in conjunction with the video. I point to the DTS Dances With Wolves release as an example, albeit an unfair one given that that is a 3 hour film contrasted with this sub-2 hour flick. The English and French DD 5.1 tracks were taken directly from the first release disc, no re-mastery involved. [Ed. Note: This version of the disc is RSDL, unlike the first double-sided, single-layer release. Warner indicates that this allows for improvements in both the audio and video with the added storage, i.e. more storage = less compression. However, with the addition of alternative DD5.1 & DTS tracks and additional features, you have to wonder just how much leftover storage could be utilized for increased A/V in this new release.] Now if you are familiar with the original release, then you know the A/V quality of this disc (aside from the DTS track), but for those of you who do not, suffice it to say that the DD 5.1 track is tremendously powerful. It was used by many as a reference audio disc back in the early days of DVD. The video quality is acceptable, but may appear grainy at times and there is noticeable edge enhancement from time to time. But due to the nature of the footage in this film, where the camera is constantly in motion, it can be easily overlooked.
The next most noticeable feature (at least to anyone who enjoys exercising all the features of their DVDs) is the feature-length commentary track featuring director Jan De Bont and the visual effects supervisor for the film. The two men are recorded in such a way that one speaks on the left channel and one speaks on the right. Unfortunately, it took me mid-way through the presentation to realize this as I was laying sideways while watching, all the while confused as to why I was having a difficult time making out what they were saying. A tip: listen to this sitting upright! The stereophonic effect actually helps dramatically to isolate their voices, which are otherwise very similar, and become garbled and easily confused without positioning yourself correctly. Once I got the listening situation worked out, I found the commentary to be a mix of subtle humor and insightful comments but also non-sensible comments which may leave you wondering. I’ve definitely heard better commentaries, but it is nice that at least there is one on the disc now.
Another significant difference between the releases is the absence of a “Pan & Scrap” version of the film as the new disc is RSDL, made necessary I’m sure by the DTS5.1 audio track. To me, this is a significant plus which shows that Warner recognizes the growing consumer demand for letterboxed and anamorphic films over full screen. I am hoping that this is a sign of things to come as the less time Warner spends producing things that the majority don’t want, the more time they have to produce things that the majority does want. [Ed. Note: Of course, others will add that it’s a benefit to have the choice between widescreen and pan & scan.]
Noteworthy additional features include a sort of double behind-the-scenes documentary, one called ”The Making of Twister” and another called “Anatomy of the Twister”. These are both very simple and short documentaries that I would be more inclined to describe as “featurettes” than documentaries. The primary difference being that featurettes are generally short collections of footage pieced together used for marketing purposes to promote the film while it is in post-production. I find both features to be somewhat uninteresting. The making-of documentary goes into very little detail about the filming, locations and special techniques and tricks, etc. This is quite a disappointment because this film is widely known for the incredible effects that were barely touched upon. Furthermore, the documentary actually comes close to covering very interesting topics, but then unfortunately backs off before getting to any real interesting details. Who’d have known that they used a gigantic ice chipper and an actual jet engine mounted on a trailer rig to generate full force hail storms? Well I do now, but only because of the narration. The actual documentary shows very little footage of the equipment used to create intense effects like this that would be very interesting to know about and see, only lightly touching on points with great potential. As for “Anatomy of The Twister”, after careful consideration, I’m a bit unclear in understanding what the focus of this feature is. It seemed as though it consisted of the footage that might not have made it into the making-of documentary. The two features seem to contain very similar clips and don’t deviate too much from one another. All in all, I think that these two features could have used a bit more effort, but viewed back-to-back, you can get some interesting tidbits out of the pair.
Another interesting thing that I notice is that the cast & crew feature of the new release actually contains less material than the old release. The new release has cast & crew coverage of stars Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton and director Jan De Bont. The original release covers Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes and Jan De Bont. Interestingly, the new disc displays the names Jami Gertz and Cary Elwes on the cast & crew page, but they are not selectable. Now if you were a DVD producer that intended to create a second release of a film that would be more feature-rich than the first, it seems odd that such a minor feature as this would be removed. Surely it couldn’t have been a data space saving requirement. Alas, it’s a notable difference between the two.
And then there’s the Van Hagar.. err.. Van Halen music video, “Humans Being”. It’s a highly energetic video that dances around a lot to the unbeatable tunes of the Van Halen crew, artistic visions of the film dropped in here and there. Other than that, it’s a music video like any other. Given that it is tied into the subject mater - it’s an overall good addition to the disc, I think.
Let’s see, now... there are 2 theatrical trailers, scene selections, “interactive menus” and English, French and Spanish subtitles - nothing out of the ordinary there. Overall, the menu system has been modernized with a motion video background for the main menu, still shots for the sub-sections and a nice attempt at a transitional clip between menu selections [Ed Note: This transitional clip is actually a segment of footage that is not contained in the movie, but some of you might remember seeing in the theatrical trailer/television spots]. The scene selections are unfortunately not animated. Yes, animated scene selections are a good thing. It allows the user to identify the actions of a scene which otherwise may be a generic shot of some poor bloke’s face which has absolutely no bearing on the actual jump point. I did note that the background image changes slightly when moving among the various pages of the scene selections. Taking the interactive menus in their entirety and evaluating the setup independently, I’d give it a 7 out of 10 for effort. But contrasting it against the original Twister release, it’s a 10 for 10, hands down, dramatic improvement in design. It definitely shows the advances in development techniques in the last couple years.
My final point of examination includes the packaging. While reporting on the packaging may seem to be a trivial pursuit of sorts, I found several things of interest that you might find interesting as well. The following observations are based on differences between the old and new release packaging. First and most obvious is a slight change to the front face with a small border going around the perimeter of the new box. Flipping the box over, there is a distinctive layout and graphic change to the back. The old box showed a small collage of background images and clips from the film where the new one shows only one scene. In a way, the arrangement of clips in the manner of the old release effectively removed the need for actual rectangular screenshots, so it was a nice artistic touch, now replaced by a couple simple stills on the new one. On the old, the lettering of the synopsis clearly created the profile of a sinister twister; the new one does a rather funky block text wrap around a screenshot - a bit less imaginative that the first. Previously the film credits were shown all cramped up to the left in a rather non-conventional glob of information. The new box has them centered and arranged as you would expect to find them normally. Fall asleep yet? I hope not, this is where it gets interesting. The old box shows that it has been THX Digitally Remastered. The new one does not. Is this a minor packaging oversight (doesn’t seem to be since the THX clip is not present at the opening of the film) or an actual difference in THX certification? But here’s the one that sticks out like a sore thumb, and it’s an error on both the old and new release boxes: the special features listing shows that there are “production notes” on the disc, yet there are indeed no production notes on either disc. That’s one for the ‘defects/misprints’ archive.
Well that about sums it all up. My advice: if you already have the original release of Twister, and are not just eating yourself up to get the DTS audio track, then pass on this disc. The extra features are not so tremendous as to warrant replacing your old copy with the new one. If you have not purchased Twister yet or are looking forward to the DTS audio track and are interested in the title, then watch for the new release. It has the golden-orange border around the perimeter of the face of the box to clearly distinguish it from the old release. Despite its drawbacks which are mostly minor as I previously noted, it is certainly a worthwhile addition to a collection.
UPDATE: A full DTS / DD 5.1 audio review of this disc will be added in the coming days.