October 4, 1996 in Seven

‘Twister’ Demands Big Screen, Sound; ‘Fargo’ Just As Good At Home

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Even though the lines at movie theaters seem to get longer, especially on weekend nights at first-run houses, they’re readily matched by those strung out in front of video store checkout counters.

Recent statistics indicate that as many people now watch movies at home as pay to see them in theaters.

There’s no mystery to why this is so, of course. Say, for example, I want to take my wife, my daughter and one of her friends to the movies. And say we want to go to a 7 p.m. showing opening night.

And say, of course, we want to get some treats.

I’m looking at a $30-to-$35 evening. And bear in mind that I no longer have to worry about baby-sitter fees.

If, instead, I go to one of the major video outlets, I can get away with spending as little as 49 cents a film, $1.49 for a recent release. And the treats shouldn’t run me much more than $10, depending on what discount grocery I shop at and how piggy I feel like being.

Yet, as I’ve written time and again, true fans will spend whatever is necessary to see movies the most appropriate way. And some movies just have to be watched on the big screen; they need an expansive picture, state-of-the-art Dolby sound and the kind of uninterrupted atmosphere that a theater setting provides.

“Twister” is one of those movies. Only in a theater can an effects-heavy movie such as “Twister” come truly alive. A movie such as “Fargo,” on the other hand, is far better suited for at-home viewing. (See below for capsule reviews of the two films, both of which are available on video this week.)

Here’s why: “Twister” is as driven by plot as, well, the Seattle Seahawks are by effective playmaking. Which is to say, not very. “Twister” is basically a cinematic experience that sets up a situation with some appealing, if cardboard, characters. It involves them in a straightforward storyline. The film’s appeal comes from how it throws some amazing computer graphics at us, then provides us a breather before throwing something even more amazing up on the screen.

“Fargo” doesn’t depend on cinematic pyrotechnics. It is shot intelligently, as are all features made by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, but the film’s strength is more tied to what you see than how you see it. And while the plot of “Fargo” is circuitous and involved, it still is less important than the characterizations.

In fact, characterization, particularly the kind provided superbly here by William H. Macy and Frances McDormand, is what fuels all of the Coen brothers’ movies.

So if you haven’t yet seen “Twister,” bear in mind that unless you have your own at-home screening room, featuring big-screen television, surround-sound and an expensive laserdisc system, you’re going to get less than half the experience theater audiences enjoyed.

Your enjoyment of “Fargo,” will suffer little if at all from downsized viewing. Just make sure to get in line early.

Fargo

****

When a kidnapping goes awry, the local police chief (Frances McDormand) slowly but gradually hunts down the criminals. As the noose tightens, each of the plotters responds as his nature dictates - one schemes, one acts and one kills. But plot, even as inventive as this one is, does not rate highly in this Coen brothers film. Director Joel and producer Ethan, working on a script they co-wrote, are more concerned with setting (the frigid flatlands of Minnesota and North Dakota) and with characterization. Playing like a combination crime drama a la “In Cold Blood” and David Lynch nightmare a la “Twin Peaks,” “Fargo” features near-comic characters who speak like Norwegian-American farmers - “Yah, sure, you betcha” - live in a Norman Rockwell-like atmosphere and yet are prone to sociopathic behavior. It wouldn’t seem to be the most likely combination for humor, but the Coens may have you laughing even as you flinch. Rated R

Twister

***-1/2

Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt portray professional storm hunters who end up getting more than they’d bargained for - namely, some perspective on their dissolving marriage and a cluster of killer tornadoes that range from big to behemoth.

This is pure formula filmmaking of the Steven Spielberg style (not surprising, as Spielberg was one of the producers), with a little Richard Donner (“Goonies”) thrown in.

That means that director Jan De Bont has set a cute cast of characters up against a series of special-effects-inspired McGuffins. The surprise is how effective those FX are. This is the perfect summer film, regardless of what time of year you see it. You’ll want to experience it from fourthrow center, letting that Industrial Light and Magic imagery and Dolby sound flow all over you. Those thrills and the dual presences of Helen Hunt and Jame Gertz: What more could you want for a brainless two hours? Rated PG-13

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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