Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: "Tornado Alley"

With nothing to do and an excess of time on my hands I set out on New Year's day to the Ontario Science Centre for an Imax Dome viewing experience.  I have only been to this theatre once before and was looking forward to a dynamic and awe inspiring movie going experience.  Certainly a film like Tornado Alley would be enough to scare the wits out of me?

Well it was certainly enjoyable but didn't have much depth. The story centres around a group of American researchers who are trying to map out the storm patterns in the mid-western United States.  This area of the country is dubbed tornado alley because of its high frequency of tornados and researchers are trying to find a way of predicting which storms will produce funnels.  Set against this we have filmmaker Sean Casey, a storm chaser and tank hobbyist who's been chasing the perfect tornado shot for years.  Arguably there's room with this story to examine what makes Sean want to chase these natural disasters and what he hopes to gain from the experience.

One thing the film did very well was keep the audience clear on what they were experiencing.  At no point did I have trouble following the chronology of what was going on and that is a testament to the fact that there were many children in the audience (the film is rated G).  And unfortunately that is where the filmmakers had to make a decision.

Much of what I felt was wrong with the film owes to the filmmakers decision to keep their involvement in the story at the surface level.  If the filmmakers (incidentally the film is directed by Sean Casey himself) had chosen to explore a little more deeply the characters they had within the Vortex 2 team for instance, then when the team is in danger midway through the film we would feel that more strongly and be compelled to pay attention.  If the team had dealt more fully with what drove the filmmaking crew (in their tank) to want to get inside the mouth of a tornado then perhaps we would be more invested in their journey.

Ultimately the final straw was the visuals.  Much of what we're shown is far off and not very solid (since the storm chasers are follow safety measures to ensure that no one gets hurt).  By necessity this limits their ability to provide close and dynamic footage of the tornados.  Even when we do eventually get an up close and personal look at a tornado, the effect is disappointingly conventional (though the filmmakers are quite exhilarated by the experience).  I think here the film suffers more from years of Hollywood action movies than from their lack of footage so this may not have been something that they could help.  But a supporting story about the individuals involved in the chase (I think) may have made up for some of the disappointment here.

If you have younger kids (certainly not super young but 6 and above) I would suggest taking them to see it if they're interested.  On the plus side, the ticket price was exactly what we pay at the regular theatre so there's no penalty there.

My rating: 2.5 out of 4.

Oh and sadly, it made me want to re-watch Twister. But that may have been due to Bill Paxton's voice over.

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