Entertainment

Tornadoes are deadly, unpredictable—and totally fascinating on screen

Sharks, stones, cows, trucks and a girl from Kansas.

Twisters have sucked up their fair share of animate and inanimate objects alike, and audiences have chased them since the time of Dorothy and Toto.

Tornadoes find their latest Hollywood role in “Into the Storm,” which sees the fictional town of Silverton, Okla., wrecked by an unprecedented series of vortexes. Whether it’s the hundreds of thousands of tweets during Syfy’s “Sharknado 2: The Second One” premiere or the host of tornado-chaser reality shows, why do such devastating natural disasters seem to fascinate?

“I think there’s something in the human spirit that likes to see things blow up,” said Bob Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. “We have the desire to see destruction; the great thing about movies is we don’t actually have to watch people blow up and die.”

Thompson said weather disaster movies have been on the rise in the past 10 years, in his opinion, due to increasing debate about global climate change as well as audience demand for exaggerated versions of real-life disasters.

“If you’re going to create a monster, you want to give it a sense that it’s actually going to happen,” he said, adding that while movies like “Into the Storm” might not be scientifically accurate, they still can terrify. “The movie’s got to make up for the fact we know it’s all fake by giving us high dosages of it.”

Reynolds Wolf, an on-camera meteorologist and correspondent with The Weather Channel, has spent 21 years witnessing the destruction that tornadoes can create. After watching “Into the Storm” at a screening last week, he said that while some aspects of the film are a stretch, it calls attention to how devastating the real disasters can be.

Elements of the movie that suggest tornadoes can be predicted are particularly misleading, Wolf said. Additionally, tornadoes sucking up fire (as seen in the movie’s trailer), several tornadoes hitting the same place or even sharks (as Syfy would have us believe) are highly unlikely—but he never says never.

“[Mother Nature] always has a surprise for us,” he said.

The surprises of nature are familiar for Olivia Castellini, a senior exhibit developer at the Museum of Science and Industry, who worked with national experts to create the museum’s four-story tornado simulator. On a daily basis, she sees reluctant and sometimes shocked visitors enter the vortex to learn about the physics of what makes tornadoes occur in nature. She said she hopes increased interest in films like “Into the Storm” and even “Sharknado” help bring in curious patrons looking for the science behind he trumped-up disaster movies.

“People have an inherent interest in these things. The impact is very personal and direct,” she said. “Tornadoes [in nature] can be very devastating.”

 

The forecast on ‘Into the Storm’

Weather Channel on-camera meteorologist Reynolds Wolf got a sneak peek at “Into the Storm” last week, and hit the red carpet Monday for the premiere. But how does the bonafide weather guy’s rate the flick? Here are some highlights.

>> Better than Twister: Wolf said he enjoyed the film a lot more than 1996’s “Twister,” mostly because of performances by lesser-known actors that seemed more believable.

>> It’s not a doc: Wolf said those going in expecting a scientifically accurate depiction of tornadoes will be disappointed, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

>> It still has a message: Wolf said for all its exaggerations and unlikelihood, “Into the Storm” contains the serious message that tornadoes should be taken very seriously. “Is it Schindler's List? Absolutely not.”

 

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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