MPI // 2007 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // April 11th, 2008
Unstoppable. Uncontrollable. Unimaginable.
Tornadoes are fascinating but destructive forces of nature. They are beautiful to look at from a safe distance, but they can shatter your life in a matter of seconds. I've been fascinated by these violently rotating winds ever since I first saw Twister with Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, and, although I occasionally thought about chasing tornadoes myself, I now realize it's just too much of a risk. Running after twisters is a bloody dangerous game, and Tornado Hunters clearly underlines this.
A British documentary produced for television, Tornado Hunters focuses on the so-called Tornado Alley in the Great Plains, where tornadoes are most frequent. Drawing on interviews with residents in Nebraska, Ohio, and Kansas, and using original footage captured by storm survivors, it gives viewers a better understanding of the degree of devastation these twisters can leave behind.
On a different note, the documentary also pays tribute to the fearless storm chasers who devote their lives to collecting massive amounts of weather data in order to learn more about the origins of the destructive power of twisters. The film wraps up with a focus on top U.S. researchers, who spend their lives, day in, day out, trying to capture video from the inside of a tornado.
Clocking in at 50 minutes, the film is neither too long nor too short. As a matter of fact, it's a perfect running time for a television documentary that focuses on one main theme but tries to cover many interesting issues around it. Tornado Hunters includes a variety of heartbreaking testimonials from people whose entire lives were abruptly changed by the striking power of tornadoes. While certain reenactments of survival tactics sure help the viewers to understand the danger of an approaching storm, it's the authentic footage that will leave you breathless.
The large selection of video material of twisters is 100 percent real, and I have to admit it's the most compelling footage of its kind I have ever seen on a screen. I think I would lack the courage to stand there holding the camera for as long as some people did in the film, but the result was worth the risk. From staggering funnel clouds to the full appearance of massive tornadoes that literally crush trees, cars, and entire buildings, Tornado Hunters offers a horde of sensational shots that will leave you spellbound. One of the most memorable scenes in the film was captured by a storm chaser during Hurricane Charlie, whose strong winds blew an entire gas station to pieces in a matter of minutes.
As beautiful as they may be to look at, tornadoes usually create substantial havoc as they rip through forests, towns and cities. Interestingly, the film also shows how traumatizing twisters can be for local residents. One survivor for instance, tells viewers how she had to hold on to a drainpipe while a twister roared around her. In an other interview, a 4-year-old girl explains how she keeps having bad dreams after a tornado almost took her family's entire home. In contrast, Tornado Hunters also digs into the minds of storm chasers, examining what it is exactly that drives them to risk their lives on a daily basis. To many of them, as we are told, running after twisters is "like oxygen." Chasers may often be considered crazy nuts who have nothing better to do than take pictures of the planet's most dangerous weather systems, but the film shows how these professionals can also become lifesavers. After all, they are the only ones heading straight into the direction of the storm, which also makes them the first ones to arrive on the scenes of disaster.
Most of the film's storm footage was shot by witnesses using their own cameras, but the quality of the picture is formidable throughout. I guess this has to do with the constant quality improvements of video cameras, but the image is always sharp enough, even when the weather worsens and the dark, threatening clouds conquer daylight. I can't complain about the audio, either, because the roaring sound of the twisters is at the same time compelling and utterly frightening.
Unfortunately, the disc offers no extras, except English subtitles to go along with the feature film. But the lack of bonus material is no big deal because the footage of the film is so breathtaking that it will make you want to watch it over and over again.
Tornado Hunters is a short, impressive documentary that dazzles audiences with unique footage of the real deal. As much as tornadoes fascinate me, I think it's for my own good to stay away from them at any cost. Unless you are a crazy, brave storm chaser yourself, you should do so as well. Get a copy of this DVD instead; it's really worth it.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated