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New Breed of Movie Villian: The Weather

Move over, King Kong. Watch out, Darth Vader. Hollywood has just introduced its latest menacing antagonist - "Twister."

Right away, let me confess that I only wanted to see "Twister" for personal reasons. I was attending college in Ames, Iowa, where the movie was filmed in part, and had even tried out as an extra. I didn't know that movie fans across the country were eagerly awaiting the film because of the big names connected with it - producer Steven Spielberg and growing Hollywood personalities Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.

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When I sat in a crowded Boston theater for a sneak preview, I expected, well, boredom - a bunch of tornadoes and wild-and-crazy storm chasers. Call it an extra l-o-o-o-o-ng weather forecast.

But from the swirling, screaming, opening scene to the last, my attention was sucked into the vortex of "Twister" from which the only release was the rising theater lights. I wanted to see it again. And again. I wanted the audio effects to beat at my ribcage, to feel sweat pool in my palms. I wanted to go chase tornadoes that eat homes and claw neat cornfields.

Of course, it needs to be said that even though "Twister" is the first big '96 summer blockbuster, the storyline and characters are pretty puny. Aside from its small-town Midwest appeal, the attraction is almost all special effects that churn and pound and roar across the screen.

Plot is predictable, characters are clichd - though all well enough done in their own right. But any character too richly drawn would distract from the grandest, thundering principal actor of them all - the tornado.

The most famous twister in silver-screen history is the quivering, sepia figure in "The Wizard of Oz." It was fierce because it carried a witch in its belly. The tornadoes in "Twister" carry nothing as fanciful - fence pickets hurled like spears, tractors tossed like toys, black Iowa soil sucked up and darkening the sky. And these latest cinematic tornadoes would never deposit Dorothy and Toto so gently onto the yellow brick road.

While the inexperienced in meteorology will be wise to seek the nearest storm cellar should a real twister head their way, there is no need to seek shelter from this first in the barrage of summer flicks whirling onto the nearest theater screen.

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