Tornado Alley 3D
Dir. Sean Casey
Aus Rating: G
Running Time: 43mins
Both mediums are so fully integrated into the cinema-going experience that I was surprised to find sitting down to watch a 43-minute 3D documentary on the IMAX screen actually still has as much novelty value as it once did. That giant screen is still awe-inspiring, as is the idea of these documentarians lugging around the massive IMAX cameras for years at a time to put a barely feature length film to celluloid. Sitting down in an IMAX seat – a genuine IMAX seat, not one of those multiplex quote unquote versions – is daunting and I can just remember
With Sean Casey’s visceral Tornado Alley, the IMAX and 3D formats are put to rather exceptional use, and it works as a telling reminder of the impact they can still have. Audiences have no doubt seen tornado footage dozens, if not hundreds, of times before on their flat 2D television screens, but witnessing it on such a scale – the IMAX screens in Sydney and Melbourne are amongst the largest cinema screens in the world – is completely different.
In Tornado Alley, Sean Casey follows a team of scientific tornado chasers whose goal is to apparently live out the plotline of Jan de Bont’s windy blockbuster Twister and research the hows and whys of tornado formation. Parallel to that he follows his own mission to capture the inside of a tornado with an IMAX camera from inside his reinforced tank. Images of Mad Max are to be expected once you see this less scientific and more macho beast of an automobile that’s for sure. Weighing 14,000 pounds and customised with bullet-proof glass, a 6.7 litre turbo diesel engine and a 92 gallon fuel tank (thank you official website), this car known as TIV2 is built purposely to withstand the impact of being in the centre of a category 5 tornado and can travel at 100mph. There are even spikes that dig into the ground of added holding power! Casey intercuts between these two missions whilst throwing around graphs, charts, weather patterns and other scientific mumbo jumbo to appease teachers taking their classes on field trips under the pretence of “education”.
Usually when a documentarian inserts himself into the film it becomes more about their smugness and desire for attention than anything else, but Casey’s passion for storm chasing is so infectious that it works and his half of the film proves more fascinating than the less chest-beating weathermen that he shares the roads with. There’s grandeur to his half of the film that lifts the film above a mere dry science lesson and with editing reminiscent of a Hollywood disaster movie it’s certainly exciting when that funnel is charging towards the screen. And in 3D, of course.
The IMAX cameras capture astounding images of the American south (known as “tornado alley” due its high frequency of storms) and they look stunning projected onto the big screen. If Bill Paxton (yes, from Twister – oh the hilarity) constantly, and lifelessly, narrating to us about the “warm moist air” had been excised, I would have been more than happy to keep watching for longer than the three quarters of an hour running time. Still, if it’s been a while since your last traditional IMAX experience then Tornado Alley could be an exciting remedy. B