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Film Review : Tornado Alley

Jan 30, 2012 11:50AM ● By Justin Buettner

Tornado Alley 3D IMAX, follows filmmaker Sean Casey’s quest to capture IMAX footage in the center of, well, a tornado. The film also follows a research team called VORTEX-2, who sends a 40 vehicle team in hopes of getting the most extensive data on tornados in the hopes of developing a better warning system.

Tornado Alley falls victim to expectations that honestly can’t be met. Because of lower budget shows like Stormchasers that shoot with normal film production equipment, they get a lot more footage and the chance to capture a much larger array of shots of storms. Using the IMAX 70 mm film and cameras limits filmmakers in their ability to capture shots both from a cost standpoint and just a filmmaker's ability to transport and use the equipment. After all, an IMAX film camera weighs 92 pounds. That’s a far cry from the 5-20 pounds of other professional equipment. With its limited ability to shoot a lot of coverage, trying to be lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to get just one great moment, let alone a whole film worth of great shots is just too daunting.

Casey misses an opportunity to really entertain the audience. The film is at its most interesting when it follows his own ambitions of getting inside the storm -- the way he learned to weld to construct his own armored vehicle to withstand these violent storms was fascinating. The things that he and his crew thought up including hydraulic spiked anchors to attached the vehicle to the ground was awesome. However the film diverts the audience away from Casey and his team and follows a second scientific unit that want to study storms -- Tornado Alley lost my interest during these segments for a few reasons. First, the people were not as interesting -- during these sequences, the film just lacked the passion that was so abundant when Casey was on screen. Second, the film turned into more of a school room lecture during these scenes as it tried to deliver a lot of information in a short period of time. Further, the educational part is left incomplete. They get the data in the end, but the film was unable to say what kind of advancement or new information was gleaned from this data. It felt like the first episode in a season long series, and since no more episodes are forthcoming it leaves the audience feeling that they missed the point.

Tornado Alley has a great poster image, but the film fails to live up to the poster’s promise. Even at 40 minutes, the movie feels long as it isn’t packed with enough storm action to warrant the running time. The build up to the last frame of IMAX footage shot within the storm was rather disappointing. Because they were in an open field, the amount of carnage and terror was minimal to say the least. News footage of reporters standing in foul weather before hurricanes in Florida packs a larger punch. In fact, several prior shots of storms in Tornado Alley were grander in scope than the final storm caught on film. Unfortunately, this movie feels like a work in progress. Though it’s undeniable the amount of work and energy that Casey has put into this film, perhaps if he is able to film for another eight years with a larger budget he will be able to complete his masterpiece and put together a more definitive movie on his subject.

Films like Tornado AlleyTwister and Stormchasers IMAX

Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.

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