The ‘Twister’ Ride Is Closing, Which Means We Have to Say Goodbye to the Greatest IDGAF Performance Ever
Have you ever watched The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and thought to yourself, “Man, I would love to play Battleship with celebrities and occasionally fall over things and suffer a string of comical minor injuries?” Well good news! Universal announced yesterday that starting in 2017, you’ll be able to Trip Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon at a brand new attraction in Universal Studios Florida. On The Tonight Show, Fallon said his ride would be like Universal’s wildly popular Harry Potter attractions “except instead of Harry Potter, it’s me, and instead of Hogwarts, it’s New York City.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is making room for Race Through New York means closing another ride; Twister... Ride It Out. That attraction itself is no great shakes, but when it closes forever on November 2, 2015, something great will close with it: The greatest I-don’t-give-a-f--- performance in the history of acting.
A bit of backstory here: Twister... Ride It Out opened at Universal Studios Florida in 1998, about two years after the release of the movie Twister. Because the movie never spawned any sequels, spinoffs, or reboots, younger cinephiles might not realize how big Twister was in the mid-’90s. It was huge. It made almost half a billion dollars worldwide, the equivalent of almost $750 million today. It was the second-highest grossing movie of 1996 in the U.S., ahead of Jerry Maguire, The Rock, Scream, and the original Mission: Impossible. It made almost three times as much as Space Jam and almost four times as much as The English Patient, the year’s eventual Best Picture winner.
Twister was also one of a new wave of blockbusters in the mid-’90s built and sold almost entirely on cutting-edge CGI. The film didn’t boast any big-name actors (the leads were filled by perennial supporting player Bill Paxton and sitcom star Helen Hunt); its real star was a mess of bad weather, designed by the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic. It was nominated for two Oscars (Best Visual Effects and Best Sound) and two Razzies, winning the 1996 prize for Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million.
That might have been overstating things, but there’s no question Twister was first and foremost a showcase for its show-stopping special effects. No wonder then that Universal moved quickly to turn the movie into an FX showcase at Universal Studios Florida, where it opened in a space formerly occupied by a Ghostbusters stage show. In Twister... Ride It Out guests are ushered onto a “soundstage” where they witness a recreation of one of the film’s tornado touchdowns. Winds howl, rain falls, the ceiling buckles, and a cow flies through the room (a reference to a famous scene in the movie), before the entire floor drops a couple inches and everyone’s ferried out to the gift shop.
Twister’s effects were largely computer-driven, while Twister... Ride It Out’s cyclone is entirely practical, meaning that even in its heyday, the ride was a little bit hokey. Without question, the time for this attraction has come and gone. When it’s closed in a couple days, very few will miss it. I certainly won’t. But I will miss its pre-show, which features an actor giving perhaps the most phoned-in performance ever recorded by motion picture cameras.
That actor is Bill Paxton, who hosts the ride’s introductory videos with Helen Hunt ... sort of. Paxton and Hunt share duties describing the beauty of tornadoes and the difficulties of shooting Twister, but they don’t share the same frame. Instead they stand in totally different locations, and alternate lines while appearing on side-by-side TVs.
Though it’s never been confirmed, the reports on many (many) websites claim that by the end of shooting, Paxton and Hunt hated each other so much that they only agreed to appear “together” in Twister... Ride It Out separately, hence the two different shoots and locations. (To be fair, several years ago Paxton said he’d love to direct a Twister sequel that would star Hunt, so the story could be apocryphal.)
But whether he and Hunt were buds for life or mortal enemies, Paxton delivers his pre-show lines with all the enthusiasm of a narcoleptic on a ZzzQuil bender. “A tornado is one of the most awe-inspiring sights one can witness in nature,” Paxton says, in a cadence that makes Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller sound like Pee-wee Herman. He describes the “majesty and mystery” of twisters the way a soul-dead DMV employee would describe the form you need to fill out to renew your driver’s license.
He can’t even say “I’m Bill Paxton” convincingly, and that is his actual name.
He knows he’s Bill Paxton and not Bill Pullman, right? Bear in mind, this was the best take. This was the take deemed good enough to run in a major theme part attraction for 20 years. One can only imagine what the other takes looked like.
Paxton’s stance — hands on waist, hips cocked, gut out as far as it will possibly go— is magnificent too. That is the body language of a man who wants you to know he does not give a s---. No one on Earth has ever cared less about anything than Bill Paxton cared about this video.
The depths of The Pax’s disinterest is so great it’s even inspired a few YouTube imitators. Come to think of it, this would even make a great Halloween costume: Bored Twister... Ride It Out Bill Paxton. All you need is a blue work shirt, a monotone drawl, a couple of tornado factoids, and a terrible attitude.
Tornados are measured on what’s known as the “Fujita scale,” from F0 to F5, with the latter representing the monstrous storms featured in Twister. I propose we memorialize Paxton’s Twister... Ride It Out performance by creating the “Paxton scale” of actorly indifference. An P0 is a fully committed performer, like Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. You get up into the P2 or P3 range, that’s somebody who’s having trouble mustering much passion for their third Transformers sequel. And the rare and beautiful P5 is achieved when an actor’s boredom becomes so palpable it actually makes his performance perversely exciting.
In a few days, the creator of the Paxton scale will be gone forever so that tourists can race through New York with Jimmy Fallon, who will no doubt be a lot more excited about his Universal Studios attraction. That’s fine. Personally though? I will miss Completely Uninterested Bill Paxton and his delicious demeanor of insouciance. Orlando is the supposedly “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” but it’s also the Land of Phony Enthusiasm. P5 Bill Paxton was pretty much the last guy in the whole town who refused to play along. Shine on, you apathetic diamond. You were too beautifully impassive for this world of artificial cheer.