A squall line thunderstorm approaches in north central Kansas.
From the daring vision of director Sean Casey, Tornado Alley hits the Giant Screen in a violent bombardment of the senses. Explosive and exciting, the film explores the genesis of a tornado by getting inside the storm. A dual effort from production companies Giant Screen Films and Graphic Films, Tornado Alley presents the remarkable experience of being within a tornado at ground zero.
The film follows storm chaser Sean Casey in his quest to film from within a tornado. Running parallel to his course, a team of VORTEX 2 researchers chase tornados in a scientific effort to better understand why some storms create tornados and others do not. We are thus given a brief introduction into some of the cutting edge technology VORTEX 2 uses. However, Sean Casey takes the more adventurous and macho approach with his Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV). Essentially, the TIV is a custom-made tank that allows Casey to film within the most violent weather — with the utmost goal to capture images from inside a tornado.
The film opens with vivid time-lapse sequences of storms brewing. Day turns into night under massive gray clouds filling the Giant Screen. Much of Tornado Alley contains these images of colossal storms heavy with impending dread — each time it’s a dramatic sight to behold. Coupled with an expertly crafted sound mix, the film creates an atmosphere filled with tension and unease. Once the storms do erupt, viewers are on ground level with both the TIV and VORTEX 2 scientists. In this fashion, audiences can feel the violence of storms as they unleash gale force winds, unrelenting rain and sometimes grapefruit sized hail. Shot and filmed by only the most adventurous, the film offers the closest many will get to storms of this horrific magnitude.
It is the chase towards a tornado though where the film really finds its niche. When a tornado begins to form, both the TIV and VORTEX 2 teams race in an effort to reach specific points in the storm. Naturally the TIV makes a beeline right into its center. Audiences are given a sense of the tight window upon which the teams must act, and many missed opportunities abound. However, during one storm, a tornado begins to form and the chase begins. Upon reaching the tornado, Casey and his TIV team decide the tornado is too huge and too much to handle. They agree to head back. But in an unexpected turn of events, the twister barrels towards them, giving chase and narrowing the distance as the TIV team attempts to outrun a vastly huge tornado.
Interspersed amongst these heart-pounding moments, the film confers necessary but slight educational content. We cover the science of storms in their most basic way, enough information to satisfy the student viewer. Following the VORTEX 2 scientists also provides an inside view into the study of tornadoes, but it doesn’t really connect with the audience. We overhear radio communications and intra-party banter, but the people convey nothing of importance to the average viewer. In addition, an unfortunate anti-climatic ending deflates the film. Nevertheless, the real drama is in the weather — the zero visibility, the deafening winds, the bone-jarring thunder claps. In a sense, the film is a pure visceral experience, but well worth it. Tornado Alley delivers a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience, producing some of the most savage but ultimately exhilarating images caught on the Giant Screen.