Friday, March 11, 2011

Sean Casey's Tornado Alley IMAX Film and Aurora Borealis!

I was lucky enough to be contacted by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago earlier this week with an invitation for myself and a guest to attend the exclusive world premiere screening and banquet for Sean Casey's IMAX film, Tornado Alley. Being a tightwad, I had hoped to see the film but wasn't dying to pay museum prices to do so. Who was I to turn down a free invitation, though?!

I was joined by the lovely Tia for a wonderful evening at one of the coolest museums in the world. The banquet was nice, with an open bar along with the typical catering heaters stocked with pretzels, quesadillas, and miniature pizzas. But of course, I'm not writing to discuss the quality of the overly salted pretzels, or the far understocked miniature pizzas!

Sean's film far exceeded my expectations. In a way that's hard to say though, because I wasn't really sure what to expect. I was not sure if he'd go the route of a quiet nature documentary, or something with a lot of behind the scenes mumbo jumbo. As it turns out, he found the perfect middle ground.

I would equate the film to the movie Twister, but without the crappy Hollywood special effects. Plenty of action, but with 100% real in your face tornado video. Rather than computer animated houses rolling on to the field, you've got real life 50 gallon oil drums flying past the camera like leaves blowing in a breeze. There was a lot of shuffling around and mix-matching dates, but when you're fitting a decade of filming into a 45 minute film there isn't a lot of time to establish different filming dates. Any storm chaser could probably tell you that each subsequent scene was not from the same date, but the general public would probably never know. He was also able to mix in some behind the scene information on the Vortex 2 project, but not so much that it became boring and lost its way. A little information was cool, but people aren't filling the theater to see IMAX footage of gear covered trucks and gangly grad students hanging out in wheat fields.

As if anyone familiar with the storm chasing world didn't see it coming, his featured "shot" was during the Goshen County, Wyoming tornado. The scene from the Discovery Channel show Storm Chasers can be seen here. The shot was definitely sweet, but I don't even think it was in the Top 5 coolest shots featured in the film, but that may just be the storm chaser in me.

Sean and crew were inside Wadena, Minnesota on June 17th 2010 when a massive EF4 violent tornado rolled through the town. The footage captured by his IMAX camera while they drove through, and came to a stop in a residential town were just incredible. You can see the Discovery Channel clip from this intercept film here:



There a snippits from Sean's IMAX camera in there, but the quality is low and for obvious reasons they did not air any of the coolest shots. I couldn't help feel like I was a helpless resident of Wadena standing on my front lawn watching this monster fly by my home while I watched this scene.

The other thing that struck me while watching this film, was that it was almost like getting to stand and watch a tornado in real life while in a protective bubble. As a storm chaser I've been close to significant tornadoes before, but during these moments your heart is racing and you're often concerning yourself with several things while you watch the tornado churn. Being able to see a tornado in as close to real life as you are going to get without being there as it happened, but being able to sit in a reclined leather chair while it happens was amazing. You've got a life size tornado, with your body shaking from the loud roar of the tornado, and you're able to just sit back and look up/down and side to side at all the beauty of the tornado in front of you.

In the times that I have run into Sean Casey and his TIV in the field I haven't always been thrilled with his presence. On two separate occasions I was honked at aggressively to move out of my lane to avoid a head on collision due to other cars parking on the roadways. As Sean mentioned in the Q&A section as someone of course brought up the issue of "non-professional" storm chasers getting in his way while filming, no one has any more right to the road than the other, regardless of their purpose. I realize he had built a tank, and was filming a multi-million dollar project, but I did not take it kindly being honked at to attempt to coax me into driving into the ditch so he can drive on the wrong side of the road in my lane. But, I've let things go, and after seeing this film am glad he was out there filming.

While he likely has no idea who I am, and I haven't rarely been thrilled to see his giant tank driving down the road toward me, I can definitely say that the final product is something that I was thrilled to be able to experience. I know many of my friends already have tickets to see the show this weekend and am sure they will not be disappointed.

On a completely unrelated note, with a minor X-class flare from the sun 36 hours ago I was hopeful for a minor geomagnetic storm and a chance at seeing the aurora borealis in this region. I was slammed with seeing the performance of Casey's film during the evening and having two exams this morning but I ducked out for about 20 minutes last night and caught a few dim glimpses at the northern lights just outside of DeKalb last night.


Very faint pillars and a slight green hue near the horizon. Nothing to get overly excited over, but after a 5 year absence I'm glad to welcome the aurora back!

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