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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When director Steven Quale began researching tornados for a natural disaster film he turned to YouTube for inspiration from eye witness accounts to convey the real terror and devastation of twisters.
"Into the Storm," out in U.S. theaters on Friday, starts with a seemingly average day in the fictional Midwest town of Silverton that quickly changes when a storm system sweeps through, bringing the strongest tornadoes ever seen, including a monster mile-wide twister.
"People are always drawn to what frightens them. They're fascinated with the power and the destructive energy that tornadoes or hurricanes or any big natural phenomena have," Quale said. "They want to experience that, but they want to experience it in the safety of a movie theater."
Quale showcases much of the film through the eyes of storm chasers to recreate the horrifying destruction a tornado inflicts. Actors worked on set with 100 mile-per-hour (160 km-per-hour) wind machines with debris thrown into them to replicate the chaos of a tornado and gauge real reactions from the cast.
"It is something that feels real, you could be there and it doesn't take you out and suspend disbelief," the director said.
As with many natural disaster films such as 2004's "Day After Tomorrow," there is also an underlying message of real life climate change in "Into the Storm" with subtle references to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
"It's worth investigating and having scientists trying to figure out if there is a connection (to climate change), because if the storms continue, we can't survive these types of natural disasters because they're really taking a toll on the whole planet," Quale said.
The film produced by Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros studios, was made on a budget of about $50 million, and is projected by BoxOffice.com to make $14 million in its U.S. opening weekend.
"Into the Storm" follows numerous characters from different backgrounds as they are thrust together in the storm. Gary is a single father of two teen boys and vice principal at a local high school. Allison is a scientist tracking storm behavior on the road but eager to get back to her daughter and Pete is the documentary filmmaker chasing the "shot of the century" in the eye of the tornado.
British actor Richard Armitage, best known for his role as Thorin in "The Hobbit" films, saw his character Gary go through nightmare scenarios where he is called to save his children, his school and the people around him as the twisters ravage his town. The actor called Gary the "reluctant hero" of the film.
"I liked the idea that we could find something by the end of this single day, that he has emerged as a hero without realizing it, without knowing it, by instinct alone," Armitage said.
"One hopes one would react the same way given the chance."
Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Lisa Shumaker