Summer Movies: Sitting in the Dark, Making Memories with Magic

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In our film section this week, we take a look at some of the coming summer movies that will offer us a chance to cool off in the dark for a bit. Here on Mixmaster, asked a few local luminaries in the film scene to share some of their favorite summer movie memories. (We also asked former Observer web editor emeritus Nick Rallo, because he grew up around here, and we figure any man who has seen Jurassic Park 11,372 times knows something about blockbuster-love.)

The first time I saw Jurassic Park in the movie theater, I had no idea it was going to be about dinosaurs. I was 9, and had, clearly, absorbed nothing from the flutter of TV ads in between Rocko's Modern Life episodes. I knew that I loved Steven Spielberg -- E.T. was a favorite growing up -- but when the credits rolled to Jurassic Park, a black screen under an eerily prehistoric font and a feral-jungle score, I was in the stars. I assumed it was all about monsters.

See also: Summer Movies Don't Have to Suck Blockbuster Hollywood's Forgotten How to Make Good Movie -- and Money

I saw it once in the regular theater, then again at the Cinemark Movies 10 in Plano. The Cinemark 10 is a dollar theater, and it's the place I became a movie lover. I soaked in every roar, every sparkle of awe from Dr. Grant's reaction to the lumbering, benevolent Brontosaurs, and laughed every time Samuel L. Jackson's character said "Hold onto your butts." The dollar theater would be my escape as a teenager looking for an adventure.

If you're unfamiliar with the prospect of a "dollar" theater: Tickets cost somewhere between a pack of gum and a supreme taco at Taco Bell. It's because they show movies on their last-gasp distribution run, which is perfect for a kid with pocket change. I probably delayed 4,000 family dinners because my butt was sunk deep into those shitty Cinemark chairs, unable to expel lungs full of breath because of the suspense of Apollo 13, or totally overdoing it on the Cadbury-Egg-rich movie candy of Independence Day. It's the theater that made me love movies because I could watch the movies I love again.

Then, there was the late Glen Lakes 8, a sometimes seedy but brilliantly grungy theater tucked into the corner of Walnut Hill and Central Expressway. If the walls of Plano's Cinemark held my awe-struck dinosaur innocence, then the AMC Glen Lakes theater is where I became a movie-loving adult. It's where I made out with a girl during the digitally felt-up re-releases of the Star Wars movies (Greedo shot first); where I was jolted from my seat when a fortysomething man LOUDLY yelped upon seeing a full penis onscreen during The Good Girl; where a large woman, dead-center in the back, was accosted for repeatedly yelling "GET 'EM, CUBA!!" during a scene in which Cuba Gooding Jr. was firing guns in Pearl Harbor. They even carded me for the rated-R movies.

The Glen Lakes 8 is closed, which is fine. Those walls are a perfect place to leave the devastating awkwardness of being in high school. Several months after Jurassic Park left the theaters, a period of time that we'll call hell, I was watching TV in the living room, cradling a giant bag of Doritos chips. It was pouring rain in Plano. An ad flashed on the TV: Jurassic Park was out now on VHS. Which is when I shouted at my mom (in my memory the Doritos fell in slow motion to the ground, chips shattering everywhere), demanding that she go out and get the tape. She did, and I think I wore the head of that VCR down from jamming it in the player.

Movie theaters, when the projectors are going, are much more than a movie house. They are a place where it's safe to hope for an adventure, and be really, really annoyed when one doesn't happen. It's one of the few places where no one questions or notices that you've fully morphed into your kid self. And summer movies, the good ones, always make sure that you can find your way there again. The best summer movies work hard to make sure you've changed form with a healthy, piping slice of wonder sitting in your lap.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Read for yourself:

Writer/director/actor/producer and Texas Theatre impresario Eric Steele (Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self):

Best Memory of a summer film: "I have a special memory of seeing Hoop Dreams at the Medallion Theater during the summer of '94 (or '95?) with my parents. It was the first documentary I can recall seeing, and I was blown away by it. I also loved basketball and was playing in a couple leagues at the time (Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jimmy Jackson were my heroes then), so that helped. I'm pretty sure the ticket for the film was only $1, which is incredible too. Maybe the best $1 that I ever spent."

Worst Memory of a summer film: "I have a very hazy memory, in the summer of 1988, of going to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit with my family. I was very young at the time, and I don't think my parents knew what to expect. As soon as Jessica Rabbit made an appearance, my family made an abrupt exit. One of only two movies I have 'walked out on' (though, to be fair, I was forced to walk out of this one). Apparently, Jessica Rabbit was a bit too sexy for a 7-year-old."

Filmmaker David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints):

"All my summer movie memories tend to be good -- even the bad ones get good with time. One of my favorites happened the year I graduated high school, in the summer of 1999. I was a projectionist for AMC Theaters, and I took all of the summer movie previews, which at that point were still sent out on 35-mm, and meticulously edited them into a new trailer, with a hand-drawn title scratched into the film. This was before terms like 'mash-up' existed, I think, but that's basically what it was. For example, I combined clips from Deep Blue Sea with Runaway Bride to suggest that Julia Roberts was about to be eaten by a giant shark. It was awesome. I put this masterwork on the print of Star Wars: Episode 1 to ensure maximum exposure. The reaction was unanimous -- the crowds loved it. My managers suspended me for two weeks when they found out, and I think they would have fired me if they hadn't been so amused by the work itself."

Kitchen Dog Theater's co-artistic director Tina Parker (Actress in Breaking Bad and The Lone Ranger, among others):

"I don't remember a specific movie per se but when I was first grade, we lived in Baytown, and my family owned a Pinto station wagon complete with "wooden" side panels (#klassy). And my parents would put a pillow and a blanket in the back for me and go to the late show at the drive-in. Often I would pretend to be asleep but actually I would watch all of the movies (sans sound) on the screens behind/around us and make up dialogue in my head. It was the '70s, so I saw a lot of crazy things. Granted, The Omen without sound is a lot less scary. Ha.

"[Also] I would spend two weeks every summer with my aunt in Waco when I was a kid, and we could walk to the movies during the day. Perfect summer -- pour your Milk Duds in your popcorn and get out of the heat. Saw Grease one summer and really, really wanted to be like Rizzo -- as much as a dorky tall gal with a Dorothy Hamill hair-don't could be. I immediately bought the double album and learned all the songs. Did the 'You're the One that I Want' dance on our front steps. Dork! In fact, we still re-enact that dance at the State Fair when we go in the fun house. Reedonkulous."

James Wallace, creative director for Alamo Drafthouse Theater in Richardson:

"I was lucky enough to be a baby of the '80s -- maybe the single greatest decade for summer moviegoing, especially for films that now drip with nostalgia for a more carefree time of being an adventurous kid. From the days of Amblin with E.T. and The Goonies it was special time for "The Summer Movie." But there was one film in particular that still to this day was instrumental in my formation as a professional movie nerd. And that movie was Back to the Future. Now, full disclosure, I was only a year old when BTTF was released in 1985 ... but I got my hands on it as soon as I could form the word 'Jiggawatt.'

"Fast forward five years to 1989. I remember my parents taking me to see Back to the Future II as if it was yesterday. It was opening weekend at the legendary General Cinemas NorthPark -- a theater that was formative in and of itself in my youth. The entire time after the movie, I remember running through the halls of NorthPark jumping in the air as if I was McFly on a hoverboard, stopping at the duck fountain because anyone who's not a Bojo knows those boards don't work on water! I had seen the future and it was ... heavy.

"And while I'm still waiting on that hoverboard and I may not have a DeLorean to travel back to these days, these vivid memories serve as my time machine to transport me back to the good ol' days."

James Faust, artistic director for Dallas Film Society and The Dallas International Film Festival:

"I spend my year traveling the world watching some of the greatest films on the planet -- deep, moving narratives and documentaries that move audiences to action and demonstrate the true power of film. After the 150th tragedy, I start to get a little jaded. I look forward to the release and mindlessness of the summer blockbuster.

"There are two films cemented in my memory as the most emotional moviegoing experiences I have ever had.

"In 1982, I went to see E.T. The Extraterrestrial with some friends in Arlington. I was 12 years old. I rode BMX dirt bikes, loved anything space-related and I was still reeling from Raiders Of The Lost Ark. That little brown alien changed my life. I felt emotions I didn't know I had. It was a religious experience watching the plight of this little lost soul. I wiped the tears from my eyes, walked outside and immediately turned around and spent the rest of my allowance on the next two screenings, and I felt different emotions ... anger and fear the second time ... elation and a need to see it again the third time. All in all I saw E.T. 12 times in the summer of 1982. Begged my parents for the same bike Elliot rode and started a bike gang that patrolled the streets of Grand Prairie looking for ... well, just looking.

"My father used to take me to films all the time when I was kid ... stopped about the time I was 11. There was the time I rode his shoulders as we waited in line to see The Black Hole. But the day we saw The Empire Strikes Back was special. He had to see it. The first black man in space. Luke is out of the white suit and looks super cool. Me, I wanted to see my favorite space smuggler, Han Solo. He was the coolest person I'd ever known, except for my dad, but my dad didn't have a blaster and shoot Greedo (FIRST, BY THE WAY) and slither out of a bar and not pay his tab. Too cool. Lando kept a smile on my father's face, then ... carbonite. I was 10, what did I know of stasis?!!! What I knew was Han Solo was dead. That's what I heard. I screamed, "NOOOO" embarrassing my father. I was freaking out in the theater. I'm so loud I don't hear C3PO say, 'Oh. They've encased him in carbonite. He should be quite well protected. If he survived the freezing process, that is.'

"By the time I calm down, Darth Vader is dropping early Maury Povitch paternal bombs on Luke and my little head just explodes. I can't say I enjoyed the film the first time. I can say my mind was blown and a moviegoer for life was created."

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