/Answers: Our Favorite Summer Movie Memories

jurassic. park

Every week in /Answers, we answer a new pop culture-related question. In this edition, we ask “What is your favorite summer movie memory?”

Matt Donato: Seeing Independence Day When I Totally Wasn’t Allowed to See Independence Day

My most prominent summer movie memory dates back to the red, white and blue weekend of July 3, 1996. The movie? Independence Day. My age? Too young. How did the stars align and allow such a theater viewing? I can’t fully recall, but that day’s “rule-breaking” high is one of the highlights of my young moviegoing career – and probably a bit skewed on what qualifications come with being a “badass.”

Given my calculated age at the time, I’m generally baffled by how my parents gave me an all-clear. My mom was a stickler for rules. No PG-13 movies until my 13th birthday, ditto for R-rated joints under her roof. That’s where my reliance on friends with “cool moms and dads” came in – and Independence Day was no different.

My best friend at the time crossed our property line, all jazzed up. “Hey, wanna go to the movies? My mom will take us to this awesome new space invaders movie.” Somehow the request made it past my own mother – assuming pops covered for me – and all systems were “Go.” Damn the man, power to the little ones!

Matt Donato. Going to the movies with his best friend (and mother), MPAA rating be damned. Where’s my child’s sized James Dean jacket? I’ve got mean-muggin’ aliens to watch.

It was a packed theater, so we had to sit a few rows from the screen. Candy was purchased (Reeses Piece’s, y’all), bladders emptied, and eyes were A Clockwork Orange wide. Was this my first epic scale blockbuster in a theater? Most likely, given how awestruck gazes were coaxed by exploding White House models, decimated freeways and Randy Quaid’s fighter pilot martyrdom. But what scene proved to be most scarring? Brent Spiner getting slammed against thick plated glass by his now-animated extraterrestrial autopsy cadaver. I must have jumped ten feet into the air when that happened – happily, mind you.

Did I indulge in adrenaline despite being jump-scared and steamrolled by mini-terrors? Every second. Could I comprehend how dynamic a patriot’s monologue Bill Pullman delivered as President Thomas J. Whitmore? Not quite. All I understood was how Independence Day would surely attribute to my growing love of cinema alongside VHS watches of Jurassic Park and Major League (seriously). That’s the summer movie memory that sticks with me – a smoke-filled research lab with Spiner’s mad scientist being worked like a marionette.

Never forgetting that image until I’m six-feet under.

Chris Evangelista: Having My Life Changed by Jurassic Park

When it comes to summer movie experiences, nothing – for me at least – will ever beat seeing Jurassic Park when it hit theaters back in May of 1993. I was only 10 at the time (please, don’t mock me for being An Old now), but I distinctly remember being in the theater. There were huge red curtains on either side of the screen, and I remember the lights going down, and those curtains parting to reveal an even wider screen. And then I remember what came after: big, huge spectacle – the type that only Steven Spielberg could deliver.

I remember being awed as the helicopter zoomed across the ocean towards the island, the John Williams music booming. And most of all, I remember a sort of religious reverence as the characters encountered the Brachiosaurus, as Spielberg panned his camera up, up, up; as the digitally rendered dinosaur filled the frame. It was magic, and I sort of feel like I’ve been chasing that feeling my whole life. I recall that when Jurassic Park hit home video, I popped it in and waited to feel that overwhelming sense of awe again. But it never came. Sure, I still loved the movie, but that magical aura had somehow gone away. And I’ll probably never really experience it again.

Hoai-tran Bui: Seeing Toy Story 3 After My High School Graduation

The first Toy Story came out when I was only 3 years old. It’s no exaggeration to say that I grew up watching the Toy Story movies, and maybe even identify each Pixar film with a different milestone in my childhood. But Toy Story was special, because it allowed its characters to grow up. Not Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, and co. — no, they stay frozen in time, testaments to the immortality of our childhood memories. Though Andy was a periphery character for a lot of the first two Toy Story movies, I came to intensely identify with him by the time Toy Story 3 rolled around. In a radical move, Pixar decided to age up Andy in conjunction with 11 years that passed between Toy Story 2 and its sequel. They even brought back the original actor, John Morris, to voice him! In Toy Story 3, Andy was all grown up and about to pack up for college, his toys collecting dust at the bottom of a chest.

Toy Story 3 came out three days after my high school graduation. My friends and I had long decided to see the movie on opening day, as the perfect capper to our final year in high school. I went with a close group of five girlfriends who I had been friends with since freshman year — we even had a name for ourselves based on a really embarrassing rap that one of us wrote (it wasn’t me, I swear). But we had a facebook group chat that we talked in constantly, and an ambitious idea to keep in contact every year involving a notebook and handwritten letters (we got lazy in the end, and that experiment failed). But we did go through with seeing Toy Story 3 together. In the end, we all walked out in pools of tears.

I probably don’t need to say that the movie’s story about growing up and moving on from your childhood hit me hard. The fact that Andy was the same age as me and my friends, packing up for college just as we were heading off to our separate schools, felt like Pixar had condensed my life experiences and turned it into a zippy animated film. I felt nostalgic, sad, and overjoyed all at once. I guess seeing Toy Story 3 made it easier to think about moving away from my friends and my childhood. And I can pinpoint the scene that did it, which was the scene that let the floodgates open and made me cry like crazy: Andy giving his toys to the little girl named Bonnie. When Andy plays with Woody and Buzz for the last time with Bonnie, and finally drives off with a sad look in his eyes, I felt like Toy Story 3 had captured everything my friends and I were feeling about moving on to college.

As my friends and I walked out of Toy Story 3 sniffling, a little girl ran by us, with short brown hair and chubby cheeks just like Bonnie. My friend pointed that out and we all smiled. By the way, we still all see each other every year at Christmas. Though we haven’t seen Toy Story 3 together in a long time. It might wreck us.

Ben Pearson: I Got a Speeding Ticket on the Way to 2 Fast 2 Furious

Weirdly, one of my favorite movie memories involved me getting a speeding ticket.

I was in high school in 2003, and during our summer vacation, a bunch of my friends and I decided to cram into my 1997 Dodge Neon – a hand-me-down car given to me by my parents – to go to our local multiplex to see 2 Fast 2 Furious. In my Florida home town, there was a notorious “shortcut” from where we lived that shaved a few minutes off any trip to the mall, so naturally we took it. The trouble was that the shortcut was dangerous, especially for a bunch of teenaged idiots: there was one little hidden nook just beyond the railroad tracks where traffic cops would occasionally hide and bust people for doing anything over 25 miles per hour.

Since we were going to see 2 Fast 2 Furious, my moronic friends were egging me on to speed the entire time I was driving to the theater, and I largely held my ground. But as the train tracks were approaching, one of them leaned up from the backseat and told me to shift the car into neutral and rev the engine. (Why? Because it would sound cool? I had an automatic transmission, for God’s sake.) In a moment of weakness, I gave in – only to loudly rev my engine DIRECTLY in front of the traffic cop’s hideaway. He pulled me over within seconds and gave me a ticket for speeding (which I definitely was). I’ve never heard my friends go from full-on raucous to silent so quickly. Yes, I got a ticket. Yes, 2 Fast 2 Furious ended up being terrible. But it all resulted in a good story, and sometimes that’s better than a good movie.

Ethan Anderton: I Saw an Early Test Screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I in Chicago

Late in the summer of August 2010, a friend of mine happened to be in Chicago seeing a movie and was offered tickets to an advanced screening happening in the next couple weeks. The person handing out the tickets had told them that it was a movie that had a poster in the theater, but he couldn’t tell them what the test screening was.

The friend in question was Emerson Spartz, the founder of MuggleNet, who has since gone on to other big internet endeavors. After discussing the prospects with me, we determined that this must be a test screening for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, especially since every Harry Potter movie has held a test screening in Chicago ever since Chris Columbus did that with the first film in 2001. And sure enough, that’s what happened.

So there we were, seated for a screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, the first audience to see the movie. It had unfinished visual effects, visible green screen, a temporary score that included tracks from The Dark Knight and Inception, and it was such a strange but fascinating thing to see. But what made it even more memorable was the fact that we were the only ones to recognize producer David Heyman actually in attendance for the screening, and we discussed the movie with him for a little while afterwards. This was before my career as a film news reporter was in full swing, so it was quite the unique experience at the time, and I’ll never forget it.

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