Monday, April 27, 2009

Historic Summer

Settle yourself down, and hearken to me as I spin a tale of an age long past. The year was 1999, and I was in the waning days of my third year of collegiate studies for my B.S. at the University of Kansas. I was planning on spending the summer taking thermodynamics, and I needed to find some sort of basic employment to earn a little money while living over on Daisy Hill in one of the residence halls. I found such employment at the Southwind 12 movie theater, and though it was a pretty mind-numbing job it did have the benefit of free passes to as many movies as I could watch. We even got to screen films the night before they opened, and it was quite a summer to have free access to the silver screen.

Some of the better films that came out that summer of 1999 were The Matrix, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, The 6th Sense, The Mummy, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Some fairly middle of the road movies released were Eyes Wide Shut, American Pie, and The General's Daughter.

There were a few pretty horrible flicks that I also was glad I didn't have to pay anything to see, which included Deep Blue Sea, The Haunting, and (it burns, it burns) Wild Wild West. Yes, such depths to which Hollywood will stoop were plumbed all too often that summer.

The last movie I screened as an employee was The Blair Witch Project, which was a lot of fun. Nobody had seen it yet, and everybody on the theater crew was pretty "into" the viewing experience. One girl cried through a lot of the movie, and had to leave the theater near the end, as she was so freaked out. When we walked out to the lobby after the film's disturbing conclusion, we found that outside the building was enshrouded with a thick fog. It was so thick that we could barely see the first rank of cars in the parking lot. That was a good, creepy way to bid "adieu" to my summer as an employee in the motion picture industry. I actually had finished my summer class and was headed out to Colorado for a camping trip during which I visited the Great Sand Dunes, hiked up Mt. Elbert, and white water rafted a stretch of the Arkansas River. I borrowed my parents' Eureka brand tent, which also happened to be the same model that the kids in The Blair Witch Project used. Everything is connected...

Anyhow, the real highlight of this summer was the fact that on May 19 a little film titled Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace debuted. I had made the effort to keep myself totally ignorant of spoilers about the movie. Over the months leading up to the debut, I had not watched any of the previews, looked and read nothing about the movie online, and generally done my best to make it to opening day without knowing the least bit of what was in store for me once I headed back to that galaxy far, far away. I took one of my friends to the afternoon screening at the Southwind 12, and had a wonderful time. That evening, I didn't have to work, so went to a much bigger theater (the Westglen 18) near KC with a bunch of my friends. Being the total Star Wars nerd I am, I went on to see The Phantom Menace another 15 times over the course of the summer of 1999. I, like the Mackenzie Brothers, did not know when to call it quits, eh.

A double-bladed lightsaber! Now I can die a happy man!

Anyhow, I freely admit I thought the movie had its ups and downs, but you have to give it to TPM that its climactic lightsaber duel was probably the most athletically and technically impressive of that shown in all 6 films. It was enough to put me back in the theater time and time again, even if I'd nod off for a while during the middle of the movie.

Anyhow, what brought this all to mind was a trip back up to Lawrence this weekend. My brother and I went to Liberty Hall and saw the buddy road trip comedy Fanboys, which I think any self-respecting Star Wars fan would be remiss to not seek out in theaters or when it comes to video. It was a nice reminder of those lighter times.


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