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Fire in the Sky

Staying up in the White mountains last weekend, what better time to watch the creepy UFO abduction thriller FIRE IN THE SKY? The encounter supposedly took place just a few miles from where we were, adding a little extra dread as the tale unfolds.

“Based on a true story” is open to a lot of interpretation as we meet a group of five Arizona loggers working in the pines of Snowflake/Heber.

Robert Patrick (T2) is Mike, the crew chief, DB Sweeney (The Cutting Edge) is Travis Walton, Henry Thomas (ET) is the youngest of the bunch, Greg, Craig Sheffer (A River Runs Through It) is Allan, the badass of the bunch, Bradley Gregg in Bobby and Peter Berg is David, the quiet one.

One night, coming back from a long day’s work, they see a strange, massive red light in the woods. Stunned to see a flying saucer, they are all frozen except Travis, who walks out of the truck and into the field beneath the UFO.

When he’s caught in a beam of light and thrown violently to the ground, the rest of the crew panics and speeds away. When Mike drives back alone to get him moments later, Travis is gone.

The news media and law enforcement descend on the small town the next day as the murmurs start that they killed Travis and are covering it up with a UFO story.

This could have easily been a cheap B-movie, little green men story, but the cast elevates it with strong performances across the board. James Garner brings additional gravitas as Frank Watters, an FBI man that would look as comfortable on a horse as he does in the interrogation room.

Soon, the entire town is convinced that they’ve killed Travis. Even their families doubt their story, which is identical across all five men.

But after five days, Travis returns naked, terrified, and fragile.

The lawmen are confused, the crew is thrilled to see him, but Travis is shell shocked.

The film goes from spooky little diversion to horror thriller as Travis flashes back to his times aboard the ship.

Cleverly staged, violent and scary, the last ten minutes feature the longest of the sequences inside the ship, serving up some terror and genuine, gross tension.

As the film details, these five men passed a lie detector test before Travis came back and once again some twenty years later.

Watching it, we all felt like one of them surely would have broken by now if this isn’t what happened. I lean toward a total disregard for flying saucer stories, but the history around this one is harder than most to ignore.

One of my favorite comedians does a whole routine about why aliens who have traveled from light years away would all seem so anxious to do anal probes on humans. It’s laugh out loud funny, but Travis’ violation by the aliens in FIRE IN THE SKY is anything but funny.

Walton has said that the scenes in the craft bear no resemblance to what he experienced in the ship and his book “The Walton Experience” was the accurate description of his abduction.

The film fizzled at the time of its original release but found new life in video stores, becoming a sleeper hit on VHS (and Laserdisc and DVD….)

True or not, it’s a hell of a story. FIRE IN THE SKY gets a solid B.

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