“An Arizona logger mysteriously disappears for five days in an alleged encounter with a flying saucer in 1975.” — IMDb
Fire in the Sky is one of the few movies on this blog that just barely make it into the horror category for me. While this film has two particular scenes that squarely qualify it as terrifying, it is largely a biographical drama.
Loosely based on Travis Walton‘s book The Walton Experience, this movie shows his story about a supposed alien abduction when he was a logger in Arizona in 1975. His experience is one of the most well-known abduction stories, in no small part because of the group of witnesses he had with him in the form of his team. He was missing for 5 days before he was finally found, and he has been convinced ever since that he was taken aboard an alien vessel.
** SPOILERS! **
Probably my biggest issue with this movie is how inaccurate it is. I get it, you have to do what’s profitable and what will bring people to the theater… but the way they portrayed his actual experience on board the unidentified vessel bears almost no resemblance to his personal documentation. To say that the scriptwriter, Tracy Tormé, took some liberties is an understatement. The only similarities are that it is Travis Walton on a UFO… and that’s it. Even the alien creatures themselves, which he mentioned several times having massive cat-like brown eyes, really aren’t similar. To me, it takes away from the impact of the film when you so dramatically alter the key part of the encounter.
It seems like the whole film is going in a much darker direction from the outset. We have several moments of purposeful and creative misdirection and symbolism, both in the opening scene of a white light becoming more visible over the crest of a hill (just headlights of the truck) and in Watters’s first scene with a line of red lights reflecting on his windshield (just the wooden arm of train tracks descending). Even, later on, when we see one of the loggers in the church and it opens with a stained glass window showing Jesus with a beam of light shining on his face…
The abduction scene itself is chilling. I loved the depiction of the UFO site looking like the glow from a blazing fire, I loved Travis’s childlike wonder as he can’t help but leap from the car and go explore, I loved the atmospheric steam-like presence around the ship, and I loved how when he looked up at it, it had the appearance of lava, with dark cracks in the illuminated color. It was, to me, much more evil-looking than the stereotypical abduction scene can be. You didn’t get the feeling that these creatures were simply curious, but that they had a much more malevolent intention.
The majority of the movie after that just plays out as almost a crime drama. No one in the community believes them, and tensions continue to rise as Travis remains missing and Watters (played by James Garner) is determined to pin at least one of them with murder. The sleepy town of Snowflake, Arizona, is rocked by the media coverage and the surge of tourists wanting to do their own investigating. It’s interesting and entertaining but then Mike, Travis’s best friend, gets a collect call from him and the fun really begins.
It was disturbing enough when they find Travis, completely naked and curled up in front of a general store, screaming whenever he was touched (also not accurate to his real-life recollection, but I digress). But when, later on, after getting bits and pieces of flashbacks, he has a full-on memory overload of waking up in a strange, gelatinous pod, floating around in the midst of a zero gravity cavern, completely lost and terrified… whoa. The whole damn scene left me slack-jawed, but I wish I could show you how wide my eyes got when they drag him onto the table and cover him in the thin, white membrane (an EXCELLENT visual image), shoving a marmalade-like goo in his mouth, pooling milky white liquid in his eyes… I mean holy GOD. The whole thing is shocking, particularly in the context of what is overall a very tame movie. It’s honestly about 85% of why I watched it in the first place — that scene has a reputation.
Oh, and D.B. Sweeney, who plays Travis Walton, is a spitting image of Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer, so… that’s just fun. Clearly, David Wain got his inspiration from this fun little alien abduction flick. AND Greg, the youngest of the logging group, is played by Henry Thomas, who was Elliot in E.T. AAAAND Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, was so impressed with Robert Patrick (who played Mike) that he cast him as Agent Doggett in season 7. Just a few fun tidbits for ya.
So, yes, a movie so inaccurate that I think the term “biopic” is gratuitous at best… but still a fairly solid film, especially if you’re looking for some nightmare fuel.
Rating: 6/10 | Director: Robert Lieberman | Writer: Travis Walton (book), Tracy Tormé (screenplay) | Music: Mark Isham | Cinematography: Bill Pope | Starring: D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Craig Sheffer, Peter Berg, Henry Thomas, Bradley Gregg, Kathleen Wilhoite, James Garner