April 14, 2014
FIRE IN THE SKY (1993) - based on a true story of alien abduction
A night to remember...
A small team of Arizona loggers come home late one night looking very shaky. They report one of their crew as a missing person. Questioned by the police, they all tell the same story, that Travis Walton had disappeared after been struck down by a UFO. The police and the townspeople find it easier to believe that they've murdered him and buried him in the woods...
Based on events in 1975, it would have been timely to adapt Walton's 1978 book of his experiences while audiences were still high from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). But it took until 1993 before a film was made, possibly mistimed by being released several months before The X-Files debuted on TV.
Fire In The Sky boldly starts with the caption 'Based on a true story'. While this makes us uneasy that all this actually happened, true stories don't necessarily make good plots for movies. In close parallel to Communion (1989), once we've seen the recreation of the abduction, the story has to end before Walton gets his book deal and sells the film rights.
I enjoy this and Communion because a little part of me wants to believe. I also a enjoy a good nightmare, and Fire In The Sky delivers a wonderfully scary abduction. With Walton exploring an organic spacecraft in zero gravity and being treated like a lab rat. Excellent practical visual effects, disorientating camerawork and a nagging sense that this is how aliens would look like and behave, make this the obvious highlight.
The very watchable cast has too little to do, but it's wonderful to see James Garner playing a detective again. The crew of witnesses are mostly made up of sci-fi stars. D.B. Sweeney is convincing as the shell-shocked Travis Walton. Robert Patrick plays his best friend, years before joining The X-Files, in his first major role after Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sweaty, ripped Craig Sheffer, who starred in Nightbreed, here plays the renegade of the group. Henry Thomas was ten years older than when he met the very different extra-terrestrial of E.T.. Peter Berg had starred in Shocker and was decades away from directing the alien war story Battleship (2012).
There's also fun in trying to figure out the holes in this 'true story', through the thick veil of a Hollywood adaption. My suspicions are fired by the fact that this all took place only two weeks after The UFO Incident first aired on TV. The hugely successful TV movie dramatised the first alien abduction story to be taken at all seriously by the mainstream.
I watched the 2004 region 1 Paramount DVD (pictured at top), which is 2.35 letterbox and anamorphic widescreen. Last year it was again released on DVD by Warner Archive (above).