Monday, November 14, 2016

#2,250. Fire in the Sky (1993)

Directed By: Robert Lieberman

Starring: D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Craig Sheffer

Tag line: "Alien abduction. November 5, 1975. White Mountains, Northeastern Arizona. Based on the true story"

Trivia: It was because of his performance in this film that Robert Patrick was cast in the 8th season of The X-Files

As far back as 1957, there have been regular reports of alien abductions, with seemingly normal people claiming to have been kidnapped by “otherworldly” creatures and subjected to a series of experiments. 

Naturally, such stories are difficult to swallow; if anyone ever told me they had been taken aboard a mother ship and “probed” by aliens, I’d have a hard time believing them. Hell, I'd probably think they were insane. It’s a common reaction, seeing as most members of the scientific community dismiss the possibility of alien abductions, chalking them up to fantasy, temporary insanity, etc., etc.

But are such people truly crazy? 

Dr. John Mack, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard University, released a report in 1992 which stated that, of the 60 abduction cases he researched, none of the "captives" showed any signs of mental illness. What’s more, the alleged abductees came from all walks of life: secretaries, students, housewives, etc. Most told similar stories, and were convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their experiences were genuine.

Inspired by actual events, 1993’s Fire in the Sky is a dramatized account of what happened to Travis Walton (played here by D.B. Sweeney), a laborer from the town of Snowflake, Arizona, who vanished without a trace one November evening in 1975. Part of a six-man logging crew, Travis and his co-workers, including his best friend Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick); fellow Snowflake residents David Whitlock (Peter Berg), Greg Hayes (Henry Thomas) and Bobby Cogdill (Bradley Gregg); and newcomer Allan Dallis (Craig Sheffer), had just finished working in an area of the White Mountains and, while on their way home, spotted a bright red light in a clearing just ahead of them. 

At first, they assumed it was a fire, but what they found instead was a UFO, hovering just above the ground. While Mike and the others were busy trying to figure out what it was, a curious Travis got out of the truck to investigate, and a moment or two later was hit with a beam of light emanating from the UFO that threw him backwards about ten feet. Believing he was dead, Mike sped off, only to return a short time later to look for his best friend. But there was no trace of Travis, nor any evidence that a UFO had ever been there.

Once back in Snowflake, Mike, Bobby, and the rest told Sheriff Blake Davis (Noble Willingham) about the incident, and, feeling it was a bit more than he could handle, the sheriff called in noted investigator Lt. Frank Watters (James Garner). After hearing the whole story, Watters was convinced the group was not only lying, but covering up a possible murder. Before long, the entire town, including Mike’s wife Katie (Kathleen Wilhoite) and his sister Dana (Georgia Emelin), who was engaged to Travis, began to have their doubts as well, and wanted the remaining five to take a lie detector test to see if they were, in fact, telling the truth.

Then, a few days later, Travis resurfaced in the nearby village of Heber, naked and in a state of shock…

Based on the book “The Walton Experience” by Travis Walton himself, Fire in the Sky works on a number of different levels. For starters, it’s an effective mystery, leaving us to wonder what really happened on the mountain that November night. Travis's abduction is presented as part of a flashback while Mike is talking to Lt. Watters, and because of this we, like everyone else, think it might be a cover story to hide a more sinister truth. 

In addition, the movie provides a fascinating glimpse into small-town life, and how circumstances can cause people who have known each other for years to turn against one another: almost everyone in Snowflake believes Travis was the victim of foul play. Travis’s brother Dan (Scott MacDonald) even goes so far as to threaten Mike if he doesn’t come clean.

But the best scenes in Fire in the Sky come courtesy of its final act, when Travis reappears. Via flashbacks, we eventually discover what happened to Travis during his absence, and without going into much detail, his ordeal was positively horrifying. Fire in the Sky had already been intriguing for most of its running time, but these ending sequences dragged me to the edge of my seat!

Whether Travis Walton was abducted by aliens or not, I cannot say. But I’ll tell you this: his story, truth or fiction, made for one hell of a movie!

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