“Fire in the Sky” 30 Years Later – A Chilling Sci-Fi/Horror Gem

Welcome back dear readers to our new monthly segment of…ALIEN ABDUCTION APRIL!

This week, we cover a highly coveted sci-fi alien film that really brought a down-to-earth and chilling sense of realism to the sci-fi genre with this biopic. The 1993 sci-fi mystery cult classic Fire in The Sky!

The Disappearance of Travis Walton
Based on the book The Walton Experience, Travis Walton, the author of said book, recounts the true events of what happened to him when he was abducted by a strange UFO spacecraft back in 1975.  Granted, the movie takes a lot of creative license with Walton’s account in the interest of making things more exciting and scary.

The movie takes place in the mountain town of Snowflake, Arizona on November 5th, 1975, where several members of a logging company arrive late in the night at a bar near the edge of town, making a phone call to talk to the sheriff. In the bar, they recount to law enforcement driving home from the logging site. As they travel home, they noticed that the sky was turning a bright shade of red and a mysterious object floating in the distance

It’s a stunning sight that’s equal parts beautiful and terrifying.

Like a moth to a flame, their truck comes upon it, with Travis Walton (D. B. Sweeney) stepping out and walks toward it, as if being beckoned to the ship. As his crew yells to him to get away, a beam of light engulfs Walton and lifts him up slowly. Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), the leader of the logging crew and best friends with Walton, panics and then wildly drives away, looking for anyone who can help them.

The local law enforcement headed by Sheriff Blake Davis (Noble Willingham) is baffled by this story, but forms a search party to comb the mountain range. But even with their best efforts, they cannot find Walton anywhere. Soon the town is swarmed with news media, alien abduction societies and those curious about the missing man who they claim were taken by extraterrestrials. The townspeople question Rogers’ story to the point that he even offers to take a lie detector test to prove his innocence.

The Abduction of Travis Walton
Walton is eventually found alive, but very tired, dehydrated, confused and lacking any clothes. After recovering in the hospital, Walton then finally recounts the events of what transpired after being beamed up.

Travis’ life would never be the same after this event…

What I really loved is the sense of realism that the filmmakers convey in their film to make you feel like you are a part of this small town. You feel the struggle that Rogers faces as he tries to prove the innocence of his men as they try and justify their story to a town that thinks that they are either insane, covering up a possible murder or pulling off the most elaborate prank in the town’s history is very engaging. Rogers’ heartfelt plea to the townspeople at the church was especially gripping, thanks to Robert Patrick’s excellent performance.

But Travis Walton’s abduction and experience inside of the spacecraft and the reveal of what the aliens look like was the real showstopper. The entire sequence of what happened to Walton as he tries to escape from the ship was truly spine-chilling. I really felt that I was with Travis Walton in that alien ship as he tried to escape. I felt that tension and was on the edge of my seat.

The whole sequence, while brief, is absolutely terrifying. And reportedly gave many people nightmares.

The decaying body he finds, the surreal use of gravity as he tries to scale the wall of pods to escape, finding alien spacesuits that even surprised me and the horrifying recapture and experimentation that he was put through really left an impact on me long after the credits rolled.

The Relatability of Travis Walton (and Friends)
The film has a great down-to-earth form of storytelling that makes you feel that you are among the men who are trying to prove their innocence while always having a nagging feeling in the back of your mind if it really is them telling the truth, or if there is something else happening that we are not really seeing.

He’s now forever haunted by the images of these genuinely creepy aliens. Their minimalist, practical design is scary and really holds up decades later.

I really felt a connection with the men in the story as they were coming to terms with the possibility that they may still be charged with possible murder. You really feel a human connection with them that makes the drama engaging and gripping. The ending especially is a bit heartbreaking. I won’t go into detail, but it really shows how we all must come to terms with past hardships, accept them and learn to move forward.

A great buildup of atmosphere solidifies the story being told. From the abduction itself, to the lie detector test being performed on the logging crew to the alien ship that Walton wanders through, you feel the tension and awe of the scenes as they unfold. You feel an unease as Walton tries to escape from the ship and when he is first beamed up. You feel the tension of Rogers and his crew being harassed by various townspeople and those who claim to want to help them.

Actors Scott MacDonald and Robert Patrick, who played Dan Walton and Mike Rogers respectively in the film, really spent time with their counterparts in an effort to portray them as authentic as possible on screen. And they both deliver excellent performances. Robert Patrick in particular wanted to break away from his role as the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, after being typecast for various villain parts, chose this role to really showcase his own acting talent.

Fire in the Sky is far from Robert Patrick’s most famous performance. But it’s arguably one of his best.

The special effects for the alien spacecraft and the aliens themselves were handled by Industrial Light & Magic. They did an excellent job in showing a spacecraft that really felt like something that the audience had not seen quite like before, giving it further realism and depth that sets it apart from other sci-fi films of its time.

The cinematography done by Bill Pope, whose credits include such horror classics as Darkman and Army of Darkness, as well as Bedazzled, is also exceptional. From the cutting down and falling of the trees in the upper mountains to the angles used to convey the “alien” nature of the inside of the UFO, you really feel that this is a real, lived-in world.

Director Robert Lieberman does an excellent job in setting up the story, the setting, and the character exploration for Fire in The Sky. He gives a fantastic, down-to-earth sense of realism to the world he creates and really makes you feel invested from beginning to end.

Sure it features the aforementioned alien spaceship sequence. But the film smartly holds this until the end, and focuses on the human dynamic of the whole story.

Originally, Fire in The Sky had been a passion project of his for quite some time, but needed the budget and studio backing to make it work. It was thanks to a chance opportunity in making the romantic comedy Christmas film All I Want For Christmas starring Leslie Nielsen and getting it completed in 1991 vs. its original 1992 holiday opening that then prompted the newly appointed head of Paramount Pictures Brandon Tartikoff to offer him a chance to make whatever movie he wanted next.

This was a personal thank you to Lieberman for getting the prior film done 1 year ahead of schedule, as Tartikoff wanted to come off strong in his new position for that holiday season at the box office. Both men originally came from a television background, so that too helped in Lieberman’s favor to get the film made.  Interestingly, Lieberman would later direct an episode of The X-Files.

In summary, Fire in The Sky is well worth your time if you are looking for a more engaging, entertaining story of true events with extraterrestrial life. With a great cast, a very gripping story, and some excellent special effects near the end of the film, this is one to watch for sure. And be sure to keep an eye on the credits near the end of the film. It really solidified my belief that we are not alone in the universe.

Five UFO Saucers Out of Five.

Next week, a made-for-television special featuring the legendary actor behind the voice of Darth Vader in the lead role of The UFO Incident.

So until next week dear readers, keep your eyes on the skies…and don’t stay out too late driving home in the woods.

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