Inspired by the alleged alien abduction of Travis Walton, Fire in the Sky paints a mysterious yet very deep story of the impact of truth and whether people believe what is deemed extraordinary. Whether you believe the story or not, this film is bound to have an effect on you.
It is 1975 in Snowflake, Arizona and happy go lucky logger Travis Walton( D.B. Sweeney) has just started working on a job in the White Mountains. He is on the team headed by his more serious friend and future brother in law Mike Rogers, who is the kind of man who tries to keep everything running smoothly in life. Then there is the rest of the group; hot-headed troublemaker Allan Dallis( Craig Sheffer) , trustworthy and religious David Whitlock( Peter Berg) and jokers, Greg Hayes(Henry Thomas) and Bobby Cogdill( Bradley Gregg) . On the night of November 5th, they are travelling in their truck back home when they see a brilliant red light in the distance. Curious, they go to look at it and here is where events get sinister. They come across what looks like an alien spaceship, though they can’t be sure. Travis gets out to examine it and is struck by a light. Fearing him dead as he doesn’t move, the team in terror leaves. Later on, Mike returns to look for Travis but there is no sign of him. Returning to their town, they relay what they saw to the local police officer. The arrival of seasoned detective Lt. Frank Watters( James Garner) coincides with the investigation as he digs into the story. At first he doesn’t believe their tale and believes there has been foul play involved. The townsfolk get wind of events and most people are highly skeptical of what transpired. Yet when after five days, Travis turns up, disorientated and traumatised, it leaves things wide open for interpretation. Especially when he ‘remembers’ what happened to him, much to the shock of others.
Robert Lieberman is at the helm of this film and he effortlessly infuses it with a sense of time and place. He contributes a very human touch to what many will say is fiction by not going overboard with the alien aspects, keeping a certain sense of realism to things that many may sniff at. Fire in the Sky lets you make your mind up on whether the extraterrestrial encounter took place or not. It edges towards believing Walton’s claims, yet leaves a welcome ambiguity and mystery to it. What’s most impressive about Fire in the Sky is how it doesn’t go for an over sensationalised angle and instead concentrates on the pain of losing a friend and how it sends shockwaves through an uneventful small town. The film is pretty character driven, particularly by and is all the more human for it. Naturally, it has filmic elements to add to the story( which I’ll speak about later that are effectively used), and that’s what makes Fire in the Sky a strange beast. It’s a film about s science fiction subject that’s played entirely straight. Now it’s not flawless by any means( I find some parts of it don’t add up and the denouement could have been stronger), but for my money, Fire in the Sky is a very underrated movie that’s worth your time.
And when it gets to the scenes of what what happened to Travis, horrifying is taken up several notches as we witness the torture and dehumanisation of this man. Shot like a chilling horror movie, it’s a scene that genuinely makes you uncomfortable and disturbed. Many will claim that these sequences embrace science fiction too much, but I think it’s just following the story as Walton told it with an obvious bit of elaboration for the movie to chill you. And that’s not a criticism, I mean don’t all movies based on real life take some different avenues in the name of entertainment? If anything, it’s one of the best scenes in the film in terms of what it presents and just how scary it makes it. Up until that point, there has been definitely strange but these sequences that come later on in Fire in the Sky really go for the jugular. The music by Mark Isham, strikes the right chords of emotion, fear and when needed terror, to create something that plays along to the movie’s strength.
The cast assembled here is a very good one that add a lot to the film. D. B. Sweeney, with his likeable face and jovial manner is ideal for the part of the dreamer whose suddenly taken. It’s impressive because his appearance in the film is mainly in the first quarter and then the last parts, the rest of the time focuses on the other characters related to him. Sweeney manages to make Walton a full character in the time he’s on screen with just the right amount of sympathy and belief, especially after his traumatic experience which is where Sweeney really shines. Robert Patrick is given the most material and boy does he act his socks off. Embodying determination, a head full of guilt and being the boss in life, Patrick explores excellently by giving him layers and making him very relatable. It’s stellar acting from Patrick as the heart of the story. Craig Sheffer, Peter Berg, Henry Thomas and Bradley Gregg flesh out the other members of the team, with particularly good skill from Sheffer as the belligerent member and Berg as the one who tries to smooth everything into a positive. James Garner is a huge plus to the cast and he’s obviously relishing the role of old school lieutenant. Still bearing that twinkle in his eye and wit that balances with notes of grim seriousness, Garner is superb.
Involving, emotional and by turns very creepy, Fire in the Sky is an intriguing film that I think deserves a bigger audience, especially for its acting and aforementioned revelations. I think many will enjoy the mystery and very human drama within Fire in the Sky.