FIRE IN THE SKY dramatizes Travis Walton's abduction by aliens in 1975. Believe it or not, this fantastic story (of a close encounter of the worst kind) ultimately proves to be pretty uninvolving, relying on the quality of the performances to maintain interest.
The passengers of a pickup truck report that their friend Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney) has been abducted by a UFO. The local police, joined by Special Investigator Frank Watters (James Garner), arrive to question the men. Among the group are David "The Choirboy" Whitlock (Peter Berg), drifter
and ex-con Allan Dallis (Craig Sheffer), and Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), the group's leader. According to the group, best friends Mike and Travis had been working with the others clearing trees in the forest. One night they saw strange red lights in the sky and, on investigating, found a UFO.
Travis jumped out of the truck and was struck by a beam of light; the others fled in panic. When Mike calmed down, he went back for Travis, but both Travis and the spaceship had gone.
Days pass. The search parties find nothing, and Watters suspects foul play. Worse, the men must face the stares and suspicions of their fellow townspeople. Even Mike's wife doesn't believe his story, and he moves out. As the town is besieged by media and UFO buffs, Mike, David, and Allan argue
about the pressure of telling the truth while being thought liars. Allan is certain that Watters will eventually arrest him for Travis' murder (he and Travis fought), even if they never find a body. Later, an angry Mike interrupts a town meeting to confront his accusers. He asserts that the UFO
story is true and agrees to take a lie detector test.
Five days after the abduction, Mike gets a phone call from Travis. They find him some distance from town in the rain--naked, bruised, and in shock. At the hospital, they fight when Mike reveals to Travis that they left him behind. When he returns home, Travis has a flashback of waking in a vast
chamber filled with storage pods, floating around the spaceship, suffocatingly wrapped in a gelatinous elastic substance, and being examined by menacing alien creatures with horrifyingly brutal medical instruments.
Two years pass before Travis and Mike speak to each other again. They return to the sight of the abduction, forgive each other, and become reconciled. Briefly noted at the film's end are what happened to the principals later in life.
Based on Walton's own account of his capture, FIRE IN THE SKY is earnest in its presentation of the occurrence as matter of fact. The effort is aided by good, believable performances--especially Sweeney and Patrick. And it's always a pleasure to see James Garner, even in a small role. The
narrative has been constructed, however, so that the viewer can accept the movie on its own terms and still doubt its veracity. Oddly, the abduction aspect of the film is its least interesting part, even though the flashback scenes are effective and chilling.
The film is most interesting in its depiction of Mike and the others facing the town's disbelief. He and the others are innocent, but they appear so guilty. In a kind of HIGH NOON character study of a community, the most involving drama in FIRE IN THE SKY is that of how the town is affected by
the tragedy. The townspeople cannot accept the UFO story, but they don't want to believe the alternative--that their friends are killers--either. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Travis never returned. Would someone be arrested and would Mike finally lie to satisfy
the community? Truth be told, for drama's sake, it's too bad Travis came back. (Violence, profanity.)
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