Monday, June 3, 2013

Fire in the Sky (1993)

Title: Fire in the Sky (1993)

Director: Robert Lieberman

Cast: D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Henry Thomas, Peter Berg, Craig Scheffer, Kathleen Wilhoite 

Fire in the Sky is one of those films, like for example, The Amityville Horror (1979) that’s tied to a “real life story”. These stories are usually tied up to an event that caught the attention of the media and the public to such an extent that it got movie executives reved up enough to make a movie out of it. Now there are two types of “real life stories” out there. There are the ones that are based on actual events that can be proven, and there’s the ones that are based on stories that cannot be proven at all, you simply have to take the word of the person who’s telling it, which of course lends itself to stories that are based on complete and utter bullshit. And worse yet, there are films of this nature that mix both types: the real story with the bullshit. The Amityville Horror is a great example; that’s the story of a kid who one night shot his entire family and then blamed “the devil” for his actions. That’s the real story. The bullshit part comes from the people who bought the house in which these events took place. They claim that the house is possessed by evil spirits and that these spirits attacked them! And made the walls of the house bleed; these people actually claim that real life supernatural events took place within the house! The first part of the story can be proven, the kid really did shoot his entire family, that tragedy did occur, but can you prove the part of the story about the haunted house and the evil spirits? Of course not; but it sure makes for a hell of a movie don’t it? Same logic can be applied to Fire in the Sky.

In real life, Travis Walton was a lumberjack. He chopped wood for a living with his buddies up in a forest in Arizona. One fine day while returning home from his duties, he and his co-workers claim that they saw an extremely bright light shinning in the middle of the forest and that upon closer investigation they discovered that it was a spaceship hovering right there in the middle of the forest. Travis Walton, the most curious of the bunch decides to get off the truck to see things from up close. At that moment according to Walton and his pals, a light coming from the ship engulfed Travis Walton and sent him flying ten feet through the air, then, his body floated off the ground. His co-workers left him for dead and took off on their truck, but half way home their collective consciences got the best of them and then they decide to go back for their friend. When they go back, they discover that Travis Walton and the spaceship had both disappeared! Was Travis Walton abducted by aliens? Or did he die in an accident? Was he murdered? What really happened that fateful night?

So with this story you can prove that Travis Walton did disappear for five whole days, but you can’t prove that aliens abducted him. So it all comes down to can we believe these crazy lumberjacks and their story? The thing is that these seven lumberjacks all came into town raving, crying and scared. They took lie detector tests that showed they were apparently telling the truth. Still, the rest of the town remains skeptical, most of them believe that somebody killed Travis. Yet five days later…Travis Walton, the supposed abductee, reappeared. His side of the story is even crazier, it takes us as far as being inside of the spaceship, with the quintessential alien scientists probing him and doing all sorts of tests on him. He says he even saw a huge alien hangar with many spaceships in it. He says that he defended himself from the probing aliens with one of their own tools! He claims many things, but did they really happen? I’m of the opinion that none of it happened and that Travis simply wanted to make a quick buck off the whole story. Funny how these stories are always accompanied by a book deal and a movie isn’t it? Travis Walton’s book ended up being called ‘The Walton Experience’, the movie is the one we’re talking about right now.

There’s a similar alien abduction story called Communion: A True Story written by author Whitley Strieber, that “real life story” is similar to The Walton Experience; alien beings with huge black eyes, tests, probes... the whole shebang. I mean, these type of stories are some kind of a cliché already, but every now and again, somebody wants to make some money and they concoct these stories to sell a book, or get a movie and sometimes they get it, because bullshit or not, some of these stories are quite entertaining. Whitley Strieber’s story ended up being called Communion (1989), and it starred none other than Christopher Walken, read my review for it, I also compare it to The Amityville Horror hoax story. These movies border on that tangent of reality and unreality. And you know what? I don’t even care if they are real or not, these type of films entertain me. They make me “almost believe”, and that’s a hard thing to do because I don’t know if you’ve figured this out or not, but I’m an incurable skeptic. I gotta see or feel to believe, and so far I’ve never seen a spaceship, a UFO and much less an alien, so until that fateful day arrives, I remain a skeptic on the subject of UFO’s. But I am open to the idea of alien life, after all this is a huge universe we live in and in the immortal words of Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China (1986), “you’d have to be some kind of fool to think we’re all alone in this universe!”  In the end, what it all boils down to with these types of films is: are they any good?

My answer to that question is that Fire in the Sky is a great alien abduction movie; I’d rank it right up there with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), for sheer plausibility. It’s not what tale you tell but how you tell it and in Fire in the Sky’s case, the film is told in a very realistic way. The best parts of this film are of the beginning and the end. At the beginning we get to see the actual abduction and the ending we see what actually happened inside of the alien space craft. The middle of the film is all about how the community reacts to the story, how the story catches the attention of the media and how these lumberjacks deal with the whole thing, so don’t get disappointed if you don’t see any spaceships or aliens throughout the middle part of the film, this part focuses on the human drama that comes as a result of the abduction story that these lumberjacks bring forth. It goes into the whole thing about making them take lie detector tests and all that, but then, in the ending, we get treated to the inside of the ship and this is really the best part of the film for me. The last 30 minutes of the film are downright frightening and gripping! These aliens are the cold, calculating scientist’s types who don’t give a crap about inserting all sorts of things up your orifices. The makeup effects work is truly excellent for these sequences, they are worth the price of admission; so stay all the way to the end, you’ll be treated to some gruesome stuff that should satisfy any true science fiction fan.

I remember seeing this one in theaters way back in ’93 and being disappointed that it had so much drama, but then, when that ending came I remember leaving the theater both shocked and satisfied. So yeah, this one is well worth it. It mixes both the more fantastical elements of ‘The Walton Experience’ with the more real side of the story dealing with having the whole town becoming skeptical about Travis Walton’s seemingly inexplicable disappearance and even that part of the story was interesting as well. Was this just an elaborate hoax that a bunch of bored lumberjacks cooked up during their lunch break in the middle of woods? Ultimately, what this type of story shows is that if you come up with an interesting enough hoax that’s as airtight as this one, you can go home happy. A book and a movie is a done deal, and that aint half bad. You might end up with a cool movie made out of your story, like this one.

Rating:  4 out of 5 


eddie lydecker said...

For me "Fire in the Sky" is another one of those those movies that could`ve been 'great' instead of just 'good'. Wes Cravens 1987 cult-item "The Serpent and the Rainbow" is another classic example of a film that also falls into that slightly irritating catorgorie.

Franco Macabro said...

Oh but I LOVE The Serpent and the Rainbow just the way it is, to me it's one of Craven's best!

Fire in the Sky is what it is, nothing more. It tells both sides of the tale exactly the way they were supposed to. Walton's story was actually a bit more fantastic too, he even saw a hangar and fought with the aliens....but the studio asked to change all that. I think the ending is fantastic shocking, so brutal. But I agree, it doesn't reach masterpiece status, but it is good though.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Nice review Man. I visited the town in Arizona where this supposedly happened. They saved his phone booth and it was kind of eerie standing in it.

Franco Macabro said...

Doing research, I read that the whole story brought to the town many "ufologists", media, and general UFO freaks! It must've been a circus for a while there.

The telephone booth is supposedly where the aliens dropped him off, he says he saw the ship fly away from right there, or so the story goes, for more info you can visit this page here:


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