Several months before The X-Files debuted on television, Fire in the Sky invaded movie theaters hoping to exploit tabloid interest in alien abductions. Promotional materials boasted its ‘based on a true’ premise and promised a frightening abduction scene. In addition, the cast included plenty of recognizable faces including a rising star in DB Sweeney. Despite these selling points Fire in the Sky had middling box office numbers. Likewise critics were pretty lukewarm on the sci-fi thriller. Nonetheless, audiences connected with the 90s sci-fi thriller turning into something of a cult movie.
On November 5th 1975, in a small Arizona logging town, Travis Walton and his crew members pull to the side of the road when they see a burning light in the sky. Despite warnings, Travis lets his curiosity get the better of him. Within minutes of leaving the truck, a bright beam of light shoots down from the sky and lifts Travis into the air. HIs friends and crew members panic, leaving Travis behind, and driving to the sheriff’s station. Their stories of an unidentified object make them outcasts. But for five days search parties fail to find any signs of Travis. And then he’s suddenly back ha
Fire in the Sky Struggles to Feel Like More Than A Made-For-Television Movie
What’s promised and what’s delivered in Fire in the Sky prove to be two different things. Promotional material emphasized the alien abduction and haunting experiment scene. But director Robert Lieberman and writer Tracy Tormé can’t decide on a genre or tone for their adaptation of the real Travis Walton’s book, The Walton Experience. Over its runtime, Fire in the Sky mixes science fiction, horror, and police procedural. However, Lieberman never truly fuses these disparate elements into a compelling thriller. By and large, Fire in the Sky focuses on its mystery and police procedural as James Garner’s Lt Frank Watters investigates Walton’s disappearance. As a result, Walton takes a back seat in his own movie. He’s rarely ever truly the focus of the movie. Tormé’s screenplay never fleshes out Walton aside from cursory traits. And Fire in the Sky only highlights Walton’s trauma to get to that scene.
Everything about this thriller – from its story structure to its characters to its score – feels like a pedestrian made-for-television movie.
Instead Fire in the Sky spends most of its time with Walton’s crew and friends. As Walton’s best friend, Mike Rogers, Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Faculty) shines with a performance that differs from his usual roles. But Tormé’s screenplay also do much with Rogers’ character aside from general character strokes. Everything about this thriller – from its story structure to its characters to its score – feels like a pedestrian made-for-television movie. Perhaps the most peculiar part of its mystery format is that Fire in the Sky ultimately never presents Walton’s abduction as a mystery. by its conclusion, Lieberman leans heavily on its ‘based on a true story’ conceit. Before the final credits, Fire in the Sky updates us on its final character, emphasizing that they eventually passed their lie detector tests.
Fire in the Sky Needed More of That Big Scene
As for the big scene, Fire in the Sky absolutely delivers a haunting depiction of alien abduction. Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., these aliens are not. Lieberman wisely obscures most of the UFO during Walton’s abduction leaving something to the imagination. Here, the use of light and framing of what unfolds perfectly captures the terror of what’s happening. And the image of the light striking Walton and raising him off the ground is very affecting. When Lieberman finally shows the audience what transpired on the alien ship it’s a disorienting and intensely frightening moment that puts you in Walton’s position. The scene is excellent – Fire in the Sky just needed more moments like this one. After sitting through an hour of dull mystery the reveal of the aliens almost feels like it’s from a different movie.
When Lieberman finally shows the audience what transpired on the alien ship it’s a disorienting and intensely frightening moment that puts you in Walton’s position.
Though the screenplay and its characters feel underdeveloped, all of the performances are quite good. As mentioned above, Patrick carries the quieter moments, filling in for Travis Walter for the bulk of the movie. Unfortunately, DB Sweeney – who is undeniably convincing as the traumatized Walton – has little screen time for what’s essentially a movie about his life. Anyone who grew up watching movies will recognize much of the supporting cast. Veteran TV and movie star James Garner, as the police officer investigating Walton’s disappearance, is much better than the mystery itself. Craig Sheffer (Night Breed), Peter Berg (Shocker), Bradley Gregg (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), and Henry Thomas (E.T., The Haunting of Hill House, Midnight Mass) check off all the requisite supporting character requirements for just about any generic thriller.
Fire in the Sky Can’t Quite Find the Truth Out There
Sometimes individual scenes are so good that they redeem the rest of a mediocre move. In the case of Fire in the Sky, one scene seems to be the entire justification for making the movie in the first place. While that scene is disturbing, it’s no where near long enough – or shocking enough -to justify this ‘based on a true’ story sci-fi thriller. Outside of that third act sequence, Fire in the Sky feels like a lazy made-for-television effort. There’s little in the way of any sort of character exploration. In fact, Travis Walton is essentially a supporting character is his own story. Moreover, it’s procedural-mystery story structure fails by virtue of the fact that the movie wants you to believe. By and large, Fire in the Sky is a dull alien abduction movie that was instantly improved upon by The X-Files.