Based on Travis Walton’s book in which he describes his abduction by aliens, Fire in the Sky has gained a cult following since its release nearly 30 years ago. Re-watching with fresh eyes, the film stands up above and beyond the initial reaction and presents a compelling drama in a matter of fact way.
It’s the mid-‘70s and a group of loggers - led by Mike (Robert Patrick) - walk into a bar. They are sullen-looking and ignore the greetings of their friends. After a brief discussion between themselves, they decide to call the police and tell their story. It’s a tale so outlandish that the sheriff calls in a state investigator (Hollywood legend James Garner) to help out. They tell him that while coming home, they saw what looked like a fire on the other side of woodland. One of the group, Travis (D.B. Sweeney), got out to look closer but was zapped by a sudden light coming from what they describe as an alien craft. When Mike went back to find Travis’ body, he was gone.
The first hour or so of the film focuses on the reaction and treatment of the group by the police and residents of the small town they live. Accused of Travis’ murder, things are hard for them. This portion of the story resembles a TV movie of the week affair (likely due to director Robert Leiberman having a long career in various long-running TV shows), but is never less than enthralling. Once Travis reappears - naked, bloodied, and scared - the focus switches to his adjustment to life following his experience. We’re shown in spectacular fashion what happened to Travis when he was abducted, and it’s introduced in a natural, powerful way. The effects are brilliant and genuinely terrifying. Thankfully, as it was mostly physical effects, they have aged really well; much better than they would have done if they were CGI.
Sweeney portrays the aftereffects of the abduction brilliantly, but the scenes inside the alien craft show a true versatility the actor has. Likewise, the ensemble cast that are the focus of the first part of the story are convincing and provide a real sense of believability.
Australian label Imprint has presented Fire in the Sky on Blu-ray for the first time worldwide, and included a wealth of extra features. All recently recorded, there’s an informative commentary from director Leiberman, and some great featurettes including audio recordings with actors D.B. Sweeney and Robert Patrick, and composer Mark Isham. The highlight, though, about the impressive special effects work of art director Hartley Jessup and VFX supervisor Michael Owens.
Fire in the Sky is one of the better and more believable ‘based on a true story’ movies and is worth checking out if you haven’t seen it over the years since its release. For those who have, it’s time to revisit it.