Fire in the Sky review by Mike Long

Here's a riddle: When is a science-fiction movie not a science fiction movie? The answer: when that movie is Fire in the Sky, an alien-abduction film which focuses not on the abduction itself, but how these left behind are effected.

Fire in the Sky is set in November, 1975 and takes place in the White Mountains area of Arizona, near a town called Snowflake. There, long-time friends Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney) and Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick) work together clearing forest-lands for the government. Mike is a down-to-Earth (no pun intended) family man, but Travis is a spirited dreamer, who wants to open a motorcycle business with Mike. While on the job one day with the other members of their crew -- Allan Dallis (Craig Sheffer), David Whitlock (Peter Berg), Greg Hayes (Henry Thomas), and Bobby Cogdill (Bradley Gregg) -- they see a strange light -- like a fire in the sky. When they reach the source of the glowing, red light, they see a huge object hovering over a clearing. Travis leaves the safety of Mike's truck to investigate and is hurled to the ground by a beam of light. Fearing that Travis is dead, Mike and the crew flee the scene. When Mike goes back to the clearing to find Travis, he is gone.

The men return to town and report their experience to the Sheriff (Noble Willingham). Unsure what to do with this strange case, the Sheriff calls in state investigator Lieutenant Frank Watters (James Garner) to sort things out. Watters immediately thinks that the crew murdered Travis for some reason and that they are trying to cover it up with their UFO story. That story brings the press to the area and the once popular Mike is soon shunned by the community. As the search parties turn up nothing, everyone begins to wonder what really happened to Travis. Once the truth is revealed, it will be much more complicated than anyone ever imagined.

Fire in the Sky is a unique film in that it shies away from the usual special effects and paranoia extravaganzas which we get with UFO/alien abduction films and instead looks at what happens to those who know the person who's disappeared. The movie could be considered the antithesis of a film such as Communion, as in Fire in the Sky we experience the bulk of the film not through the abductee, but through their acquaintances. The problem with this approach is that it doesnt make for a very exciting movie.

The trailer for Fire in the Sky (which I remember well, as I was suckered into seeing the film on opening night in 1993) promises hot alien-abduction action, but what we really get is more of a mystery-drama, as Watters investigates the disappearance while Mike and his crew deal with the guilt and shame of having left Travis behind. At 109 minutes, the film makes us wait much too long for the alien scenes glimpsed in the trailer, but when they arrive, they dont disappoint. The moments inside the space-ship (or whatever it is) are truly harrowing and nearly convincing, as they include some creepy moments and what may be one of the grossest things ever seen in a film. But, one must sit through a lot of talking and hand-wringing to get to this point. The movie does offer some suspense, as we wonder what really happened in the woods, and the performances are very good, especially the brave turn by Sweeney and a role in which Patrick doesnt pull his usual cold/calculating performance. Fire in the Sky takes UFO movies in a new direction, but that direction is light years from exciting.

Fire in the Sky gets probed on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I was really surprised by how good this transfer looks (someone must have hidden a copy of the film in the vault). The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a very fine amount of grain and no defects from the source material. The image is very well-balanced, as there is no shimmering on the picture. The colors look very good, and the dark scenes are never overly dark. There is some noticeable edge-enhancement at times, but otherwise the transfer looks fine. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which shines as well. The track provides clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. The surround sound effects, most notably during the UFO and flashback scenes are very well done, as are the subwoofer blasts, which really accent those scenes. There are no extras whatsoever on the DVD, which is a crime, as the movie is based on a True Story and it would have been nice to hear more about that.


5 out of 10 Jackasses

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