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  Fire in the Sky Beam Me Up
Year: 1993
Director: Robert Lieberman
Stars: D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, James Garner, Craig Sheffer, Peter Berg, Henry Thomas, Bradley Gregg, Kathleen Wilhoite, Noble Willingham, Georgia Emelin, Scott MacDonald, Wayne Grace, Kenneth White
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: On night in 1975, in the White Mountains of Arizona, a truck charges out of the forests and heads at high speed towards the small town of Snowflake where they stop at the local bar. The occupants, a group of five loggers led by Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), get out and enter the bar, not speaking to anyone. Mike tells his companions that they should stick to the story and then goes to telephone the sheriff, who arrives promptly, as does an investigating sheriff from out of town, Frank Watters (James Garner), who is curious as to why he's been called. Legend has it that Watters has never had a case go unsolved, but with the tale that he is told by Mike, it sounds as if he may have met his match...

The story of Travis Walton was second only to the story of Betty and Barney Hill in the annals of accounts of alien abduction, so while the Hills got a TV movie to tell their unlikely experiences, Travis had to wait until the nineteen-nineties obsession with UFOs and space aliens for his movie on a fair-sized budget. Of course, another obsession in the nineties was the nineteen-seventies, so Fire in the Sky, scripted by Tracy Tormé from Walton's book, ticked two cultural boxes at once. Although Travis (played by D.B. Sweeney) is ostensibly the star, the real protagonist is Mike and it is his concerns that take up most of the film.

Being set in the seventies offers the chance for the actors to grow their hair long and indulge in large sideburns and moustaches, although the famed Walton 'tache is missing from Sweeney's upper lip for some reason. But nostalgia is not the order of the day here, so no references to disco or Starsky and Hutch, this is mainly a mystery without a solution. What Mike and the others tell Watters is that they had spent the day logging, had worked late and were driving home when they saw a bright light in the trees. Thinking it was a crashed aeroplane, they went to investigate, and were alarmed at what they discovered.

It was, as you may suspect, some kind of glowing, flying saucer, and Mike stopped the truck so they could get a better look, but that wasn't enough for Travis, who got out of the vehicle and walked underneath the object. Suddenly a beam of light shot out of it and knocked Travis clean off his feet, leaving him immobile on the ground. The men in the truck panicked and drove off, but Mike went back alone and could not find a trace of his friend; then they went back into town and phoned the police. Sheriff Watters is the sceptic here, and he believes, as do a lot of the townsfolk, that Travis has been murdered, especially after a few days go by with no sign of the man. Meanwhile, the loggers find their stress levels reaching an all time high and Mike's marriage suffers even more.

The trouble with Travis, or his story, is the trouble with this film in that it's clear early on that we will never have an explanation to this enigma. We get a sense from the initial scenes that Travis is a dreamer, and when he does reappear his experiences in hospital while in a state of shock could have informed his account of what happened to him during his missing time, but that doesn't explain everything. When we do get to see a version of the abduction encounter, it's not what the real Walton said happened but a nightmarish and superbly realised experimentation ordeal created especially for the film. Let's face it, you're either going to dismiss the Walton story outright or accept it, and all this movie can do is provoke your musings one way or the other. As far as that goes, Fire in the Sky is stimulating enough. Music by Mark Isham.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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