What really happened to Travis Walton in the fall of 1975? Truly no one really knows except for him and the men who were there to witness it. Was he abducted? Was it a scam to get the boys out of their logging contract? Was it a hoax to sell their story for money? Only they know the truth. But I can say this on a late night holding my whiskey….on March 13th, 1993 Kevin Martin was sitting in a dark theater and got mentally abducted into what I feel is such an underrated movie with truly genuine creep factor that it’s often overlooked if not forgotten by most movie going audiences.
I find it kind of ironic that this film would debut just a few months before the first ever episode of one greatest and most beloved UFO series ever made in The X-FILES hit the airwaves and failed to catch on with a larger audience at the time. With a budget of 15 million FIRE IN THE SKY made only 19 Million. Well, I guess atleast it didn’t lose money.
Directed by Robert Lieberman, a man who’s most famous movie gig was D3: The Mighty Ducks, this film held a nice slow paced mystery vibe of what happened to a group of men logging in Arizona on Novermber 5th, 1975 and reaction it received nationwide from UFO sceptics and believer alike.
In fairness the idea of this movie felt like I was gonna walk into an extended episode of Unsolved Mysteries. And now that I think about it with the opening shot of the quiet night time dirt road seen to the audience I would have been completely fine with having Robert Stack walk into the frame with his trenchcoat on preparing us for what we were about to witness and then diappear from that frame as the movie began. Actually that would have been sweet. Oh well, can’t have everything I suppose.
So with a truck frantically flying down the dirt road the movie opens up. Whatever the guys in this vehicle encountered earlier was making them drive like madmen to get the hell out of dodge. They finally end up in the local bar and all huddle around a table with heavy thoughts on their minds. The idea of what to next is written all over them. These are the friends of Travis Walton and they saw exactly what happened. Problem is who the hell is gonna believe them or their story? Now as a movie nerd I have to point out the obvious greatness of the casting of Travis’ work friends. Seriously, everyone of these actors is from something badass or great before this movie came out.
I mean it’s pretty damn impressive. We Robert Patrick (Terminator 2). Craig Sheffer (Nightbreed), Peter Berg (Shocker), Henry Thomas (E.T.), and Bradley Gregg (Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors). Hell yes young me was excited to realize that. Now out of them all this is truly Robert Patrick’s movie. After seeing him as the ruthless T-1000 it was cool watching him in such a different kind of role at the time. Since then he has gone on to make a hell of a career over the last 25 plus years but when Fire In The Sky came out it was surreal to see this killer from the future playing the concerned, scared, and well meaning best friend of the missing Travis. It showed that Mr. Patrick was indeed more than a one trick kind of actor.
So at this point the boys decide they have to say what happened or else people will think they killed Travis. The local sheriff is given the word but he knows this is out of his league so it’s time to call in the expert. And in this movie world it is none other than Jim Rockford himself…James Garner! Playing Frank Watters he’s not exactly believing what these young fellas are telling him. No sir, he’s thinking murder and a piss poor cover up story for it.
The boys’ story is shown to us as they follow a bright light that looks like a crashed airplane or possible forest fire in their truck but once getting there they know this something extraordinary. Travis can not help himself but get out of the vehicle and stand directly below this giant mushroom looking ship that glows of red fire much against the advice of the others who continually scream for him to get back in the truck. But it’s too late. A blast of light sends Travis flying through the air and the guys, in a panic, leave him laying there thinking he’s dead.
After getting the rest of the guys to a safe distance Mike (Robert Patrick) knows he has to go back to see if Travis is still alive. The rest of the crew have no connection to him but Mike does. They are best friends. Hell, Travis was looking to marry Mike’s little sister. Hell, the two were dreaming of opening up a motorcycle shop together and for Mike to just leave him laying there…not buddies at all. But once getting back it is too late and Travis and the mushroom fire ship are no where to be found. Travis Walton was gone. But where?
As word gets around in the town the locals start looking at Mike and the rest of the crew as murder suspects more than people they grew up with. As each day goes by Jim Rockford is leaning more and more to them murdering and burying their friend out in the woods. Possibly a fight took place the day of the dissappearance since one of the crew, Allan Dallis (Craig Sheffer), is an outsider with a criminal record. Anyways this whole thing causes a search party to go out in the woods and see what they find. Now myself never hearing of the story before was going in blind so during a moment when they think they recover some buried bones I did not know what the hell was gonna happen. Turns out it was the remains of some old dog that the owner buried there. Well thank goodness…
After much debate between the group they all agree to take a lie detector test. After an intense session they all wait for the results hoping this will, at the very least, give them a fair judgement and not make them killers. In the end the test is inconclusive. They are asked to come back and try again but after that shit no thanks. They boys are done. Not their fault the machine is a 1970’s piece of junk
Things were getting so bad that Mike himself has to go into a Sunday service at the local church and basically call out everyone for thinking him evil or mad. He pleads with them to remember that they all grew up together, look after each others kids, have BBQs, etc. You get the idea. Well this big scene causes all these gossip kings and queens to settle down but you get the feeling as Mike leaves they all think he’s guilty as shit still. They are just being quiet in thinking if not Mike is gonna creep into their home late at night with a hammer and …oh wait, sorry. Watched too many horror movies. Nah, they all believe Mike I’m sure. Honestly I could only imagine what these people’s social media would look like if that was around 45 years ago. “GUILTY AS SHIT” or “TRAVIS WALTON IS DEAD AS HELL” would be the status updates every minute in town I’m sure. Anyways, this moment happened on DAY 5 of the disappearance.
Later that night Mike and his wife sleeping or trying to at home when the phone suddenly rings. After his wife gives Mike the phone he can hear the faint sound of a voice calling out “Mike…”. Right away he knows…it’s Travis! Calling from a gas station in the middle of nowhere Mike arrives with Travis’ brother and a UFO expert that has been following the case all these days. Travis looks bad, like real bad. As Travis’ brother and UFO guy get into an argument over hitting the distant looking Travis with too many questions right away and Mike trying to break it up a disturbing image is seen.
To me this the moment the movie became a straight up horror film. This one single shot of Travis being ignored by everyone and seeing what we all see. The remaining finger prints of an alien on that window as a reminder it was real. It happened. And sitting there in the theater I wish Travis had a voice to yell to show those guys “Look! Here’s your proof!”. There is something haunting about this moment that is added with the music score layered over top to let us as the audience in on D.B. Sweeney’s feeling f helplessness.
After recovering in a quiet hospital room on a rainy night Mike visits Travis and basically says how sorry he is for leaving him that night. Travis was not aware of this which leads to the awkward “You left me?” moment. Well, Mike gets defensive as Travis turns his back on him. Personally I don’t blame Mike. The rest of the boys were freaking out to leave. Travis looked dead as hell, and Mike did come back moments later once he dropped the guys off. Infact Mike makes the great point in saying that Travis never should have left the truck to begin with. Mike, I agree with you. It was a tough situation and Travis had no right to say that shit. But like many things in life we make our choices and have to live with them. Guilt is a son of bitch. Anyways, Travis finally gets out of the hospital and is hammered by local and out of town media wanting to hear his story. Judging by Travis’ face he’s not in the mood.
And as if the National Enquiror wasn’t bad enough to deal with now Travis has to answer to James Garner Rockford. During this quick little chat the man who has a nose for smelling bullshit a mile away more or less tells Travis how much money this little tale him and his buddies invented could make them. Yup, he’s thinking scam all the way. But would Travis Walton go through the trouble of no food and water for 5 days?! That’s what the medical staff said his body went through. How is that even possible? Oh the mystery still is alive my friends.
Now I can not stress how the next 13 minutes of this movie traumatized a many great amount of us back in the early 90s. Up until this moment in the film it was more of a drama, mystery, a few moments of tension and suspense, and a taste of the unknown. But with one spilled bottle of maple syrup dripping from tyhe kitchen table on to the face of a still messed up Travis who is hiding underneath it the true terror and fear of this movie is given to us. I remember sitting that night watching it play out and simply going…fuck no.
The syrup takes Travis right back to that ship. We see him trapped in some sort of cocoon which he rips through and sees his is one of hundreds if not thousands side by side on this ship with no gravity to hold him down once he leaves. I have to point out that six years later watching a little indie flick called The Matrix gave me the feeling that those filmmakers may have been inspired by this moment. You can judge for yourself.
So let’s keep the messed up moments going in this sequence shall me? As poor Travis is trying to gain some sort of traction just floating around he crashes right through another pod and his hand goes right inside the chest of a human body that has obviously been captured many decades earlier and died out. Yup, more added images for my dreams that night.
After having a freak out over this Travis gets his wits together and begins to scale the vast tunnel upwards as he passes all those captured pods with species from all over the universe inside we imagine. Anyways eventually he gets to the what looks like an escape from the horror and darkness almost losing his keys while he’s at it. Come on Travis! Get it together man!
Unfortunately Travis finds himself in a room that looks to be filled with the suits for the alien lifeforms hanging up. As Travis looks closely at one we get that creepy background shot of one of those suits might not be exactly empty with the head of it tilting up and looking at Travis from a distance. Again…creepy shit.
Again the movie has turned from sci-fi to straight up horror now. For all we have heard and imagined growing up, reading magazines, books, and watching TV shows like Unsolved Mysteries about abduction the following moments of what the aliens put Travis through is simply brutal. Nothing too graphic is seen but the overall feeling of despair in D.B. Sweeney’s performance is truly gripping. From the moment they lay him on the table, strip his clothing off, and put that latex second skin over his body…
You believed his terrified screams not knowing what was coming next as his captures looked over him like a science experiment….
They sliced holes in the skin so he could breath only to begin using those metal instruments on and in his body which probably explored his entire anatomy. Yikes…
Again by just giving us flashes and quick cuts of the entire segment most is left to the imagination. And when you do that you make the audience leave your movie thinking they saw much more than they actually did feeling worse for it. Well done film, well done.
This is more or less the end of Travis’ breakdown/ flashback and now we truly feel for him. The entire movie you are waiting for it. You are waiting to see what happened to him from his point of view. There is trauma in life and there is this. If Travis Walton truly suffered to this degree the fact he managed to lead a normal life after all that is amazing.
Ofcourse this is the moment where we have to say goodbye to Jim Rockford from the story since no one was killed. But right to his very last moment on screen he is still convinced all of them are full of shit and he’ll be there when one or all finally admit it was nothing more than a hoax to get attention, money, or out of their logging contract. These have all been theories throughout the years.
In the end we are given the idea that a few years have gone by since the events as Travis wants to make things right with Mike. They have not spoken since that night in the hospital. Travis did end up marrying Mike’s sister and they have had a couple of kids at this point. Poor Mike on the other hand is living alone as the whole ordeal caused his family to fall apart. On the bright side thought Robert Patrick’s hair and beard look fantastic during this scene. Anyways, Travis tells Mike to come for a ride. They end up back at the same spot the abduction took place. Apologizes ae made. Travis was a dick. Mike felt bad. Pretty sure they go for a beer after and Mike meets his nephews for the first time. Ofcourse there is the uncertain moment when Mike asks Travis what if they come back? Travis says they won’t because they didn’t like him much. In most genre movies this would have been a perfect moment to drop that ominous ending with a camera pan to the skies. But not here, it’s a rather quiet and sweet ending probably because the filmmaker figured we would talking abut that abduction scene the rest of the day anyways and here I am 27 years later writing about it so ya, he was right.
So did the real Travis Walton get abducted? His best selling book says he did. To this day he has not changed his story. And in the end maybe he did but maybe he didn’t. Who am I to judge? I have never seen a UFO so hell if I know. But I have seen this sleeper 1993 cult classic film that I hope will get a bit more credit as time goes on for being a well acted, well directed, well paced, mystery, sci-fi, drama, with a 10 minute segment of pure alien horror.
As always guys thanks for reading and hopefully we will see you at the videostore soon enough. Also as of now while writing these random thoughts on FIRE IN THE SKY I’m happy to say the movie is back in print after many years of not being able to get it. Still no Blu Ray but DVD is better than nothing. Either way…take care. Cheers!