In Fire in the Sky, extraterrestrials need confused loggers

Fire in the Sky is a 1993 alien abduction melodrama based on the true story of Travis Walton, a forestry worker who was allegedly abducted for five days in 1975 after an alien encounter in Arizona's Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The film, which stars Robert Patrick, D.B. Sweeney and James Garner, opens with Walton's companions, including his best friend Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), arriving home after the encounter. The men are visibly shaken and unable to account for the whereabouts of their missing compatriot.

When law man Frank Watters (James Garner) arrives at the scene to take their statement, the film flashes back to the events of the previous day. Rogers, Walton and a skeleton crew of supporting characters drive into the forest and put in a full days' work clearing trees. On the way home, the group see an unidentified light in the sky. Walton exits the truck, approaches the light and gets beamed away to...wherever.


Terrified, the remaining loggers drive away down the road. Once clear of the alien craft, Rogers leaves the remainder of the crew behind and goes back to rescue Walton, but his friend is nowhere to be found.


Watters, understandably skeptical of the alien abduction story, opens a missing person investigation, conducts a rescue search of the abduction site and arranges for the men to take polygraph tests.

Unable to produce any evidence to back up their story, the men fall under increasing suspicion. Just as the townsfolk are sharpening their pitchforks, Walton reappears, dehydrated and disoriented. As Walton recovers, his memories of the abduction return. Ultimately, lacking any solid evidence of wrongdoing, the criminal investigation is dropped, the aliens never return and everyone goes on with their lives.

Fire in the Sky is well shot and paced, features good performances by a solid cast and a truly harrowing alien abduction sequence (below). Fans of the genre won't be disappointed. It was Robert Patrick's performance in this film that persuaded Chris Carter to cast him in the X-Files.

The film's chief flaw is the earnestness with which the loggers' story is told. During the five days that Walton is missing, the suspicion the remaining men fall under is depicted as a Kafka-esque cross between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Silkwood. We sympathize with Rogers and the others as they plead to be believed, but one can't help but be sort of glad that law enforcement takes their evidence-free claims of alien abduction with more than just a grain of salt. "Five loggers drive into the woods, four return" is the kind of scenario that begs for the judicious application of Occam's Chainsaw.

In both real life and the film rendition, there are enough inconsistencies in the men's stories and enough mysteries left unanswered by hoax theories that the drama of the film would have been better served by more ambiguity.

As it stands, Fire in the Sky takes a decidedly pro-Walton position. This may or may not be fair to the history, but it leaves the film feeling somewhat flat. There are no real villains, no one behaves unreasonably and once Walton returns safely there's nothing really at stake. There is never any suggestion that the men's story is anything but true.

While abduction by extraterrestrials certainly is a possibility, it's also a possibility that cash-poor loggers with a fascination for UFOs might have decided to pull a publicity stunt. Rogers is shown to have financial problems and the real life Walton was allegedly fascinated by the famous Hill abduction case, which bears no small resemblance to his own. It's also possible that Walton was an unwilling test subject for a new product the government was planning to roll out in a few years called "the crack cocaine."

These quibbles aside, Fire in the Sky is quite entertaining. I give it two and a half unidentified glowing objects out of four. Fire in the Sky is available on Netflix streaming.


Following the publication of this review, we received the following statement from Travis Walton:

It's just not true that anyone was obsessed with UFOs or the Betty
Hill case. In my book I quote Emerson, "Condemnation without
investigation is the height of ignorance." If you don't want to be
bothered doing your homework like reading what I actually say in my
book's detailed rebuttal of every last skeptic theory, then don't pass
judgment and just treat the movie as entertainment.

Walton's fascination with UFOs and familiarity with the Hill case were alleged by Phillip Klass.

As Mr. Walton suggests, this article should be taken as a review of the film as a piece of entertainment. As for what really happened, the truth, as they say, is out there.