FIRE IN THE SKY
starring D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Henry Thomas, James Garner, Peter Berg, Craig Sheffer, and
Travis Walton (Sweeney) works to cut trees and clear brush in the town of Snowflake, Arizona. His crew of coworkers returns to town one day without Travis. They claim that they saw Travis taken aboard a UFO. Immediately the men are suspected of murder and a search begins for Travis' body. Travis, however, returns five days later...with a harrowing tale of alien abduction.
I saw this film when it first came out in 1993. At the time I greatly disliked it as the actual account of Travis Walton was egregiously "Hollywood-ized," as if dipped in a tub of H.R. Geiger and not allowed to dry (coming complete with abduction victims placed in slimy, membranous pods.) Seeing it with fresh eyes over the weekend, I began to find things that intrigued me, whether the filmmakers intended them to or not. For one thing, there is a scene where the bodies of what appear to be Gray aliens are dangling from cables. Walton, loose inside the UFO at this point, discovers they are not bodies at all. "Spacesuits," he gasps as he inspects them. This is somewhat reminiscent of the alien masks and armor depicted in Communion.
Outside of their suits, the aliens are shriveled and mummy-like. In fact, the entire spaceship is grimy and in a seeming state of perpetual corrosion. Combined with their own decrepit physique, the aliens just look like they've fallen on really hard times. They don't even seem to know why exactly they are taking people and performing torturous examinations upon them (you can watch that grisly moment in the abduction here.) Instead their victims are left terrified and bewildered...not at all unlike they are in real life I'm given to understand. While this all flies in the face of the "mythos narrative" of the abduction experience...to say nothing of what Travis Walton claimed actually happened...it brings up a few interesting points.
Must an alien race conform to our notions of "advanced?" True, they would by definition need to be "advanced" in order to traverse the mind-blowing distance, but might they not also be utterly pragmatic? No "clean rooms," no "cathedrals of light," just muddy, grimy reality? Or could this get back to the idea that they are not "Grays" or "aliens" at all in the conventional sense but rather metaphysical things? After all, what is originally thought to be a "Gray" turns out to be a facade, a hollow outer shell. Is the visage of the Gary a mask in and of itself? Or are these beings in the film ourselves from the future, humanity having been reduced to jaundiced and shriveled forms by our misapplication of science? Could it even be weirder, something along the lines of a hidden race eking out an existence while symbiotically needing our biological matter? Something along the lines of Mac Tonnies' "cryptoterrestrials?"
Of course, as I already pointed out, I highly doubt that the producers of this film intended any such speculation. They didn't even intend to accurately depict the Walton incident with any kind of real accuracy. So as a movie, the rest of it is serviceable at best. The acting is pretty much what you'd expect but James Garner is particularly good. Then again he was good in just about anything he did. In a quirky twist, Henry Thomas...Elliot from E.T. ...has a role, showing up once again in a movie about aliens.
That brings up an interesting question. Just where should one place Fire in the Sky on the cline of UFO-themed movies? To be honest, I'm not exactly sure. While I'm still not a fan of it as a film per se, it still has me thinking days...even years...later.
There are movies I've thoroughly enjoyed that don't do that.
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