Fire in the Sky

Year: 1993

Production: Paramount

Director: Robert Liberman

Starring: D.B.Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Craig Sheffer, James Garner, Henry Thomas, Peter Berg, Kathleen Wilhoite, Bradley Gregg, Noble Willingham

Screenwriter: Tracy Torme

Based on The Walton Experience by Travis Wilson

107 minutes; Color


Though it carries the heart-sinking "based on a true story" preface, this is a surprisingly strong UFO drama, at onece the story of a close encounter of the ghastly kind and a portrait of a rural community turning upon its outcasts. In 1975, a bunch of check-shirted working-men drive back from a hard way's logging in depressed middle America. When a spaceship-type apparition looms overhead, one man (Sweeney) gets out of the pick-up to investigate and the others chicken-heartedly leave him behind as a light grapple descends to abduct him. With Sweeney missing, Sheriff Garner wants to pin a murder rap on his workmates, forcing the men to go back on their decision to keep the experience quiet.

This film could quite interestingly play out this story with no further aliens necessary as Sweeney's best friend (Patrick) falls apart from his own guilt and the town's suspicion. Sweeney reappears in a dazed and battered condition and remembers his painful experiences. As with all the "alien" scenes, his version of events is bracketed by a flashback to leave the question of belief open to the audience, but the suffering he undergoes in the belly of the saucer one-ups anything in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) or Communion (1990). In a nightmare sequence with the intensity of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), ambiguously malevolent aliens torture or examine the helpless human in a grimy, oozing zero-gee laboratory, employinng an especially unpleasant optical probe. No answers are given, with Garner remainging a skeptic at the fade-out, allowing the film's real strength to emerge in its depiction of the uneasy, unidealized woodsmen as they stick together or fall apart. With clever casting of sf icons Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day [1991]) and Thomas (E.T.: The Extraterrestrial [1982]), this has eyes on the stars but boasts an authentically tangled human story as Sweeney, who suffers the worst, gets his life together while Patrick, living with the guilt of leaving his friend, winds up as a hermit in a shack.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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