In 1993, Fire in the Sky told the real story of Travis Walton, a man who was then 22 years old and claimed to have been abducted by aliens while on a logging job in 1975. While the film underperformed at the box office and failed to make any meaningful impact in a year dominated by blockbusters like Jurassic Park and The Nightmare Before Christmas, it does tell an emotionally impactful story about the effects of trauma in relation to the unexplainable.
One of many sci-fi films to be based on true events, Fire in the Sky is mostly remembered for the disturbing sequence of Travis Walton's operation at the hands of his alien abductors. But the film is so much more than that. A masterwork of practical effects and character actors committed to their craft, this movie deserves to be seen by a new crop of fans eager for tales of UFOs and supposedly true stories of alien abduction.
The Film Is Based On The Allegedly True Experiences Of Travis Walton
More than just another ‘90s sci-fi movie, Fire in the Sky draws on the real story of Travis Walton and his alleged alien abduction. In 1975, Walton disappeared from Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and his logging co-workers claimed that a silvery disc zapped him into the sky in a beam of light.
After returning to Arizona, Walton wrote the book The Walton Experience to explain where he went during his five-day disappearance. After claiming that he was abducted by aliens, he passed a polygraph test and has never changed his story. The mental effects of his supposed abduction and the way it affected his friends and family make for an intense and dramatic film.
The Abduction Is Shown From The Perspective Of Walton's Friends
There’s a moment during the abduction sequence when the movie goes from being a strange day in the life of some lumberjacks to a very real portrayal of what it's like to lose a friend.
Walton and his buddies drive towards a brilliant red light to see what they think is a downed plane. Once the friends see that it’s a ship, Walton gets out and has some fun checking it out. Things take a bad turn when the ship powers on. Rather than just suck Walton into the sky, the scene is played on the faces of the actors.
Walton looks like he’s been hit by lightning and his friends call for him to come back to the truck but don’t move to save him. It genuinely feels like what would happen if someone were abducted by aliens.
The Sequences Of Walton Aboard The Spaceship Are Deeply Disturbing
If there’s one thing you remember from this movie after seeing it in the early ‘90s, it’s the sequence of Walton aboard the alien spaceship. We get flashes of it throughout the movie, but the lengthy flashback that Walton has at his coming home party is truly upsetting.
In the sequence, Walton wakes to find himself encased in a gooey pod inside of a cavernous ship. He falls from the pod to find himself suspended in something like zero gravity before he crashes through another pod to find the decaying remains of another abductee. The image is seriously shocking and way more intense than anything else that was being released by a major distributor at the time.
The entire sequence is a genuinely freaky payoff to the small-town drama that’s been playing out for the hour preceding these scenes. By making use of overwhelming, dreamlike visuals and very little dialogue, the scene is the stuff of nightmares and well worth a watch for fans of David Lynch and Terry Gilliam.
The Aliens Look Way Creepier Than You Expect
When Travis Walton finds himself on board the alien vessel, he does his best to sneak around the ship. While trying to get his motorcycle key, he’s accosted by a group of aliens and put on an examination table where he’s wrapped in a skin-tight casing and has his mouth pried open and a needle shoved in his eye. It’s terrifying. But the creepiest part of the entire scene might be the extremely lifelike aliens.
Rather than stick to the big head, big eyes design of visitors beyond the stars, the creatures are flesh-colored and their faces are similar to that of a skeptical grandmother. There’s an uncanny valley visual at play that makes these aliens very hard to look at. Speaking to American Cinematographer about the design of the aliens, visual effects producer Clint Goldman explained:
The idea behind the aliens was a deteriorated human presence - dwarf humans who were thin and who obviously couldn't be men in suits. We purposely made their spines, necks and appendages very thin and emaciated. For this particular design, ILM art director Mark Moore used real photographs which he altered on the computer, using Adobe's Photoshop software on the Macintosh to add highlights and textures.