Fire in the Sky

A Flash in the Pan*

Even though I loved E.T.--the Extra-Terrestrial, I remain skeptical of "based on a true story" stories about alien encounters. I always wonder where the facts end and the fiction begins. The fact/fiction alien abduction movie Communion (1989) has now procreated a creaky country/western clone.

Fire in the Sky tells the "true story" of Travis Walton (played by D. B. Sweeney), an Arizona logger who in 1975 was abducted by a UFO. Most of the movie revolves around the reactions of the five other loggers of his crew who witnessed the UFO but are not believed by the state investigator (James Garner) or any of the townsfolk. Five days after Travis's disappearance, however, he is found naked and in shock. Travis grapples with his repressed memories of awakening inside a spacecraft built like a giant hornets' nest, of being shrink-wrapped to a table, and of being given a brutal physical exam by aliens who are like sinister Nazi versions of E.T. The tedious film finally crawls to an incomplete resolution of the ordeal. (Remember, real life doesn't come in tidy packages.)

What should an open-minded but nongullible viewer make of this mess? With the equally poor Communion, movies are currently showing aliens as extra-terrestrial doctors (or at least biologists) giving physical exams from Hell. These two films share more in common with the 1950s' hysteria movies about bug-eyed monsters from space than they do with the mesmerizing wonder of friendly first contact found in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. (1982), or Cocoon (1985).

What is the point of the current reiterated plea for credibility? Even if we were to believe these "true" stories, what are we supposed to do about it? Hide under our beds? Write letters to Congress about the alien threat?

Is telling these stories a form of therapy for traumatized victims, a chronicle of deluded mythology, or just a way to make a buck? Abduction stories go back a long way. Folklorists note that before flying saucers became fashionable in the 1940s, people reported encountering "fairies." "Like the UFO aliens, fairy folk are a strange mixture of the frightening and the benign," notes Ted Schultz in his book Fringes of Reason. "The question is: Are fairy stories evidence for alien abductions in the past, or are UFOs simply the modern version of a continuing archetypal myth that is more fiction than fact?"

Spend time pondering the questions, but don't waste your time seeing Fire in the Sky.

*[Author's Added Note (Oct. 1996): UFOlogy has become even more of a mania in the last few years since the above review was written. The movie Independence Day and the television series The X Files and Dark Skies all have dead Roswell aliens on ice and abductions as key plot lines. The X-Files and Dark Skies view history as one giant interlocking set of alien/human conspiracies. At least Independence Day with all its fireworks never implied it was a true story.]

Copyright 1993 Mark D. Stucky.
Originally published in the April 1993 issue of Integra.

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