Top positive review
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Fire in the Sky, good stuff on film
on 16 July 2010
The 1975 UFO-abduction of Travis Walton near Snowflafe Arizona is probably the most convincing such case on record. It was multiply witnessed; Travis (the abductee) was missing for five days and nights to be returned traumatised and dehydrated; extensive investigation including polygraph testing of all the witnesses only strengthened the reality of the case, and not one of the witnesses has changed a single detail of his testimony after 35 years. Anomalies in tree growth compatible with high radiation exposure have been identified in subsequent years in the precise location where the encounter with the UFO reportedly took place, so despite being outside our normal paradigms of consensus reality, it looks like it really happened.
Tracy Torme's 1993 film is a thoughtful piece of work which conveys the essential elements of the story and is largely faithful to the real-life narrative. D. B. Sweeney as Travis and Robert Patrick (the Terminator 2 himself) as Mike Rogers are particularly outstanding in an excellent cast. All the cast and crew became convinced by the story during the shoot. A town in Oregon substituted for Snowflake in the film.
The film begins on the morning of 5 November 1975, a normal day for the young loggers engaged in their tree-thinning contract. The encounter takes place as the seven loggers make their journey home down a mountain road in Mike Rogers' pick-up truck in the early evening, and is shown from the perspective of the five witnesses in the pick-up as Travis is knocked off his feet by a beam from the hovering UFO. The subsequent difficulties experienced by members of the crew during the five days Travis was missing is well realised, as they deal with accusations and incredulity from the wider community and suspicion from the local police authorities. Then Travis is returned, confused and traumatised, the story attracts the international media and things get even worse for all involved. The film has a good script, dramatic tension, is convincingly acted, well edited and rewards occasional repeat viewings.
In his literary and informative book of the same name, Travis describes the long process which resulted in the making of the film and his involvement with it. He explains why the abduction scene aboard the UFO and the appearance of the aliens in the film differ from his real-life recollection; why these changes were made to enhance the drama and to communicate the horror and strangeness to the audience. The reason why one of the characters had to be left out of the film for legal reasons (there were in fact seven loggers including Mike and Travis, not six as portrayed in the film) is also explained. He also felt D.B. Sweeney was well cast, shared his attitude to life and had a similar general character, and was pleased with his portrayal in the film. I recommend reading the book to anyone interested in the story. Travis is a good writer and discusses many things including his own life prior to the abduction and some of the far-reaching philosophical implications of non-human extraterrestrial life, particularly as it seems to be visiting us here.
I met Travis in Snowflake AZ in May 2010 and found him to be as genuine, straightforward and principled as everyone who meets him describes him to be. He told me he has always wished he'd stayed in the truck with the others, and would have preferred had the incident happened to somebody else. The international exposure has been so unwelcome that for years he didn't even have a phone and shunned virtually all media contact. He and Dana (who have been happily married all these years) have four children and eight grandchildren and almost never discuss the incident within the family or with neighbors. They still live in Snowflake, as quiet a middle-American town as you could imagine, where on a weekday everything seems to close at 9pm. He is a man of few words but those he does speak are well-chosen. He radiates integrity and has a terrific dry sense of humor.
It's a pity Torme's film generated only US$20 million in 15 years, but nevertheless it was a modest commercial success. It's good, has stood the test of time well, and deserves a bigger audience.