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Fire presents a fascinating (and true) story

Fire in the Sky
Directed by Robert Lieberman.
Written by Tracy Torm.
Starring D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick,
Craig Sheffer, Peter Berg, and James Garner.
Loews Copley Place, Harvard Square.

By John Jacobs
Staff Reporter

What's strange about Fire in the Sky is that it's based on a true story. That's what the makers of this movie want us to believe, anyway.

On Nov. 5, 1975, in northeastern Arizona, Travis Walton was abducted by aliens. In the small fragment that he remembers of the five days and six hours that he was missing, he saw humanoids perform experiments on him. He was found, disoriented, on a highway near where he was taken.

At this point, this was only one of a series of similar stories: Someone is abducted, aliens perform grotesque experiments on reproductive organs, take samples, generally treat the victim like a laboratory rat, and return him, after failing to hypnotize him into forgetting the whole incident, to near where he was abducted. It occurred to me, as I watched the movie, that maybe aliens are trying to get us back for some of our more painful and unnecessary experiments on animals. Maybe everyone in PETA (the radical group whose members break into labs and free animals that have ingested lipstick) is an alien. In the movie, the aliens treat Walton about as badly as a kid treats a live bug when he removes its legs, one by one. The scene in which they experiment on this poor guy is the most uncomfortable in the movie. Let me leave it at that.

Walton's story is uniquely believable because six other people witnessed the abduction. All seven of them passed lie detector tests. According to USA Today, Walton passed one just five weeks ago. For five days after the incident, people believed that Walton had simply been murdered by the other six, and the story was an (overly) elaborate cover; but then Walton was found near the highway, naked and severely traumatized, but not quite dead. Others then claimed that the "abduction" was the result of drug use (six people saw exactly the same thing, but a seventh saw himself get sucked through a porthole on the underside of a hallucination), so the group was forced to take drug and alcohol tests. All passed. The next most credible alternative theory that skeptics proposed was that the entire story had been concocted by the group, all loggers who had been returning from work on a mountainside, to get out of a U.S. Forest Service contract. There are much easier ways to do that, too. As they are portrayed in the movie, they are simple and honest people, with no motive to fabricate such a story.

The movie is intentionally like a dramatized documentary. The producers want us to share their belief in Walton's story. To make the story appear more believable, they use the real names of the loggers, shy away from fancy special effects that would distract the audience from the plot (the UFO looks like two pie-pans taped together, like Walton said it did), and, besides James Garner, don't use any celebrity actors. These factors, combined, give the move a distinct "true" feel to it.

It's also interesting that Walton and the other six loggers stand by their story to this day, and they have not benefited, in any obvious way, from having done so. (Well, almost. Walton wrote a book, and now his story is a movie, but who thinks 20 years ahead.) In addition, Walton has dealt with prejudice in the town he's lived in his entire life. Rogers, the leader of the logging group and Walton's best friend, lost his disbelieving wife when she was unable to deal with her new image in the town.

The movie is very interesting and rather original. The prospect of Walton's story being true is fascinating and as entertaining as fiction. As Calvin (of comic strip fame) says, though, the proof that there is intelligent extraterrestrial life "is that they haven't tried to contact us."