Every member of my generation has a horror story about watching Fire in the Sky for the first time. It’s a right-of-passage for anyone born in the 80’s. It was usually on television, and it was normally on because our parents were watching and we only had five channels to choose from. The film starts off kind of funky, mysterious, and a little slow, but then everything changes, and our tiny little minds were damaged for the rest of our lives.

It claims to be “Based on a True Story,” but exactly how much of the film sticks to the original story? That depends on two things: 1) Whether or not you think Travis Walton and his crew can be trusted, and 2) If you think there is alien life visiting our planet. If you don’t believe in either of these things, then the entire story is fictional, and it doesn’t matter. But, if you do believe in them, then Fire in the Sky quickly becomes one of the most fascinating accounts of extraterrestrial abduction in the history of the world.

 

The Film

Directed by Robert Lieberman and written by sci-fi stalwart Tracy Tormé, Fire in the Sky tells the story of Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney) and his experience as an alien abductee. The film follows the townsfolk of Snowflake, Arizona as they grapple with the idea that one of their own is missing. They believe, along with the police, that Travis was killed on the mountain by his crewmates, and they concocted this tall tale to cover for their crime.

That is, until Travis mysteriously returns five days later in the nearby town of Heber. His best friend Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick) finds him naked, dehydrated, and incoherent. At the nearby hospital, Travis learns that Mike and the others left him up there after he was struck by the blinding white light. Travis is then brought back to town by his girlfriend Dana (Georgia Emelin), barely able to speak and suffering from flashbacks to his horrifying time aboard an alien spacecraft. For a while, everything goes back to normal in Snowflake. The film ends on a bit of a sappy note, with Travis learning to forgive a now-ruggedly handsome Mike for abandoning him and running away a few years before.

 

“[…] if you do believe [Travis Walton], then Fire in the Sky quickly becomes one of the most fascinating accounts of extraterrestrial abduction in the history of the world.

 

If you look at the film as a whole, it follows the story that Travis and the others told very closely. Screenwriter Tracy Tormé spent time with all of these men, trying to get them to slip up, but they never did. The most important part of the story for UFO believers is the fact that all of the loggers passed their polygraph tests, which did actually happen in real life. Now, you have to take that with a grain of salt. Polygraphs are not admissible in court for a reason, but the fact that all six men passed lends some credence to their story.

Where the film deviates from the truth is inside the alien ship. This is the part that scarred us all as children, and that’s exactly what the suits at Paramount wanted. The real version of Travis’ time up there is way more boring, but it is also way weirder.

 

 

The Truth

 

[Behind the Screams] The True Story Behind 1993's FIRE IN THE SKY

The real Travis Walton

 

Travis doesn’t remember very much of the five days he was missing from Snowflake. In his estimation, he was only conscious and aware of what was going on for about 20 minutes. Those twenty minutes might not have been the goopy-pod/horrifying peach-colored alien/eye torture events portrayed in the film, but they were definitely strange.

The moment the white light struck him, Travis blacked out. He was drifting in and out of consciousness for a while, fully waking up on a table in a humid and hot room. He heard some rustling next to him and saw that the table he was lying on was surrounded by three alien creatures. They resembled what we typically know as a “gray” alien, only their skin was white and “marshmallow-y”. They were about 5-feet tall, with huge eyes and a large round head.

 

Like any one of us would, Travis lost his mind. He knocked over two of the aliens, who were holding their hands up in a familiar “relax, man” gesture, and ran out of the room. He turned left down a hallway and entered another room. This room was large and round, with just a single chair in the middle. He approached the chair and noticed that it had some levers and screens on the armrests. The interesting thing about this room is that the stars were visible through the walls. All around him, Travis was surrounded by stars. Thinking that the chair might be his way out, he started smashing buttons like he was me trying to play Super Smash Bros.

 

“Those twenty minutes might not have been the goopy-pod/horrifying peach-colored alien/eye torture events portrayed in the film, but they were definitely strange…”

 

When he flipped the lever on the left side of the chair, the stars started to zoom past him. This was either a navigational room, or an advanced form of map. He looked up from the chair and saw a man standing in the doorway. This wasn’t one of the aliens he experienced earlier, though. This man was very normal looking, except for his eyes. They seemed to be much larger than normal. Travis hollered and screamed at the man, but he just smiled back at the scared logger.

They left the room, and the man led him by the arm past a hanger-like building where Travis saw several crafts like the one that brought him up to this place. Obviously, then, this was not the original ship that picked him up. It was either a base on another planet, or a mothership orbiting the Earth. In the next room, the man and Travis were approached by two more men and a woman, all with long blonde hair.

Travis, again, started hollering and screaming at them, desperately wanting to know where he was and what they wanted from him. Just like the other man, these three just stood there and smiled. They placed a mask over Travis’ face, and the next thing he remembers is waking up in Heber, Arizona.

See? It is pretty boring, but it’s also very strange and in line with a lot of extraterrestrial thought. For me, the biggest part of the story wasn’t even addressed in the film, which is where this abduction happened.

 

Star People and the Flying Shields

 

[Behind the Screams] The True Story Behind 1993's FIRE IN THE SKY

 

Arizona is wild. It’s a state of polar extremes. You have the stereotypical deserts, mountains, cacti, and rattlesnakes, sure, but the northern part of the state is home to the thickest, most beautiful forests in the world. You cannot find a better view in the southwestern United States than what you get at the Mogollon Rim. Snow, pine trees, herds of Elk, and black bears cover this part of the state. Unfortunately for the loggers portrayed in 1993’s Fire in the Sky, this part of the country is also known for something much more terrifying.

North of Snowflake lies the territory of the Hopi tribe. This is an ancient, nomadic tribe of indigenous warriors who travelled all over the continent to find their final home. In their teachings, Tawa (their creator and sun spirit) travelled the land in a cloud and a star. He was set to destroy the earth by fire, so he had the Hopi peoples go underground with the “Ant People”, who had round heads and large eyes. These drones fed the Hopi, allowing them to survive the cataclysm.

To the East of Snowflake lies the territory of the Apache tribe. In one of their most prominent creation myths, a bearded man rode down in a thin disc with yellow and white lights. He is known as “The One Who Lives Above”. He used his biological material (sweat from his brow) to create three other “gods” who lived on a shining cloud. After creating the world, they flew up into the sky in clouds of smoke.

 

“When Travis Walton and his friends were up there that night in 1975, did they come into contact with “The One Who Lives Above”?”

 

Indigenous tribes all over the southwest painted petroglyphs on their cave’s walls showing men with round heads and large eyes. Some look to be wearing space suits, and some are shown riding in what the Hopi called “Flying Shields”, or Patuwvotas. These disc-shaped crafts were used by the Hopi in the past to quickly travel between their spread-out cities.

This section of Arizona is also known for its UFO sightings and its mysterious disappearances. When Travis Walton and his friends were up there that night in 1975, did they come into contact with “The One Who Lives Above”? Did they stumble upon a group of “Ant People” coming out of their hiding places? Was Travis taken to the stars in one of their “Flying Shields”? No matter what your beliefs are, this part of the country is filled with myths and legends of the Star-People. These beings are here for good, mostly, but sometimes they get very angry. If this happens when you are in the forests of Arizona, they might just take you somewhere and show you things that will haunt your nightmares for the rest of your life.

 

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[Behind the Screams] The True Story Behind 1993's FIRE IN THE SKY