Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This was hot when it came out in 1993. Pat Reeder, writing for The North Texas Skeptic, first referenced it in March of that year:

That said, I’m now going to break my own rule and discuss the February 25 edition of Hard Copy…but only because it offered the first ripple of a new, oncoming wave of garbage from Hollywood. On March 12, Paramount Pictures will release a film…nah, make that “a movie”…called Fire In The Sky, based on the “true story” (as the ads trumpet) of…brace yourself…Travis Walton’s UFO abduction!

Hard Copy recounted the timeworn yarn, using lots of special effects-laded footage from the movie to make the story seem all the more “irrefutable.” As usual, Travis appeared on camera to mumble that the whole story was really so painful to relive that he hates to tell it. Well, he must have an amazingly high threshold of pain, because he has told it, for a price, to the National Enquirer, a book publisher, and a number of tabloid TV shows (as I recall, this was the third time I’ve seen him recount it on TV in the past year). And now he’s sold his whopper to Hollywood. To borrow a phrase from Robert Benchley, he has inflicted this story on the public in every conceivable way except dropping it from airplanes. Instead of Fire In The Sky, perhaps the movie should’ve been called Money In The Bank.

Hard Copy’s presentation of Walton’s story was completely one-sided, making no effort whatsoever to recount any of the many gaping holes in it, nor to examine Walton’s many and varied motivations for making it all up. The only effort toward balance was one sentence: “Many people have tried to poke holes in Travis Walton’s story, pointing out, for example, that less than a month after the incident, he sold his story to the national media.” But even that was slanted in his favor. Why not tell the whole truth: that he sold it to the National ENQUIRER?

If you want to read a real investigation of Walton, complete with tons of damning evidence against him, check out Phil Klass’ excellent book, UFOs: The Public Deceived. You certainly won’t get any tough investigations from Hard Copy, and judging from the clips of the upcoming movie, the best that can be expected from it is that the special effects and makeup will be almost as hilarious as the ones in the Communion movie.

I did not watch the movie at that time, but I did look into the background story, and I  penned a letter to the Dallas Times Herald, saying something to the effect that if this movie is supposed to be based on a true story, then we wonder what true story it is based on. I had a VHS at one time, and I recall attempting to watch it. I fell asleep and did not finish it.

But now it’s available on Amazon Prime Video, and I am again in desperate need of a BMotW. You can thank me later for my sacrifice. This was distributed by Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia. Here’s the story.

Opening scenes show a pickup truck careening wildly down a logging road in  the White Mountains area of Arizona. It’s after sundown, and the truck is dodging trees in the dark, finally bursting forth on a highway and running a box truck off the road. In town the five learn at the local eatery and bar that the kitchen is closed and also that everybody wants to know about the sixth member of their party, which person did not return from the trip. Police Lieutenant Frank Watters (James Garner) is called in  from out of town to investigate.

The survivors tell their story. It starts with Travis Walton (D. B. Sweeney), who is a wild and carefree soul. He is sweet on the sister of Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), which sister lives with the Rogers family, itself in dire financial and marital  straits.

Mike has a contract to clear undergrowth in a nearby forest, and he is late on completion and in default. On that last and fateful day he pushes his crew to clear an assigned slope. Then they all head back after sundown. Seeing a strange light in the sky they drive to investigate. Travis gets out, against the admonitions of the other five. He wanders toward and beneath the strange object in the sky. Then comes the iconic scene from the movie (and the movie poster). The five flee, and when Mike returns to look for Travis, he is nowhere to be found. The five arrive back in town minus Travis. That’s when the trouble starts.

Big search, days on end, hundreds stomping the woods. No Travis. People in the town are fearful and angry. They take out their frustrations on the five.

Polygraph examinations are ordered. The results are considered inconclusive. Surprise surprise!

Then, after being missing for five days, Travis phones in. He is retrieved from a service station miles away in the dead of night, where he has used a pay phone (remember them?) to  call Mike, collect. He is hospitalized, scrutinized, collectivized, stigmatized. Then there is a big party to celebrate his home coming. He ends up shivering in a corner beneath a table. His tale comes out in a dream-flashback.

Inside an alien craft he recalls experiences right out of 2001, a Space Odyssey.

Alien creatures do unspeakable things to him. Things of which he later speaks.

And that concludes the movie. Years later Mike is divorced and living  in a cabin in the woods. Travis is married to Mike’s cute sister and has babies coming like clockwork. The two  revisit the site of the signature event.

And this movie has no plot.

  • The five return to town.
  • They report what happened to Travis.
  • There’s disbelief.
  • Lieutenant Watters is called in.
  • There’s a big manhunt.
  • The five take polygraph examinations—results inconclusive.
  • Townspeople are suspicious, even contemptuous.
  • There is trouble at the Rogers home.
  • Travis phones home.
  • Travis is returned to the world of the living.
  • Travis recalls his experience in a dream.
  • Mike and Travis wind down the story.

Regarding the true story, the facts comprise very little:

  • Rogers was defaulting on his clearing contract.
  • The contract contained a clause for exemption due to unusual circumstances.
  • Some, myself included, believe the alien abduction story was concocted to supply the unusual circumstance.

As with all movies based on somebody’s story, this movie was greatly jiggered for audience appeal. Travis published his account in a 1976 book:

Chapter One Snowflake, Arizona

November 1975

A group of loggers were hard at work cutting down trees with the aid of their rotary saws, but one such man had been sleeping under one of the trees and didn’t know it was about to be cut down.

“Hey where’s Travis?” Mike Rogers called out and with that the other loggers turned to look around for any signs of him.

“Well he was here earlier on.”  Ken Peterson responded and seemed stunned that he’d somehow disappeared from view, but this worried them.

Tully, Justin. Travis Walton Abduction: 1975 (Kindle Locations 13-21). Imagination1976. Kindle Edition.

The account Travis gave was not very interesting:

Travis woke up inside the UFO and found that he was now without clothing and his surroundings were completely different to how they were the last time he remembered them as being. Panicking he got to his feet and seemed stunned at the place he seemed to be inside, but as he rushed around the corridors inside the craft a strange looking being appeared in front of him. Travis knew enough to hide from view and ducked down as the being went floating past him. Travis then got back to his feet and rushed into another room inside the craft, but after having reached the area he found that he was being watched.

Tully, Justin. Travis Walton Abduction: 1975 (Kindle Locations 208-212). Imagination1976. Kindle Edition.

In addition to Pat Reeder’s initial comment, this movie has come up three additional times in the newsletter of the North Texas skeptics. Follow the links for additional reading:

Other than that, the acting is about on par, the directing  is superb, cinematography is excellent, and the special effects regarding Travis’s experience, by Industrial Light & Magic, are over the top. None of that saves this vapid story.

2 thoughts on “Bad Movie of the Week

  1. Pingback: Bad Movie of the Week | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: Bad Moon Rising | Skeptical Analysis

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