"Smoke on the water and fire in the sky", or rather, "Fire in the sky, can't you see that all my castles are burning?" Obvious song references aside (Oh yeah, like you would be able to resist), this film's title is awesome, and certainly more so than the title of the book upon which it's based, "The Walton Experience", which sounds like some kind of theme park based on Earl Hamner, Jr.'s "The Waltons" or something. Man, that would be the least amusing amusement park around, because all it would be would be an immersive recreation of the Great Depression era, so I reckon I'll just stay at home and experience this film, and by that, I mean watch it, because being abducted and experimented on by extraterrestrials doesn't sound too much more fun than the aforementioned Depression era recreation, or at least it doesn't to me. Robert Patrick, on the other hand, must have really gotten into this kind of stuff after this, possibly getting in "The X-Files" and, I don't know, "Alien Trespass" to further investigate the existence of aliens, or at least that's my attempt at figuruing out why Patrick did "Alien Trespass". It's a real shame that Patrick didn't find any, because, come on, how awesome would it be to see the T-1000 duke it out with aliens? Maybe Patrick hasn't been as observant as he should be in the TV industry, which may very well have aliens for all we know, seeing as how they pretty much abducted D. B. Sweeney, even though they never gave him back, unlike Travis Walton's aliens. Maybe all aliens keep their victims, thus (*cough*fur*cough*ther*cough*) proving that Walton's story is just bull, which isn't to say that such a revelation would make this film less enjoyable, because this effort is a decent one, even though it finds itself held back by its share of issues.
There's not really too much to this film, and that, of course, only intensifies the issues, one of, if not the biggest of which being, of all things, cheesiness, something that even claims the trite, thematically uneven score by Mark Isham, while doing some serious damage to Tracy Tormé's script, which has its share of fall-flat moments in dialogue, as well as subtlety issues that range from somewhat offputting to just downright glaring. If the film isn't kind of distancingly overemphatic about its being based on a true story that may very well be bull, what with it's being so bizarre, its simply histrionic or overbearing with its handling of drama and characterization, so we're certainly not looking at an effort that is nearly as bright as the light that Travis Walton claims to have seen on the night around which this film is centered, and that almost destroys the final product's decency, which goes further shaken by the script's simply needing some trimming around the edges. The film isn't exceedingly overblown, and besides, it's not like its 109-minute runtime leaves all that much room for bloating open, but when the film does bite off more material than it can chew, it starts dragging its feet, meandering in a somewhat repetitious way that blands things up as it desperately works to put some extra meat on the bones that is a story that has enough bland spots in concept. Certainly, there is a reasonable degree of intrigue to this story, and I will touch more upon the engagement value of this subject matter later, but in too many areas, there's not a whole lot of consequence to this thriller, based on a story that just ended up kind of fizzling out from public attention, partially because it is one of a million, just with a bit more circumstancial evidence. The film doesn't have a whole lot of especially unique material to work with, and that would be just fine if the film itself didn't neglect to come up with unique approaches to this story, hitting convention after convention, until flaws end up standing among the general notable beats to this effort for you to zero in on. Sure, around the flaws stand strengths, and enough of them to save the film as decent, but not enough for you to forget the rather cheesy lack of subtlety, tightness and originality that makes the final product not really all that memorable. In spite of this, while the film takes up your time, it does a generally adequate job of holding your attention, being a mess, but one that is nevertheless with some things to compliment, even in the visual aspects.
By 1993, the excellent, maybe even great Bill Pope turned in his fifth effort as cinematographer with this film, and as an up-and-coming motion photographer, Pope didn't really hone in his skill enough for this film to prove to be consistently handsome, but when Pope really delivers here, as he very often does, the results are surprisingly quite lovely, playing with lighting and coloring in an attractively lush fashion that catches your eye and occasionally even captures the juicy wonderment of this subject matter. It takes a little while to get used to the film's visual style, but make no mistake, if this film is anything, it's pretty darn pretty when it wants to be, boasting a look that was fine for the early '90s, and is still mighty handsome to this day as a supplement to nifty style that does a decent job of complimenting what nifty spots there are in substance. Like I said, the film's story concept stands to be meatier and more unique, and its execution gets to be pretty messy, whether when it cheesing things up through subtlety lapses or meandering along, but the thin spots in this film's subject matter, even when joined by problematic lot structuring, cannot fully obscure what is, in fact, intriguing about this genuinely interesting abduction story, especially when intrigue value finds itself emphasized through what is actually done right in execution, particularly when it comes to direction. Director Robert Lieberman can do only so much to settle down the sting of the issues within Tracy Tormé's screenplay, and even makes situations worse in some ways, partially through ambition, but when Lieberman actually fulfills his ambition, he gives you a near-rich taste of what could have been, or at least augments engagement value through moments in atmospheric kick that really are effective, ranging from fear for the associates of Travis Walton who find their reputation and lives threatened by accusations surrounding Walton's disappearance, to the climactic flashback to a dramatization of Walton's experience with his abducters that is unexpectedly nothing short of bone-chillingly haunting. It's a long time before the film reaches its pay-off, but oh, how effective the pay-off is, which isn't to say that you'll find yourself sitting there, desperately begging for this film to hurry up and culminate, because if Lieberman delivers on nothing else, it's a fair degree of entertainment value, which makes the final product enjoyable enough to not be shaken into dreaded mediocrity by its shortcomings. What further keeps engagement value from drifting away is, of course, one of the few major aspects that is consistently impressive, and that is the acting, which would be decent across-the-board if it wasn't for its featuring standouts, from the portrayers of Walton's "abduction" witnesses who face fear over the fates of themselves and of their lost friend, to the unevenly used D. B. Sweeney, who nails the trauma and overwhelming confusion upon Walton's eventual return to the human world with the eeriest of stories to tell. I kind of wish that the film was as good as its performances, because the high notes in the final product do indeed give you a good taste of what could have been, but when it's all said and done, what you ultimately end up with is a reasonably entertaining dramatic sci-fi thriller that gets you by, even if it's not likely to grip your investment all that tightly.
When the light dims and lets you go back into the real world, you're left with cheesy moments in the score, dialogue and subtlety departments, natural shortcomings within the story concept, and conventionalism within the storytelling shake the memorability of the final product, whose decency is even challenged by shortcomings, but not so much so that you can easily deny the handsome visual style, fair degree of conceptual intrigue, - often brought to life by effective moments in Robert Lieberman's mostly reasonably lively score - and good acting that make "Fire in the Sky" an entertaining, if flawed and a bit overambitious retelling of one of the most recognizable stories told by a self-proclaimed victim of extraterrestrials.
2.5/5 - Fair