The Relic (1997)
By: Craig Villinger on October 1, 2009  | 
Universal (Australia). Region 2 & 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English (FHI), Dutch Subtitles. 105 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Peter Hyams
Starring: Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt, James Whitmore
Screenplay: Amy Jones, John Raffo, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Country: USA
External Links
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After the success of Jurassic Park Hollywood enjoyed a brief fascination with all things creature feature-ish, and within a few short years through the mid-to-late 90s most of the major studios produced a bunch of big budget B-movies including Deep Rising, Anaconda, Starship Troopers, Deep Blue Sea, Lake Placid, the Godzilla remake, and of course The Relic. Unfortunately this was only a passing fad, and these days your average monster movie goes straight to the dustiest corner of your local video library, or worse, a cable TV channel, but being able to see so many colossal beasts in the multiplex was a fun ride while it lasted.

After an ominous opening sequence that features an anthropologist sampling a weird potion and freaking out in some nondescript South American jungle we see a collection of mysterious crates loaded on to a cargo ship bound for the USA…

Later, in Chicago, the museum of natural history is preparing for a gala event that has been months in the planning, but soon after the aforementioned mysterious crates show up a security guard is found dead – his head ripped off and parts of his brain missing – and with a killer potentially roaming freely throughout the building a shadow is cast over the impending soiree, much to the chagrin of the museum's powers that be. Gruff Chicago cop Vincent D'Agosta (Tom Sizemore) is called in to solve the case, and after seeking assistance from the museum's comely mini-skirt wearing Evolutionary Biologist Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) the pair eventually learns the disturbing truth: the Kothoga - a mythical South American jungle creature with a fondness for the human hypothalamus (that's a particularly tasty part of the brain, apparently) is running rampant in the museum, and unfortunately for all and sundry it has got one hell of an appetite! Of course, this is only revealed after the museum's big event is allowed to go ahead as planned (against D'Agosta's wishes, naturally), providing the Kothoga with an ample selection of partygoers to terrorize and snack upon.

On paper The Relic probably reads like the kind of movie that would be made for the Syfy channel nowadays, but with a budget rumoured to be around the forty million dollar mark this was far from a B-grade cheapie, and director Peter Hyams used Hollywood's fat cheque books to produce a slick, atmospheric and entertaining creature feature.

The film does take its time to get to the creature goodness (the counter had passed the one hour mark before the Kothoga was fully revealed) but if anything this is one of its strengths as Hyams had obviously studied the likes of Alien and Jaws and knew that the "less is more" approach is what made many of the great creature thrillers work effectively. It's not in the same league as Alien or Jaws mind you, but it's still damn good popcorn chewing fun.

The story teases us with the gory aftermath of the Kothoga's handywork early on just so we know what kind of nasty beastie we are dealing with, and thanks to a snappy script (adapted from the novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child) that uses all the clichés but never actually feels cliched (D'Agosta's efforts to protect the public are hampered by the powers that be who believe the show must go on at all costs, just like Brodie's struggle in Jaws. And why does the appearance of a large creature always seem to coincide with some sort of major event?) and some solid acting things are far from boring while we wait for the beast to run amok. Tom Sizemore in particular, in his first starring role after playing second fiddle to the likes of DeNiro and Denzel, delivers an engaging performance as the likeable cop who cuts to the chase when the situation needs to be sorted. Example - In one scene, as the scientists, enraptured by the Kothoga's presence, begin theorising and bringing up the creature's mythology, D'Agosta cuts off their scientific gobbledygook to ask "How the fuck do we kill that thing?" I don't know about you, but if I were trapped in a museum with a giant South American creature salivating over my puny brain that's the kind of guy I'd want leading from the front.

When the creature action finally kicks in it's good stuff too. The Kothoga, a sort of cross between a lizard and a lion with nasty teeth and tusks, is a fearsome looking creation (no surprise, considering Stan Winston is credited with the effects work) that is brought to life by a mixture of old fashioned practical FX and CGI. The practical FX look fantastic (again – Winston – would you expect any less?) and the CGI isn't too shabby either.

Some twelve years after it was released The Relic isn't fondly remembered by too many, which is a shame as it is a reasonably smart and well acted movie that doesn't skimp on the essentials like creature action and gore and mixes its straighter faced drama with cheesy monster mayhem and genuinely atmospheric suspense sequences almost perfectly.

Oh, and if you've ever wondered what an evolutionary biologist does, Penelope Ann Miller's character describes herself as someone who is "trying to figure out where our tails went". I found that quite succinct.
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement, The Relic looks dark. Very dark. I'm sure some of this darkness was an intentional aesthetic choice from the filmmakers, but when I saw The Relic on the big screen some years back I can't remember it looking this dark. Much of the films' final half hour takes place in darkened rooms and underground tunnels, and more than once I found myself leaning forward as I tried to figure out what I was supposed to be seeing. The transfer is also very soft, and the lack of definition meant a lot of detail was lost in the darkness. Drab colours don't help make things easier to see either, with some sequences almost looking like they were shot in black and white or sepia tone. Overall this is an average transfer.
The 5.1 channel soundtrack should give your structural foundations a good jolt. It's loud and aggressive, with the surround channels bursting with activity during the chaotic action moments. It's not without its quirks though. The mix is a little bass heavy at times – the Kothoga's footfalls sounded like someone tapping a microphone with the palm of their hand on occasions – but overall this audio presentation should leave audiophiles grinning.
Extra Features
A non-anamorphic trailer for the feature attraction is our only extra.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Essentially a B-grade movie with A-grade production values, The Relic is one of the most entertaining examples of Hollywood's mid-to-late 90s flirtation with big budget monster movies, and it still delivers the goods even after several watches.

Unfortunately the film hasn't been given a stellar DVD presentation here, but sadly this may be as good as it's ever going to get. The Relic was made just before the DVD boom so supplementary features wouldn't have been a priority during production, and now, a decade plus later, it probably doesn't have enough of a cult following to convince studio tightwads to put together some sort of "Special Edition". We can live in hope though.

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