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The Relic DVD Review

Written by Eric Strauss

DVD released by Parmount

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Directed by Peter Hyams
Written by Amy Holden Jones, John Raffo, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
1997, Region 1 (NTSC), 109 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on April 20th, 2009

Starring:
Penelope Ann Miller as Dr. Margo Green
Tom Sizemore as Lt. Vincent D'Agosta
Linda Hunt as Dr. Ann Cuthbert
James Whitmore as Dr. Albert Frock

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Review:

The Relic, based on the hit novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs, wants to be a thinking-man's horror film, with a touch of science, a touch of mystery and a touch of superstition. Does it succeed? Mostly — the film is certainly a thrill ride, but it is of the more common check-your-brain-at-the-door variety.

The film takes place at an unnamed natural history museum in Chicago (reportedly, the museum where filming took place refused to allow its name to be used). A scientist on an expedition to Brazil to study the ancient devil-god Kothoga has sent back a series of crates, which were supposed to arrive on a ship that turns up in Lake Michigan a derelict full of headless corpses. When another body appears at the museum, homicide detectives D'Agosta and Hollingsworth must track down the killer before he, she or it kills again.

Of course, the detectives and evolutionary biologist Margo Green get a lot more than they bargained for when they go hunting for a killer and seemingly find a devil-god instead. Meanwhile, the gala is on, mixing black tie with blood red.

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The acting is solid throughout, with veteran supporting actor Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan) shining as the superstitious veteran cop D'Agosta. Penelope Ann Miller (Kindergarten Cop) plays scared and frustrated better than she plays scientist, but she proves capable of handling both a lead role and the heavy action. Clayton Rohner (April Fool's Day) does a terrific job as the inexperienced Detective Hollingsworth and character actors Linda Hunt (also, coincidentally, in Kindergarten Cop) and James Whitmore (star of many Sci Fi flicks of the 50's).

The only particular disappointments in the cast list are human "villains" Chi Muoi Lo as Green's rival Greg Lee, and Thomas Ryan as museum security chief Parkinson. Lo's weak performance takes his slimy scientist past reprehensible and into "get this guy off screen" territory. Ryan, meanwhile, lets his bombast get in the way of any particular skill or character.

If The Relic fails to rise above standard science-fiction, the script is most likely to blame — four writers are credited, on top of the two authors of the source material, and none of them apparently could lift the film above its peers. Though there are several good lines and subtle touches, much of the plot follows a pedestrian "escape the monster" pattern. The scares are inconsistent, the kiss of death to any ambitious horror film, with some telegraphed and obvious but others genuinely surprising.

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One of the film's strong points, however, is the direction of action movie veteran Peter Hyams, who has helmed such sci-fi hits as Outland and 2010, plus action films like Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles Sudden Death and Timecop and Arnold Schwarzenegger's End of Days. He keeps the pace moving and films his setpieces beautifully, including the museum's eerie superstition exhibit and a basement maze that could confuse a minotaur.

The Kothoga creature crew, following the lead of effects wizard Stan Winston, produces inconsistent results — quite realistic-looking in some spots, then a bit fake-looking in others. The cringe-inducing gore is likewise inconsistent — some severed heads look grotesque while others look rubber.

A note for fans of the novel: The film glosses over several of the book's plot points, combines several characters and provides different fates for others. Put it this way: Based on who's left standing at the end, it won't be easy to film the sequel, "Reliquary."

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Video and Audio:

The anamorphic widescreen image is a typically strong Paramount transfer. The picture is clear, but a bit soft. Colors and blacks are solid and the many, many dark scenes come through well, with little if any digital noise.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is good, with regular use of the surrounds for music and effects, and a deep bass playing an important role. The dialogue is a little low compared to the effects, but that minor problem has the plus side effect of making the monster's loud roars shake the room even more.

Also included are English and French Dolby 2.0 tracks. There are no captions or subtitles.

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Special Features:

As with many Paramount DVDs, particularly the earlier ones, "The Relic" contains only a theatrical trailer, in a widescreen ratio of approx. 1.66:1.

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Grades:

 
Movie: Threeandahalfstars – A solid but flawed film benefits from strong direction and acting.
Video: Fourandahalfstars – A strong transfer.
Audio: Fourstars – A good mix, though few strong effects (except that roar).
Features: Halfastar – Better than nothing, but just barely.
Overall: Threestars – This movie-only disc is typical Paramount, which may disappoint fans.

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Conclusion:

The Relic is an enjoyable "modern B" movie, with strong acting and solid action, though some obvious flaws in the script. The disc is likewise solid, but flawed, with the most important parts — the picture and sound — right on the money, but with a lack of features that will disappoint anyone looking for any insight into the film.

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