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Feature


A researcher discovers a tribe in South America and takes part in their ritual, which involves partaking in a drink made with a mysterious red fungus that grows on the local leaves. He then ships a broken statue and some of the leaves to the Chicago Museum of Natural History, and disappears. Weeks later the shipment arrives at the museum and Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) begins her own research. That night a security guard is brutally beheaded, and his brain removed. Superstitious and recently divorced police detective Lt. Vincent D'Agosta (Tom Sizemore) is called in to investigate. It’s theorized that the killer is probably still somewhere in the building, and that he may be a brain eating monster.

Relic, The
The Relic is like the definition of a ‘90s thriller, including the cast (when was the last time you saw Tom Sizemore, Penelope Ann Miller or Linda Hunt in an A-movie?), the directing style (which has mostly been adopted by television crime drama lately), the music (not that John Debney has ever been particularly original), the special effects (great mechanical and make-up effects, dated digital work) and the dialogue (lame kiddie curses, and a Jeffery Dahmer name drop). It’s also a movie I’ve always taken pains to like over the years, but despite multiple viewings I’ve never made it through the whole thing without losing interest in monsters beheading people. That’s really saying something—I find myself bored watching a monster beheading people. The gore effects are pretty awesome, and pretty grotesque for the notoriously gore-light ‘90s, but director Peter Hyams (who went on to make four of the worst major release motion pictures I’ve ever seen) can’t keep the tension tight for long periods of time. Perhaps half a dozen fake-out scares (one literally a hissing cat) during the early parts of the film weren’t in his, or the audience’s best interest.

Apparently Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child original books, The Relic and  Reliquary, are actually very good, but the movie’s story is goofy and derivative enough (it’s a mix of Jaws and [/i]Aliens[/i] set in the unlikely location of a history museum) that there’s really no point in comparing it to anything other than other goofy, derivative monster movies. There are surely some cheap thrills in the mix, but the plot is a bit of a trudge in terms of predictability, and Hyams’ treatment of geography is needlessly visually confusing. The supporting cast is characterized as obnoxious, and definitely hurts in terms of rooting for them. The leads are much better in terms of dealing with their characters, but they aren’t given much to work with in terms of traits. Sizemore’s superstitious bugaboos are an especially weak character definition, and are practically forgotten halfway through the film after being reinforced to the point of painful.

Relic, The

Video


Lionsgate and Paramount have done a fine job putting the original film to uncompressed Blu-ray, but they clearly didn’t take any time to clean or restore the film itself. This is a downright filthy transfer, the kind I’d expect from some recently unearthed cult piece. The opening credits are most offensive moment, including a big smear right in the centre of the screen. Grain, dirt and general damage persist throughout. Still, the 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer features some very sharp details. Most of the details are of the close-up variety thanks to Hyams' use of shallow focus, but there are plenty of wide shots that are only slightly hampered by edge-enhancement effects. Colours are largely darkened and dulled to create mood, but they’re generally well re-produced, and are set nicely against the deep dark blacks. There’s a lot of brown here, a colour that can be a problem digitally if reddened enough, and besides the grain it’s all pretty clean and warm. The darkness is a problem once the museum lights turn off, but if memory serves the Hyams’ cinematography was always a misfire in terms of overall balance.

Audio


The Relic was made in that beautiful early era of 5.1 sound, and is more than worthy of this DTS-HD Master Audio treatment. The ambient noise factor is particularly impressive. The museum is consistently humming with the sound of wind (or whatever), and the frontal, centred sounds often work their way into the rear channels in the form of realistic echo effects. The creature attack scenes are rich with bassy creature noises, screaming actors, and well aimed directional effects. The intricate noises of snapping spines, and tearing flesh are not lose during these more bombastic moments either, and John Debney’s heavy metal orchestra doesn’t overwhelm the mix. On the whole the music is a frontal affair, but melds nicely even during the more subtle moments, and is the most prominent element in terms of LFE presence.

Relic, The

Extras


Extras begin with director Peter Hyams’ rather drab commentary track. Hyams isn’t particularly conceited or anything, but seems to be of the general opinion that Relic is a step above most horror films, and this tonally colours the entire track (at least for me). He spends a lot of the track thanking the people he worked with, and repeats himself when discussing storytelling and film directing. Clearly he’s most comfortable as a cinematographer and graphic designer, and the track comes somewhat to life when the focus is shifted to the technical aspects of photography. Hyams is no fool though, he’s sure to mention Jaws and Alien on occasion. The brief extras (more than most of these Lionsgate/Paramount Blu-rays) also include ‘The Filmmaker’s Lens: An Interview with Peter Hyams (10:00, HD), which basically sums up the commentary track in interview form (hilariously he lies and says he never watches his films ever), a trailer, and trailer for other Lionsgate releases.

Relic, The

Overall


I kept giving The Relic a chance, probably because I’m such a sucker for violent monster movies, but the film devolves into boredom so quickly, despite a really cool monster design, I’m continuously disappointed. It almost doesn’t make any sense considering how whole-heartedly director Peter Hyams embraces the gore and fright, but by the time the monster is ripping off yet another head in super slow motion most viewers will probably be inspecting the details on their popcorn over engaging in the film. Fans will likely be disappointed with the Blu-ray’s overall image quality in terms of clean-up, but I can’t imagine anyone being depressed over the DTS-HD sound. Extras are minimalist and somewhat repetitive, but better than most of the extraless Lionsgate/Paramount Blu-ray releases.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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