Monday, 11 May 2015

The Relic (1997)

"Murder in the dark. By a great big monster"

What’s this? A great big monster on the loose movie from the director of CAPRICORN ONE and part-funded by our very own BBC? Yes indeedy, Peter Hyams’ THE RELIC is making its way onto Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Fabulous Films. Whether you’ll want to watch it or not will depend very much on how you like your monster pictures.

The Dark Museum

After some anthropological shenanigans that look as if they were filmed in someone’s garage, Dr John Whitney (Lewis Van Bergen) gets upset when he realises the freighter he’s jumped onto bound out of Brazil is carrying his collection of tribal carpets, but not the mysterious something that is still standing on the dock (of the bay, watching the tides...sorry).
Several weeks later and the boat arrives in Chicago, minus its entire crew. Dogged Lieutenant D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore), recently deprived of his own canine pet in a divorce settlement gets called in to investigate and quickly discovers a collection of bodies with their heads torn off stored in the bilge.

Can't quite see what's going on here

Meanwhile, at the nearby (aha!) Chicago Museum of Natural History, unlikely evolutionary biologist Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) is getting ready for the institution’s annual posh knees-up where desperate researchers try to convince the city’s Rich and Richer to give them money for their various projects. A crateful of leaves arrives for Dr Whitney and turns a beetle massive. A security guard gets his head ripped off in the toilet. The similarity of the crime is presumably the reason why Sizemore gets called in for this as well, although it’s never made clear and might just be one of those convenient monster movie coincidences.

Monster monster monster!

A great big monster is stalking the very very very very dark corridors of the museum, which is probably why no-one sees it. It’s getting bigger all the time and the explanation for its existence is such a combination of actual scientific words and complete and utter daftness that the idea that giant ants can be created from atom bomb testing starts to look believable. Needless to say, the creature decides to kick off during the gala dinner, the museum gets locked down, and the minimal lighting fails. Will Margo and the Lieutenant defeat the monster? Will we actually get to see it? Will they? Is the film anything like the book it’s allegedly based on? No it's not, apparently. I could answer the other questions but I won’t, just in case you want to see the film for yourself.

I remember when all of this was ants

I saw THE RELIC on its original cinema release and was convinced that either the projector’s bulb had broken or that it was being shown in some mysterious and incorrect aspect ratio that was cutting off all the relevant action on screen. It seems I was wrong on both counts. This has to be one of the darkest films I have ever seen. Initially this approach provides some atmosphere, but once you get to the point where you’re starting to get a headache trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be looking at it becomes distracting. My own theory for the minimal lighting is that, seeing as they were filming in the actual museum in which the movie is set, normal movie lights would damage the exhibits. On the other hand perhaps all the money went on the monster.
It’s a really good monster, by the way, when we eventually get to see it. Stan Winston has done himself proud. Everything else is strictly B-movie. The script is by the numbers, with some attempted characterisation of Sizemore, but it feels horribly laboured. You really need a John Sayles to write stuff like this. And a Robert Forster to make the lines believable. Acting honours go to James Whitmore (from THEM! I knew there was a reason I had giant ants on the brain) and Linda Hunt as the museum boss, who both help add a little colour to the proceedings.
Fabulous Films’ offers us THE RELIC in a decent transfer in the correct aspect ratio. I still can't see what’s going on half the time, but it’s not their fault. You get a trailer as an extra and that’s it. 

Fabulous Films are releasing Peter Hyams' THE RELIC on Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 27th April 2015 and 25th May 2015, respectively.

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