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Featured Blu-ray Review: The Relic

April 3rd, 2010

The Relic - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

When the Blu-ray for The Relic arrived on my desk, my first thought was, "Is this the movie about the cockroaches in trench coats?" Nope, turns out the film I was thinking about is called The Mimic. And I might be wrong about the cockroaches in trench coats part... it has been a while since I've seen either film. But I can hardly be at fault for initially mixing up the two. They both came out the same year, both were about weird creatures terrorizing scientists, and neither were hits with critics or moviegoers. This film did earn a little more at the box office, but it also cost a lot more to make. It also earned weaker reviews. Going in, I was only expecting to find a guilty pleasure: a film that is fun to waste time with, but nothing of substance. Low expectations like this are sometimes a film's best asset.

The film starts in South America with an anthropologist, Dr. John Whitney, looking in on a native ritual that involves boiling leaves and making a special brew. He foolishly drinks this, suffering hallucinations about something he calls the Kothoga. Back in Chicago, the boat carrying the artifacts he collected arrives in Chicago harbor with no one aboard. At least no one aboard is found alive. Later at the Natural History Museum, the final destination for his artifacts, we meet Dr. Margo Green, an evolutionary anthropologist. Shortly after the artifacts arrive, someone gets murdered. The detective called in to do the investigation is Lt. Vincent D'Agosta who immediately recognizes similarities between this murder and the murder of the crew of a cargo transport ship. This can't be a coincidence. He wants to shut down the museum as he investigates, but there is about to be a new exhibition opening and if he shuts them down now, the museum will lose a bundle in grants and sponsorships. So despite D'Agosta's objections, they go ahead with their event. Of course, this turns out to be a huge mistake.

The first thing I need to point out when it comes to reviewing this movie is the fact that despite being based on an unrelated novel, The Relic is practically a remake of Jaws. It's Jaws set in a museum. There's even a plot point about the cop wanting to shut down some major event (a gala at the museum here, closing the beach in Jaws) and the fake monster that helps get it going again. (In Jaws it was the first shark they caught that was clearly not large enough, here it was a homeless person squatting in the museum basement.) The basic story progression is hardly unique, but there are also other parts of the movie that feel "borrowed" for other films. (In the audio commentary track, Peter Hyams even admits to certain scenes being homages to other films, Alien included.

So the movie isn't exactly original. It could still be a good movie if all of the story elements come together and the execution is strong, right? Sadly, that is not the case here. The pacing is all wrong and too quickly we see the monster. Almost the entire last half of the movie is nothing but action, with little tension added in. When the rescue team was being picked off by the monster as they tried to rope-drop into the museum, it felt like the sequence was there solely to raise the body count. And after all that action, the ending was way too abrupt to satisfy. This film is also exceedingly dark, something the director talks extensively about in the audio commentary track. He does have a point: if a character is using a flashlight, it should be dark enough that they wouldn't be able to see without it. However, this situation happens too many times. For large stretches of the movie, the audience can see almost nothing. If one dark scene adds tension, it is not true that ten dark scenes will add ten times as much tension. In fact, after three or four such scenes, they just become tedious. As for the script, the movie has a lot of scientific terms. We learn about DNA and retroviruses combining strands, etc. But for the most part, this pseudo-scientific talk was a red herring. The monster could have been the result of aliens, or magic, etc. and it wouldn't really have made a difference. The acting is suspect. The characters as written were flat, so you can't really blame the actors. But often the two leads did not act like they were in danger, at least as much danger as the script would have us believe. The only time that was not true was when Dr. Margo Green thought something was after her, but it was just the cleaning lady. The creature effects look incredibly dated and the movie isn't that old. There were a few shots where it looked very unrealistic in a cool way and if the monster was the result of magic, it would have been more acceptable. (Specifically I'm thinking about the end, when it was on fire. The fire did not look realistic at all, but it was a cool effect.)

Extras on the Blu-ray are limited to an audio commentary track with the director, Peter Hyams and a 10-minute interview with him. As a solo track, there's not a lot of energy, as he has no one to interact with. There are not a lot of dead spots either and he does talk a lot about how he makes movies, but it's not one of the best I've listened too. The interview covers a lot of the same ground, but in a more general sense. It is still worth checking out. As for the film's High Definition presentation, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, the film is extremely dark and the special effects are dated, so I don't think it could ever look great, even in High Definition. This is probably as good as it will get, so I don't want to fault the transfer for the way it looks. Additionally, the sound is much, much better than expected. It has a 7.1 mix, which surprised me, as most catalogue titles come with a 5.1 mix. The sound was arguably the best part of the movie.

As for Blu-ray exclusives... you can set bookmarks, but that's it.

The Verdict

Nothing in The Relic works the way it should. Every element in the movie (from the script, to the acting, to the directing, to the special effects) has some flaw in it that prevents it from reaching its potential. On the other hand, it's not a complete failure in any of those regards either. That’s not much of a recommendation, is it? I guess if you want some B-movie monster mayhem, you could do worse. The Blu-ray is a lot better than most catalogue titles. It is also quite cheap at just $12.99 on If you haven't seen it, it might be worth a rental, but for fans it is hard to argue with that price.

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