The Relic (1997) – Peter Hyams

This one should have been a sure fire winner, a bestselling book, a family strong cast including Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore and a fun creature feature story, featuring work by Stan Winston and his team – so what went wrong? The Relic is my next stop in the Sci-Fi Chronicles book, as I spend more time with the work of producer Gale Anne Hurd.

Having read the Preston and Child book fairly recently, I was eager to see how the film stood up. Of course, going into it knowing that they excised, completely, the character of FBI agent Pendergast, I knew I wasn’t going to be impressed. Admittedly, bringing the eccentric and unique character to the screen would have been difficult, but, I think if they did it now, either as a film or television series, it would totally work.

In the end, it’s forced to play like a B-movie horror film, instead of the captivating thrill ride it could have been.

A strange animal is on the loose in the Museum of Natural History. It is, in theory, the living embodiment of a South American lizard god. Police Detective Vincent D’Agosta (Sizemore) is investigating and working with the museum’s evolutionary biologist Dr. Margo Green (Miller) to find out what the thing is, what created it, where it came from, and how to stop it.

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Both actors try to work with what they have, though the film is fairly far from the source material. It’s like those at the studio loved the book, but didn’t understand how to distil it down to a two hour film. Characters are gone, or amalgamated into others, the science, is almost left completely by the wayside and all that is left is a monster movie set in a museum.

This fact is illustrated by the generic, and lets be honest, completely abysmal movie poster. It is further highlighted by the horrible dialogue some of which feels incredibly stilted.

Hyams, over the years has shown himself to be a capable director, but I found myself questioning his methods in this film. The entire thing is too deeply shadowed and shot in darkness to actually be frightening. And while I am a fan of the ‘less is more’ theory of movie monsters this one ends up being a bit absurd, until the final act, which is a mish mash of too much and not enough, which falls more to the way it’s shot than the creature design. Doubly so, when it’s someone like Stan Winston and his people bringing the monster to life.

The film was a huge misstep on the part of the filmmakers and the studio. Admittedly at the time, Relic was the only book in the blossoming series, but if they’d conferred and worked with the authors a little more, they may have had the first film in a tentpole series instead of a forgettable monster movie.

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