Relic (The) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (8th May 2010).
The Film

I remember hearing a great deal of praise for “Relic”, the 1995 novel written by Douglas J. Preston and Lincoln Child, back when I was a more avid reader than I am today. I think it may have been my mother who suggested I pick it up, since she was all-too-well-aware of my obsession for all things monstrous. I devoured the novel as quickly as I could, allowing my 14-year-old brain to conjure up images of what the beastly Kothoga creature might look like. Then, as luck would have it (well, maybe less so luck and moreso the fact that the novel was a bestseller), a mere two years later saw the release of the theatrical version, “The Relic” (1997). My geek mind was excited by the prospect of seeing the novel come to life, but it was sent into warp-speed overload when I learned that Stan Winston was going to be designing the film’s titular creature. I drooled over concept art printed within the pages of Fangoria, the images whet my appetite for on-screen carnage. Now, I remember very little about that initial screening way back when, but I was excited to learn that the film was going to be given the hi-def treatment on Blu-ray. I couldn’t even recall whether or not I had watched my DVD copy, and if I had, it certainly had been a long time. So, here in 2010, I found myself once again excited for a second go-round.

I think I would have been better off if I hadn’t.

Mind you, I haven’t read Preston & Child’s novel in over 15 years, so for all I know it wouldn’t hold up nearly as well as I recall. But I can state without a doubt that the film absolutely doesn’t. Paper-thin characters (more like caricatures), inane dialogue, paint-by-numbers plotting, eye-rolling running gags and a creature that, despite looking incredibly fantastic, doesn’t show up until there are literally 25 minutes left in the film. I found myself struggling to recall what drew me to this film in the first place.

A freight ship arrives in a Chicago port, but local police find that all of the crew members have been killed, ripped apart and strewn about the cabin. Some of the crates on board were due to be delivered to the Museum of Natural History of Chicago, where another murder has recently taken place. Lt. Vincent D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore) heads up an investigation into finding a link between the two crime scenes, and he is aided by the museum’s own Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller). While the assumption is made that they are looking for a serial killer, Dr. Green finds some leaves that were aboard the crates which contain a unique mixture of hormones and chemicals. Eventually, during the museum’s opening gala for their new “Superstition” exhibit, they learn that the killer is, in fact, Kothoga, a large reptilian-like beast which may have a greater link to the scientist who sent the crates to the museum than they had realized.

Truth be told, the majority of the film is terrible. The script, written by Amy Holden Jones, John Raffo, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, is so formulaic that it’s practically a joke. The dialogue is trite and insipid; a running gag has Lt. D’Agosta constantly talking about how “his ex got the dog” during a recent divorce settlement. A joke which wore out its welcome on the first delivery, let alone by the fourth. This was Sizemore’s first leading role, and while he was a strong enough actor to provide support to A-listers, he isn’t exactly in that league of carrying his name above the title. (And if any of you watch VH1’s "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" (2008-Present), you know he’s far, far removed from even those days.) Still, he does his best with the pathetic script he had to work with, so I can’t place the onus of blame on him. After all, an actor can only do so much with weak material.

The real highlight of the film, naturally, is the Kothoga. Stan Winston, once again, doesn’t just rise to the occasion – he smashes through the glass ceiling which most other designers live under to prove that he was, without a doubt, the master in his field. Preston & Child had described the Kothoga in the novel as being a “scaly primate”. Obviously not one to think inside the box, Winston had grand plans for his interpretation. The Kothoga seen on film is a massive behemoth with the body of a tiger, a face full of insect-like appendages and a slight hint of humanity. After all, we do learn later on that the anthropologist who sent the crates back to Chicago, John Whitney (Lewis Van Bergen), was transformed into the beast. Unfortunately for us, however, the bulk of Kothoga’s on-screen assault takes place within the film’s final 25 minutes. The reason behind this was because Winston was running behind on finishing up his creation. These delays not only pushed the release of the film back from a fall 1996 release up to winter 1997, but it also forced director Peter Hyams to scale back on scenes featuring the monster. And, sadly, the film suffers tremendously because of it. But it would be hard for anyone to argue that it isn’t one of the most badass beasts to grace the silver screen. In a perfect cinematic world, someone would find a way to insert Kothoga into another film, because he needs a lot more face time with monster lovers.

Back to that revelation, that John Whitney had become Kothoga… I would have loved to see a visionary director take hold of this concept and turn it into a more mature film. Personally, I’ve always been more fascinated with how Whitney evolved into this hulking brute. What must it have been like for his body to experience these changes? I’d love to see something akin to David Cronenberg’s masterful “The Fly” (1986), where we get to experience the changes taking place within Whitney on a more personal level. The novel had him gradually change over through a period of years, whereas the film implies his transformation occurred in a matter of weeks. There would have been ample opportunity to witness his rebirth – to see his body undergoing such rapid change. But, sadly, that is a film we’re likely to never see.

Speaking of things we won’t see – did someone forget to tell Peter Hyams to turn on the lights? He pulls double duty here as both director and cinematographer, and I think he should have fired himself for the atrocious lighting job he did on this film. Right form the opening frame, I was squinting just to make out what was going on. I figured that maybe it’s just the nighttime scenes, but once we hit the sunny streets of Chi-town, things didn’t get any better. It continued on like this for the entire duration of the film. Now, I can only assume that Hyams shot the film like this because he wanted to keep Kothoga shrouded in darkness, partly to leave a little of its appearance to the imagination, and partly to obscure some of the CGI elements used for scenes that required it to move in ways that a large animatronic, or suit, simply can’t. Now, I can excuse him for shading the CGI (which isn’t all that bad, truth be told), but I find it to be an egregious mistake to light the entire film so poorly. Even my girlfriend pointed out how dark everything was. And, as I’ve mentioned in my reviews before, if SHE notices something is off, then it must really be bad.

Video

You should already know what this is going to say… The Blu-ray’s 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is an ugly one. I applaud Lionsgate for not applying a liberal dose of DNR to the image, but they could have gone a bit further in cleaning things up. Hell, maybe even bring in Hyams to see if he would like a crack at color-correcting this release. But that was unlikely to happen. Film grain is well-preserved, sometimes to a fault as it often borders on noise. The image has zero dimensionality to it; nothing pops off the screen or showcases the benefits of a 1080p transfer. Colors are often muted and the image is hazy and unrefined. Black levels hold up well – which they should considering so much of the movie takes place in dark environments. But I never caught even a single shot that surprised me with its clarity or depth. This is a flat image that can only trump its DVD counterpart because of increased resolution inherent to the Blu-ray disc itself.

Audio

Now this is where they got things right. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit is all kinds of awesome. Right away, John Debney’s score fully engulfs viewers, and the soundtrack never lets up. Looking for something worth showing off your home theater? Skip ahead to Kothoga’s rampage in the museum. Each one of his footsteps explodes like a shotgun to the ear, sure to turn any neighbors living within your vicinity into instant enemies. The LFE track works overtime here, pumping out low bass frequencies designed to bring down the house. The rear speakers chime in, not only with ambient score filler, but also with the sounds of museum guests as they mingle among the exhibits. Dialogue from all actors on-screen is clear and easily discernible. It’s a shame the video quality doesn’t match the audio because this is one helluva track.
Subtitles are available in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

In a rather weak effort, “The Relic” uncovers a minor trio of bonus features. Although, I suppose we should be thankful for what is included, considering that the original DVD release was barebones. We get an audio commentary, featurette and the film’s theatrical trailer. I really wish they had seen fit to include any surviving footage of Winston’s FX team laboring on the Kothoga; it deserves to have a featurette dedicated to its creation. But, alas, it was not to be…

The audio commentary with director Peter Hyams is a peculiar one. Hyams, not exactly the most lively participant, spends a great majority of the track discussing his various lighting techniques and decisions in addition to musing on what he tried to do with scenes individually, attempting to incorporate different themes to engage the audience. It might be a little on the dry side, but it’s a great technical track for those who want more than the standard on-set anecdotes.

“The Filmmaker’s Lens: An Interview with Peter Hyams” (1080p) is a featurette which runs for 10 minutes and 10 seconds, the director/cinematographer discusses how he got into the filmmaking business and how he is able to manipulate lighting and shadows to create an aura of fear within his audience. Interesting, if not a bit short.

Finally, the film’s theatrical trailer (480i) runs for 2 minutes and 14 seconds.

Packaging

The film comes in a standard amaray keepcase. Hooray for no eco-case!

Overall

What it lacks in writing and lighting, it almost makes up for in a decent selection of actors and a truly impressive creature in Kothoga. Fans of big monster-run-amok films will enjoy adding this to their collection (if they don’t already own it), but might be slightly disappointed that the creature isn’t given enough face time on screen. The video quality isn’t too hot, but the audio is likely to knock you out of your seat. The extras might be slim, but at least it’s something.

The Film: C+ Video: C Audio: A- Extras: C- Overall: C+

 


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