Nearly 10 years before Ben Stiller spent his first Night At The Museum with that eclectic cast of characters, The Relic brought us a much different kind of night at a museum. What comes to life here is anything but playful. There’s nothing amusing about this nightmare in a museum. Peter Hyams might be more famous for several other action science fiction films, but none of his works before or since The Relic could claim to be quite so atmospheric. Together with the truly genius invention of creature creator extraordinaire Stan Winston, this is a movie that never quite took its earned spot in the tradition of effective horror or monster movies … until now. For the first time in high definition thanks to this new Blu-ray release, I feel like I’ve seen The Relic for the first time. And, you know what? It’s a pretty good film.
A cargo ship is found afloat in the middle of Lake Michigan shortly after a scientist has stowed aboard to prevent the delivery of a series of crates. The crates were the result of a Brazilian anthropology expedition for the Museum Of Natural History in Chicago. Now the ship appears deserted until Detective Vincent D’Agosta (Sizemore) boards her to investigate the disappearance of the crew and the bloody signs of a massacre throughout the ship. He makes a gruesome discovery. The crew was all mutilated by someone or something. D’Agosta believes this can only be the work of merciless drug cartel folks. That is, until a decapitation at the museum appears to have parallels to the attacks on the ship. His drug-smuggling theory will be put to the test in his search for the killer, apparently still trapped somewhere in the museum. The investigation is brought to a premature conclusion as city officials pressure him to allow a black tie fundraiser to go on that night. Anyone who’s anyone will be there. He reluctantly agrees to green-light the affair, while he and his team attempt to find the killer and keep the patrons safe throughout the night.
Of course, this is no drug cartel. There’s a monster afoot, and now there’s a crowded building full of delicious morsels that need protecting. It appears the creature is the result of some genetic manipulation and is fond of eating certain areas of the human brain. That means there are going to be a lot of folks losing their heads over this evening’s ceremonies.
Tom Sizemore, in the days before his much publicized legal entanglements, puts in one of his most nuanced performance this side of Saving Private Ryan here. He’s joined by Penelope Ann Miller as Dr. Green, the scientist who manages to piece together the crucial bits of information here. Give somebody huge credit for not turning their relationship into an overtly romantic one. Certainly, there’s some kind of attraction, and Sizemore’s character gets protective of Green, but we aren’t force fed the ludicrous idea that two intelligent people are going to find time for some making out in the middle of a paradigm-changing tragedy. The actors share some nice chemistry here and play off each other quite realistically.
Hyams might be making a horror movie here, but he never really leaves his action tendencies far behind. There’s an effective panic scene when the blood starts flowing and a lot of people want out of the museum fast. Trampling and self preservation kick in, and the result beats anything from the disaster genre I’ve seen. This is the closest thing to organized chaos you’re likely to see. It’s what Peter Hyams knows how to do like no one else does.
The Relic is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25 mbps. This is a very dark film for the most part. The transfer has to rely on some delicate shadow definition and smart contrast moments to make this atmosphere really work. Honestly, I can’t recall ever thinking of this film as such an atmospheric piece before. The print actually shows some slight wear, but still maintains a creepy mood that I haven’t encountered since Alien. The high definition sharpness and detail does, at times, work against this release. I’m not sure that the CGI work matches as much as it always appeared to work in standard definition. Oh well. You have to give up something to get something sometimes. This is a case where I can make the argument that this is a very different, and considerably better, film in high definition.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is more than a little bit of a surprise here. For what is essentially a catalog title, there were a lot of stops pulled out for this release. This mix is often aggressive without being too overpowering. Ambient sounds bring out the creepy mood of being inside this museum or in the waterway tunnels beneath being stalked by a horrendous creature. The score resonates with far more depth than I remember from any other viewing of this film. Dialog is there just where it is supposed to be all of the time. I don’t know exactly what the sound design make-up for the creature was here, but this presentation reveals just how effective it was.
The Filmmaker’s Lens – An Interview With Peter Hyams: (10:10) HD Not really a look at the film so much as it is Hyams talking about what art is and how he learned to express himself artistically. He tells us a lot about his wonderful talent here. He also gets himself caught in a lie. He says that under no circumstances has he ever watched one of his finished films. I’d love to hear him explain the very scene specific commentary where he calls our attention to what we’re watching together. Plenty of “here’s where” and “this is when’s”.
The Relic was one of those films that had a little bit of everything mixed in. There was plenty of action and suspense. The creature was a pretty cool creation, most of the time. There was even a generous portion of blood and gore for the die-hard splatter freaks. There are plenty of the horror film required moments, but there are also plenty of original things going on. There’s even a little push toward the value of going to a museum. Of course, “Using superstition to bring people to the museum is like hiring topless ushers for the Bolshoi Ballet.”