The Relic (15)

Directed by Peter Hyams
Starring Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt

Derivative, but very enjoyable scientific thriller/monster movie. This film owes a lot to Alien and Jurassic Park in its mixture of chase/suspense and downright gory monster attacks. The film opens with the discovery and shipping of a strange relic from South America in a rather confusing segment. The main part of the action is set in an architecturally impressive museum where the crates were headed for. After a security guard is brutally murdered and dismembered, cop Tom Sizemore begins investigating with the help of evolutionary biologist Margo Green(Miller). Soon it become clear that some sort of monster is on the loose around the museum, and a high profile, black tie fund raising event becomes the 'do' to miss! It is down to our heroic pair to save the VIPs.
The monster effects are by the man who created the alien queen in Aliens, and indeed the character Miller plays is very Sigourney Weaver-esque. However, there are still all too few action heroines, and pleasingly Miller not only gets top billing, but is the ultimate saviour, using her brains and improvisation skills rather than guns or bombs to defeat the monster. She does spend the second half of the film running around in a cocktail dress a la La Femme Nikita, or Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies. Like those two, she also discards the heels! Miller is an attractive and sympathetic lead, and her role as the expert scientist, complete with lots of nice computer programs is also reminiscent of the techno babble of Jurassic Park. Like that film, this one tries to base the main premise in scientific fact, although it is another incredibly unlikely theory like Jurassic Park. This time the scientists are trying to convince us that species may evolve at super speed, if viruses transmit DNA between species, creating hybrid species. Hmm...
I particularly liked the museum setting. I don't know if it was filmed inside a real one or not, but the atmosphere created was a mysterious one. The exhibit on superstition that The Relic of the title is placed in is a very imaginative one, and an exhibition I would visit. The museum administrator is the all too rarely seen Linda Hunt, while Margo's rival in science looks just like an oriental Jimmy Olsen.
When it comes to the monster itself, director Hyams sensibly shows little of it for a long time. Showing merely the result, rather than the action of the attacks is far more ominous. When we do see the creature, it is inevitably a bit disappointing- a cross between alien and a warthog! But by this time, Hyams also slots in a couple of very graphic attacks as we see a head pulled off and the lower half of a mans body eaten off. Eeyuk!
Tom Sizemore starts alarmingly macho, and seems to be heading for Michael Madsen territory, but actually is an atypical hero. He does save most of the VIPs, with a few screaming and annoying rich ladies mercifully fed to the monster. But he doesn't save the day- Miller does. Nice to see. I must say a word though about the visuals. The camera whizzes around so much, that I was feeling decidedly nauseous after a while. Maybe it was deliberate, but with the very loud soundtrack and lots of flashing lights, it was a dizzying film.
So no, it isn't all that original, but after suffering through Anaconda earlier in the week, this was much more fun and much better made. Genuinely scary, atmospheric, good characters and with a strong storyline.7/10

May 1997

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