Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Hyams|
by Douglas Preston
|Music by||John Debney|
|Edited by||Steven Kemper|
|Budget||$60 million or $40 million|
The Relic is a 1997 science fiction-horror film directed by Peter Hyams and based on the best-selling novel Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The film stars Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, and Linda Hunt. In the film, a detective and an anthropologist try to defeat a South-American lizard-like monster who is on a killing spree in a Chicago Museum.
Production was originally intended to be held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. However, executives were concerned that film would scare away children. The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago offered the studio to shoot the movie at their location instead, taking interest in the film's premise. Filming took place between Chicago and Los Angeles.
The film was released in the United States on January 10, 1997 by Paramount Pictures and by Universal Pictures in worldwide territories. The film received mixed reviews from critics, and grossed over $48 million worldwide.
Dr. John Whitney, an anthropologist for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, studies a tribe in South America and drinks a soup made by the tribesmen. Shortly after, Whitney accosts a merchant ship captain, asking him to remove the cargo he had intended to send to Chicago off the ship. Unwilling to delay the ship's departure, the captain refuses and Whitney sneaks aboard. Not finding his cargo, he cries out. Six weeks later, the ship arrives on Lake Michigan with its crew missing. Chicago PD homicide detective Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta and his partner, Sgt. Hollingsworth, investigate the ship and find dozens of bodies and severed heads in the bilge.
Dr. Margo Green, an evolutionary biologist, arrives at work at the museum and discovered that co-worker Dr. Greg Lee is applying for the same research grant she is. Dr. Green and her mentor, Dr. Frock, examine Whitney's crates after their arrival and find the crates empty, except for a bed of leaves and a stone statue of the "Kothoga", a mythical forest monster. Margo notices a fungus on the leaves and sends it to be analyzed. That night, security guard Frederick Ford is murdered like the ship's crew. D'Agosta suspects a connection. Believing the killer is still inside the museum, he orders it closed until the police have finished searching. Dr. Ann Cuthbert, the museum director, protests and mentions an important upcoming exhibition.
Margo discovers the fungus contains concentrated hormones found in several animal species. In the container of leaves, she finds a mutated beetle that possesses both insect and reptilian DNA. Ford's autopsy reveals that his hypothalamus was extracted from his brain, like the bodies from the ship. In the museum's basement, the police are startled by a mentally-ill, homeless ex-convict and kill him. Finding Ford's wallet on him, everyone except D'Agosta considers the case closed, though Mayor Robert Owen and the museum's head of security Tom Parkinson forces D'Agosta to let the exhibition proceed.
On the opening night, D'Agosta orders a lock-down of all museum areas except the main exhibition hall. Dr. Frock and Margo, trapped in the laboratory wing, continue working and discover Ford's killer is after the hormones on the leaves. D'Agosta and several officers search the basement tunnels once again. They are attacked by an unseen creature, killing K-9 Officer Bradley and a police dog. D'Agosta tells Hollingsworth to evacuate the museum, but he is too late. In the main hall, the headless body of a murdered policeman falls into the crowd, causing a panic. During the hysteria, the museum's alarms are tripped and their security system goes haywire, trapping a small group of people inside. Two security guards try to restore the power but are killed by an unseen creature.
D'Agosta meets Margo and Dr. Frock in the lab, where a Kothoga, an enormous chimeric beast, attacks them; they close a steel door to stop it. Margo theorizes the fungus mutated a smaller creature, and Dr. Frock says that without the leaves to eat, the Kothoga instinctively seeks the closest substitute, human hypothalami, until it runs out of targets and dies; he further postulates that the tribe knew of the fungus, and used it on a human or animal to deal with an external threat, then hid until the threat was destroyed and the Kothoga died of "starvation." D'Agosta finds a radio and tells Hollingsworth to lead the museum guests out via an old coal tunnel. Tom, Lee, and Mr. and Mrs. Blaisedale refuse to go, and CPD officer McNally stays behind to guard them; the Kothoga returns to the main hall and murders them and the S.W.A.T. officers who enter through the skylights.
Margo suggests using liquid nitrogen to kill the Kothoga, as it is part-reptilian and likely cold-blooded. While collecting the remaining leaves in the lab, Margo and D'Agosta discover Dr. Frock has been killed. In the sewers, D'Agosta uses the leaves to lure the Kothoga away from the coal tunnel, allowing the guests to escape, though CPD officer Bailey and a guest are both killed. However, liquid nitrogen has no effect on the creature. Margo and D'Agosta flee. In the lab, her computer completes the analysis of the creature's human DNA, revealing John Whitney is the Kothoga, mutated after drinking the tribesmen's soup.
The Kothoga smashes into the lab through the ceiling, while D'Agosta is locked outside. The creature chases Margo, corners her, and suddenly pauses, seemingly recognizing her. Margo starts an explosive fire that destroys the Kothoga, surviving by hiding inside a maceration tank. As dawn comes, D'Agosta and a team of police break into the lab, see the charred remains of the Kothoga, and rescue Margo from the tank.
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The Relic was based on the horror novel by Douglas Preston, an ex-journalist and former public relations director for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and Lincoln Child (though it omits their major character, FBI agent Pendergast).
It was developed by the team of Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy.
Peter Hyams was hired to direct. "I don't think you can scare people, unless you involve them," said Hyams. "A movie like this has to be intelligent."
Because the novel portrayed the museum's administration in an unflattering light, they turned the film's producers down.Paramount Pictures offered the museum a seven-figure sum of money to film there, but the administration was worried that the monster movie would scare kids away from the museum. The producers were faced with a problem as only museums in Chicago and Washington, D.C., resembled the one in New York. The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago loved the premise and allowed them to shoot there.
Penelope Ann Miller had not done a horror film prior to The Relic but was drawn to director Peter Hyams' desire to have a strong, smart female lead. Tom Sizemore was attracted to the film because he got to play the male lead: "I had the responsibility of pushing the narrative forward."
Makeup artist Stan Winston and his team made three creatures with two people moving the heads and people on the side working the electronics to move the arms, claws, mouth, and so on. Hyams reviewed Winston's early drawings and his only suggestion was to make the monster more hideous looking. The director also suggested certain invertebrates for inspiration and Winston came up with an arachnoid outline for the monster's face. In the scenes where the creature is running or jumping, a computer-generated version was used.
In addition to shooting on location in Chicago, a set was built in Los Angeles of a tunnel flooded with water. Sizemore spent most of the shoot either damp, cold or soaking wet and, as a result, caught the flu twice. The production was shut down briefly when Hyams became too sick to work.
The Relic premièred on January 17, 1997. It opened #1 at the box office, grossing $9,064,143 its opening week and a total of $33,956,608 in the US, against an estimated cost $60 million. It was released on Blu-ray on April 6, 2010.
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On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Relic holds an approval rating of 34%, based on 32 reviews, and an average rating of 4.52/10. On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 55 out of 100, based on 14 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B-" on an A+ to F scale.
James Berardinelli of Reel Views said that "when all is said and done, this horror/science fiction amalgamation seems like nothing more ambitious than a bad reworking of elements from Aliens, Species, Jaws, and Predator."
Positive reviews came from critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel; Siskel described the film as "surprisingly entertaining", and Ebert said that the film was clever in how it "combines the conventions of the horror and disaster genres" and "is actually a lot of fun, if you like special effects and gore."
Peter Stack of San Francisco Chronicle gave the film a mixed review, stating," "The Relic" will quickly fade to video, where it might fare well as a bump-in-the-night benefiting from the fast-forward button."Peter Hyams of The Austin Chronicle gave the film a 2.5/5 stating, "Long story short: This film stands as a near-perfect specimen of two hardy cinema archetypes - the cheesy but diverting creature feature and the weekend bargain matinee."
In a more negative review, Richard Harrington of The Washington Post stated, "It's a familiar story in the horror film business: good novel, terrible adaptation (just ask Stephen King and Clive Barker). As written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, "The Relic" deserved to be taken off the shelf; as adapted by a quartet of screenwriters and directed by Peter Hyams, it should have been left on one."
The film was nominated for multiple science-fiction and fantasy awards, including best horror film and best actress (for Penelope Ann Miller) at the 1997 Saturn Awards.