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The Relic Gives Us Alien in a Museum
by Gary Johnson

Go to:
The official Web site for The Relic

[rating: 1 of 4 stars]
If you've seen the advertisements for The Relic, you've probably got a pretty good idea of what happens in this monster-in-a-museum movie. There aren't many surprises, which is disappointing because the movie contains a few intriguing ideas.

Poster for The Relic

(©1996 Paramount. All rights reserved.)

The monster in this movie is much more interesting when they're talking about it than when it's actually on the screen. Not that Stan Winston hasn't created a good creature. He has (although it bears more than just a passing similarity to Alien). However, the story behind the monster gets slighted in favor of simply turning the movie into a monster bash, where the creature gets to chow down on a museum full of the rich and famous.

Unfortunately, the movie surrounding the monster clearly takes a back seat. Actors such as James Whitmore and Linda Hunt get wasted in supporting roles. Penelope Ann Miller is never believable as a scientist. She might give the same performance when playing a sorority queen. Only Tom Sizemore fares well, but his role as a police detective consists largely of wandering around dark sub-basement corridors, muttering "Something isn't right." (And never mind the annoying people--the museum is really the monster's co-star, played by the incredible Field Museum in Chicago.) Director Peter Hyams supplies a couple good chills, such as a trek through a water-filled basement passageway, but for the most part he goes for easy shocks instead of building suspense.

The entrance to the "Super- stition" exhibit in The Relic

(©1996 Paramount. All rights reserved.)

Because The Relic boils down to a simple monster movie, the best way to talk about the movie's deficiencies is to talk about the monster so BEWARE--SPOILERS AHEAD--continue reading only if you don't mind finding out about the monster.

The creature for The Relic sounds great in theory: an evolutionary hybrid that's part gecko and part beetle, and part several other species. Thanks to some jungle leaves that contain a super strong concentration of chemicals, an evolutionary process gets kicked into high gear and before you know it, a demonic force is unleashed on the world. Okay, that actually sounds sort of stupid. But here's the interesting part: the creature began as a man and a large part of the creature is still humanoid.

So in The Relic, we get a creature smart enough to know how to disable all the electronic surveillance equipment in the museum. We get a creature that . . . wait, just what effect do the human genes have on the creature? Well, there's the big let down. Some of the great creatures in the history of horror became great by showing the tragedy behind their characters. Frankenstein's monster as played by Boris Karloff was still a recognizably human creature and not just a hulking, murderous brute. Part of the horror of that movie came from seeing the monster's horrible misunderstandings, such as when it drowns a little girl.

Penelope Ann Miller in The Relic

(©1996 Paramount. All rights reserved.)

But in The Relic, we don't get to see enough of the human side of the creature. The human genes are there, but how do they influence the monster's behavior? One perfect opportunity for showing the horrific nature of the creature comes in the scene where the monster confronts one of the elder statesmen of the museum, Dr. Frock (James Whitmore). Because the human genes in the monster came from an archaeologist named Whitney who worked for the museum, the human side of the monster would have known Dr. Frock. So what happens when they meet? The same thing that happens to everybody else. He gets his head ripped off.

When the creature comes face to face with anthropologist Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller), we do get a hint that the human side isn't completely submerged, for the sexist pig side of the monster comes out and he gives Margo a good tongue lashing before considering ripping her head off. But what's going on here? Was Whitney a masher with a thing for Margo? (Who could blame him?) Had he made unwarranted advances on her in the past?

We get no scenes that set up the relationships between the characters before Whitney becomes the creature, so we have no idea how to interpret what happens between the monster and the human characters. And thus the monster has no depth. It's just a vicious killing machine, and all the potential for an interesting monster is wasted.

A Paramount Pictures Presentation


Margo GreenPenelope Ann Miller
Lieutenant Vincent D'ArgostoTom Sizemore
Ann CuthbertLinda Hunt
Dr. FrockJames Whitmore
HollingsworthClayton Rohner
Greg LeeChi Muoi Lo
Directed byPeter Hyams
Produced byGale Ann Hurd
Sam Mercer
Screenplay byAmy Holden Jones
John Raffo
Rick Jaffa
Amanda Silver
Special Effects byStan Winston
Production DesignerPhilip Harrison
Costume DesignerDan Lester
EditorSteven Kemper
MusicJohn Debney
Visual Effects SupervisorGregory L. McMurry
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