The Relic is a
Alien-rip off creature feature with delusions of scientific authenticity, unlikeable characters, and an underwhelming monster. Its appearance on Netflix streaming may tempt you to watch it, but you’re better of watching one of the many Tremors sequels available on the service.
The Relic (1997) was one of the many creature feature films pumped out during the 1990s, all drawing inspiration from classics like Alien and Jaws. The movie opens in South America, where an Indiana Jones-esque researcher has made a series of archeological discoveries, and ships them back to the Natural History Museum in Chicago.
The action jumps to Chicago where we meet Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller), a whiny researcher who resents when a successful colleague — Dr. Greg Lee (Chi Muoi Lo) — starts gunning for the grant she was hoping for. We also meet Lt. Vincent D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore), a ridiculously superstitious police officer who arrives at the museum after a security guard is brutally murdered.
The movie unfolds about as you’d expect. The monster, lurking in the depths of the museum, slaughters unsuspecting homeless people, while the museum’s staff embraces the recently acquired South American treasures and makes them the centerpiece of a fundraising event.
The creature becomes bolder and bolder, and Dr. Green teams up with her mentor, the elderly Dr. Albert Frock (James Whitmore) who just happens to have a pet theory about how evolution is a gradual process; sometimes it can take great leaps forward.
It’s here that The Relic decides it’s going to use SCIENCE!, and begins throwing around technobabble that would make a Trekker proud. It’s also about when the creature emerges from the shadow and begins chowing down on guests at the museum’s fundraiser.
“Well, how goes the gradual extinction of the human race, Lieutenant?” — Dr. Albert Frock
The Relic is more or less exactly what I don’t want to see in a movie called “The Relic”. When I saw it for the first time in 1997 I was hoping for something more Cthulhu-esque. It’s certainly got all the elements you need for a good Cthulhu story: a strange South American cult, relics sent north to Chicago, an exhibit that celebrates superstition, a monster that emerges from the shadows to slaughter unbelievers, etc.
But The Relic wants to be a serious monster movie, and it has to go and throw SCIENCE! into the mix. I say SCIENCE! because as far as The Relic is concerned, the scientific method might as well be magic.
What’s worse are the characters. They are caricatures: the cutthroat Asian scientist (this is the 1990s, remember — the Japanese are an economic threat, and thus must be an enemy), the technobabble-spewing scientists, the superstitious cop. Some might think I went easy on Prometheus, and if I did, it was because of this movie.
The Relic’s characters are jokes who don’t know they’re jokes. They’re stand-ins for a hundred better characters, and my second biggest disappointment with this movie is that they weren’t all devoured by the creature.
My biggest regret is the monster itself.
“Never thought there’d be a worse way to die than a shark attack. Having my head ripped off never occurred to me.” — Martini
When it comes to creature features, almost everything rests on the quality of your monster. The Relic’s beast is basically a ravenous warthog (or maybe a mutant guinea pig) that romps around the museum slaughtering the staff, the guests, and the occasional SWAT officer.
It’s got plenty of teeth and a penchant for devouring human brains but is little more than mutated Pumbaa. I’d say it was more mad dog than a monster, but that’d insult Cujo. The monster lopes from victim to victim, lunging Jaws like to devour its victim, but it lacks the menacing charm of that memorable shark.
I’m pretty sympathetic when it comes to creature features, and there’s a lot I’ll forgive. Heck, I’ve even come to appreciate the super-smart sharks of Deep Blue Sea. The Relic simply isn’t worth forgiving. The characters are insulting, the monster is forgettable, and the story is a re-hash. Do yourself a favor and read a book instead.