The Relic (film)

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The Relic
Relic ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Hyams
Produced by Gale Anne Hurd
Sam Mercer
Screenplay by Amy Holden Jones
John Raffo
Rick Jaffa
Amanda Silver
Based on Relic by
Douglas Preston
Lincoln Child
Starring Penelope Ann Miller
Tom Sizemore
Linda Hunt
James Whitmore
Music by John Debney
Cinematography Peter Hyams
Edited by Steven Kemper
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (US)
Universal Pictures (International)
Release dates
  • January 10, 1997 (1997-01-10)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $60 million [1]
Box office $33,956,608 (US)[1]

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. The original music score was composed by John Debney.


John Whitney, an anthropologist for the 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 from the ship the cargo Whitney intended to send to Chicago. Unwilling to delay the ship's departure, the captain refuses and Whitney sneaks aboard. He doesn't find his cargo and cries out.

Six weeks later, the ship arrives on the Illinois River, 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. She and her mentor, Dr. Frock, examine Whitney's crates. The crates are empty, except for a bed of leaves and a stone statue of the "Kothoga," a mythical forest monster. Noticing a fungus on the leaves, Margo takes some for analysis. That night, a security guard named Fred Ford is murdered in the same manner as 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. 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 beetle which earlier crawled inside and has grown to abnormal size. The beetle has mutated into a hybrid creature, possessing both insect and reptilian DNA. Ford's autopsy reveals that his hypothalamus was extracted from his brain, exactly like the bodies from the ship. In the Museum's basement, the police are startled by a homeless man and shoot him death. The man is found to be a convicted felon with a history of mental illness. Finding Ford's wallet on him, everyone except D'Agosta considers the case closed. Nevertheless, D'Agosta has to give in when the Mayor orders him to let the exhibition proceed.

On the opening night, D'Agosta orders locking down all areas of the museum except the main exhibition hall. Dr. Frock and Margo are the last ones in the laboratory wing, and are trapped there. They keep working, and discover that 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, which kills a tracking dog and an officer. D'Agosta tells Hollingsworth to evacuate the museum, but he is too late. In the main hall, the headless body of the murdered policeman falls into the crowd, causing a panic. During the hysteria, the museum's alarms are tripped and their security system goes haywire. The fire doors close, trapping a small group of people inside, and the power fails. Two security guards try to restore the power, but are killed by an unseen creature.

D'Agosta finds his way to the lab, and meets Margo and Dr. Frock. They are then attacked by a Kothoga, an enormous chimeric beast. They manage to close a steel door to stop it. Margo theorizes that the Kothoga grew from a smaller animal that mutated after eating the fungal leaves in the crates. Dr. Frock expands on her hypothesis: without the leaves to eat, the Kothoga instinctively seeks the closest substitute: human hypothalami. The tribe that Whitney was studying must have discovered the properties of these leaves, and used them to turn a given animal into a biological weapon that would eventually die when it ran out of targets (they would first carefully hide themselves, and then loose the beast onto the territory of a threatening/rival tribe).

D'Agosta finds a radio and tells Hollingsworth to lead the museum guests out via an old coal tunnel. Several guests refuse to go, opting to wait for the fire doors to be opened from the outside. The Kothoga returns to the main hall and murders them, as well as the S.W.A.T. officers entering through the skylights.

Margo deduces that, as the Kothoga is part-reptilian, it is likely cold-blooded and can be killed with liquid nitrogen. She and D'Agosta collect the remaining leaves from the lab, but discover that Dr. Frock -who had earlier 'volunteered' to stay behind because of his wheelchair-bound condition -has already been killed by the creature. In the sewer underneath the museum, D'Agosta uses the leaves to lure the Kothoga away from the coal tunnel, allowing the guests to escape the museum. However, liquid nitrogen has no effect on the creature. Margo and D'Agosta flee. D'Agosta tells her to lock herself in the lab, while he tries to stop the creature. As Margo protests, her computer completes the analysis of the creature's human DNA, which was earlier determined to make up some 33% of the biological gestalt. The Kothoga was not sent back by Whitney, The Kothoga is Whitney, 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 and corners her. It suddenly pauses, seemingly recognizing her from its former life as Whitney. Margo starts an explosive fire that destroys the Kothoga, while she survives 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.



The Relic was based on the best-selling horror novel by Douglas Preston, an ex-journalist and former public relations director for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City[2] and Lincoln Child (though it omits their major character, FBI agent Pendergast). Because the novel portrayed the museum's administration in an unflattering light, they turned the film's producers down.[3] 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. Fortunately, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago loved the premise of the movie and allowed them to shoot there.[3]

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."[2]

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.[2] 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.[3] In the scenes where the creature is running or jumping, a computer-generated version was used.[4]

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.[4]


The film opened #1 at the box office, grossing $9,064,143 its opening week and a total of $33,956,608 domestically, against an estimated cost $60 million.[1] It received mixed to negative reviews from critics, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 32%[citation needed] and a Metacritic score of 55[citation needed], indicating mixed or average reviews. 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."[citation needed]

Positive reviews came from highly influential critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, with Siskel describing the movie as "surprisingly entertaining," and Ebert saying that the movie 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."[citation needed]

Leonard Maltin provided a more intermediate perspective, bestowing 2½ out of 4 stars and stated, "Yes, it's 'Alien in a museum,' but not bad. The monster, done both 'live' and by computer graphics is especially impressive."

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.[citation needed]


It premiered on January 17, 1997 and was released on Blu-ray on April 6, 2010.[5]


  1. ^ a b c "Movie The Relic - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Slotek, Jim (January 12, 1997). "They Created A Monster". Toronto Sun. 
  3. ^ a b c Cohen, David S (March 16, 1997). "Locked in a Realm of Monstrous Terror". South China Morning Post. 
  4. ^ a b Williams, Sue (May 1, 1997). "Actor Immerses Himself in the Part". The Australian. 
  5. ^ "The Relic Hits Blu-ray From Lionsgate". DreadCentral. 

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