The creature feature has been a Hollywood staple for decades. Some are better and more memorable than others, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they tend to be a lot of fun. No matter the true level of good or bad, you can always rely on being thoroughly entertained. While the Paramount Pictures film The Relic, based on the novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, may not fall squarely in one camp or the other, depending on who you ask, it’s still worth another watch. The reason is mainly because the film is now entering it’s 20th year since being released. Or (which could very well be the case) a first viewing is in order, as the discovery of this film could be happening at this very moment.
Creature In The Dark Museum
The thing about a #creaturefeature is, it’s only as good as the monster wreaking havoc. In some cases, this isn’t true, but if you’re not the type of person who enjoys badly done CGI creatures terrorizing innocent people, a la SyFy Original Movie, then you’re going to want the best designed creature possible. Fortunately for this film, regardless of what you think of the final product, the man behind the creature's look, feel and believability was none other than legend Stan Winston (may he rest in peace). If that rings a bell it’s because he had a hand in creating the dinosaurs for Jurassic Park, the crocodile for Lake Placid, and the Terminator effects for The Terminator, to name a few. His work ultimately led to the creation of the Stan Winston Studio, which would also see many other notable creatures and effects come from there over many year.
The creature, known in the film as the Kaothoga monster, is a nasty and vicious one. It’s masterfully designed. So much detail and so many parts, it’s one that should be seen by anyone who enjoys this type of film. While the scares created for this film with this creature weren’t the best, the creature is certainly scary. Even though I’ve seen the creature enough times, it still manages to frighten me a bit. Through some CGI and practical effects, Winston and his team brought to life one of my favorite characters, which I just rediscovered today. This is exactly why I love revisiting films, especially when it's celebrating a birthday.
While the creature helped in frightening me a bit, it does come with a noticeable shortcoming. The director made the good/bad choice of plunging the film in near total darkness. This film is supposed to be of the #horror variety, so I guess nothing says horror like people being chased through the dark. While this persistent darkness, brought on by the nighttime and power failure set up, is a bit unfortunate, it does come with an upside: The Kothoga monster never looks crappy.
Again, Winston and his practical, animatronic effects and well done CGI are to thank for this. Sometimes with CGI, the effects don’t always look great, especially with older films. I think of how the 2005 version of King Kong looks, and that it’s not bad effects, it’s that there’s probably too much light and other, lighter colors that make it possible to tell how fake everything looks. Here, with all that darkness, blending things in and attaining that realistic quality is much easier. If that wasn’t it, then audiences surely got lucky.
Thrill Of The Mystery
I said this film was supposed to be a horror and I meant it. It doesn’t really feel like it should be solely classified as a horror film, mainly because it falls short. There were no effective scares. Everything was about the jump scare. However, there are some other genre categories that this film follows more closely; it’s a thriller and a mystery film.
There’s the first overall mystery of why one of Penelope Ann Miller’s colleague sent a crate with just leaves? Then it turns into what’s on the leaves and why are they testing positive for a specific set of concentrated hormones? Shortly thereafter, mayhem begins — people start dying. So, why (and who, or what) is killing them? It’s surprisingly well laid out. Little by little, things just get weirder and weirder. The hook is in you. I myself had this deep need to know, even though I already did. I guess I can credit that to Preston and Child. If not for them, this fascinating science fiction story wouldn’t exist at all.
The thriller aspects come into play because of the Kothoga monster and how it was slowly revealed. It was never all at once. I don’t think it was until the last 30 minutes or so when we finally got the full on view of it. Before then, it was just glimpses or what we thought was the monster, which characters didn’t know existed yet. Or, for Miller, it was just strange breathing sounds and being in the new superstition exhibit. While not completely effective, it showed what was capable with this story and the monster, and those involved in bringing it to the screen. It’s where I got my first bit of excitement and fun, and then I kind of groaned at the realization of what Miller was hearing.
One area of good suspense, which alone amazed me, was the big finale, the showdown between the Miller and the Kothoga. After many other decent moments, which all predictably ended with a lazy jump scare, it turns out the writers and director wanted something to send audiences away a little on edge. And so they did. It was a good sequence that effectively had me worried. I’m not sure why. To be able to create that kind of sequence, and after a so-so film (and many years since I last saw it), and still have me somewhat scared, is another reason I’ll forever enjoy this film.
Science Gone Wild
Another few reasons to love and enjoy this film (at least once) is that the characters who populate this film aren’t just random and unlucky. Miller’s character, along with Linda Hunt’s, James Whitmore’s and Chi Muoi Lo’s, are all scientists. They work at a museum. Miller, as she states, is an evolutionary biologist. Not a bad job to give the lead character. This aspect alone sets these characters apart from others, and is responsible for making this film even more interesting to me. Science can sometimes do that. It also helps, because Miller’s character doesn’t have too many stand-out moments. She’s by and large, helpless — that cliché type of female character who only screams and runs around behind someone else, as they seek safety. That being said, during the finale she does use science to her advantage and it’s pretty amazing on its own. It certainly makes up for the other boring aspects of her character.
The other aspect to love is that the Kothoga monster isn’t just some random and hidden creature. He came about through a lot of genetic altering. The film doesn’t go so far as to say it was anyone specifically, in that Michael Crichton Jurassic Park sort of way or the Robin Cook Mutation way, but does state that somehow, the DNA of the Kothoga changed. So, not only do audiences get to watch a deadly creature terrorize people and perplex scientists, but you get an interesting start to a broader conversation on genetic engineering. How many films can do that?
If you haven't seem the film yet, check out the suspenseful trailer below:
What are your thoughts on The Relic?