The Relic begins with a bang (literally) deep in the jungles of Brazil when a professor stumbles on a dock late at night raving that a crate destined for the Chicago Museum of Natural History must be unloaded from a ship. His request ignored by the captain, he instead decides to stow away and find the cargo himself. Some time later, the ship arrives in Lake Michigan adrift with no crew. And thatís when The Relic takes off on a ride filled with more an atmosphere of suspense than amazing special effects.
The original novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is an enjoyable late-night read and the movie does a commendable job of chopping it down to a workable script. A few nights before the grand gala opening of a new Superstitions exhibit a series of grisly decapitations at night threaten the event. After combing through the building and at the request of the curator the police reluctantly decide to let the event proceed, unaware that a terrifying beast is roaming through darkened halls and basement tunnels.
And "dark" continues to be the overwhelming appearance of this movie. This is one of the darkest transfers Iíve ever seen Ė but as I recall seeing it in the theater and on VHS with similar lighting it must be the directorís intention. Still, I found myself having to turn the ambient light down and the screenís brightness up since itís so hard to make out shadow details even with a properly calibrated system. That aside, the print is exceptionally clean with black levels perfectly calibrated to the widescreen bars. Film grain and other noise which would be painfully evident on a such a dark transfer are well below noticeable. Paramount has finally conceded to customer requests and chosen to use an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, something current and future 16:9 TV owners will be pleased to know.
Also, perhaps due to the fact that dark scenes are most troublesome to compress cleanly with MPEG, Paramount has elected to put a 109 minute film on a dual-layered disc Ė a single layer alone is normally enough space to hold over 130 minutes! The high bitrate was confirmed by both the playerís meter (which pegged 10 almost constantly) and the amount of data actually stored on the disc - over 6.62gb worth.
On the audio front, I found little to fault with the 5.1 channel mix. Dialogue was clear with minimal hiss, easy to make out over music and effects. Thereís quite a few scenes with gobs of bass thatíll have your neighbors thumping on the walls, while music came through with a clarity and power clearly missing on the VHS ProLogic track. Over half of the effect of this movie is with the audio, and DVD really delivers the proper atmosphere with good use of the discrete rear channels. Youíll be looking over your shoulder at running water, heavy breathing and chilling music. Also included are standard Dolby ProLogic tracks in English and French.
On the features front youíll fond only a theatrical trailer in 1.85:1 and ProLogic audio to whet your appetite - not enough to justify a $30 list price. Youíll also find the prerequisite interactive menus and scene selections.
I would be hard pressed to call The Relic a classic horror flick or even an exceptional movie. Still, Iíve enjoyed watching it on tape and looked forward the purchasing the DVD. If youíve passed over this one before or were disappointed with it on VHS, pick up a copy on DVD... turn down the lights... and crank up the volume! The Relic is rated R for monster violence, gore and some profanity.
- Reviewed by Daniel Tonks on May 6, 1999.
1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Good 4-Excellent
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