(Please note: This movie should not be confused with the unrelated 2020 film Relic.)
It should come as no surprise to you that I love books. It's an occupational hazard, after all. Book-to-film adaptations, however, ehhh... that can be a bit of a touchy subject, especially when the source novel is a beloved one. Don't get me wrong, there are some fantastic films adapted from books, but there are also some abysmal ones. We've all got one that bothers (read: insults) us as readers. For my old man, it's Starship Troopers, for me it's Edge of Tomorrow. For my wife, however, the works of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are sacred, so when Hollywood set out to adapt one of their most popular novels for the big screen, she was equally excited and apprehensive. Well, let's find out how today's movie fares, shall we? Let's tear the lid off the 1997 film The Relic, based on the 1995 novel of the same name.
As our story opens, we witness a Brazilian native ritual being attended by an American anthropologist named John Whitney. Whitney is given a drink that appears to cause severe hallucinations and distress. After the ritual, Whitney hurries to a freighter loaded with crates bound for his workplace, a museum in Chicago. He pleads with the ship's captain to unload his cargo, but he refused. Undeterred, Whitney stows away aboard the ship, unaware that the majority of his crates have mistakenly been left on the dock. When the ship arrives in Chicago, the crew is missing and there's blood everywhere. Police Lieutenant D'Agosta investigates and finds the dismembered and decapitated bodies of the crew stashed in the bilge.
The movie then shifts to the museum where we meet an evolutionary biologist named Dr. Margo Green. The museum is bustling in preparation for an upcoming gala unveiling the new Superstition exhibit, and Margo is hoping to snap a grant for her department, that is if her greedy colleague Dr. Greg Lee doesn't snag it first. When a security guard is found in the museum basement dead and mutilated in a similar manner to the bodies on the ship from Brazil, Lieutenant D'Agosta leads the investigation, putting the gala's status into question while the police track the killer roaming the museum's halls. Meanwhile, Margo investigates a strange fungus found on some leaves shipped back to the museum by Dr. Whitney, who still hasn't returned from Brazil.
Are you familiar with the concept of "book slappers?" A "book slapper" is a person whose job is to supervise a film's production, and if the film deviates too much from the source material, the book slapper wallops the director, writer, producer, etc with a copy of the book, preferably hardcover to maximize welts and bruising. Unfortunately, book slapper is only a hypothetical position. I say "unfortunate," because The Relic desperately needed a book slapper on set. Let's dismiss the film's unnecessary "The" in the title; that's a gimme. The movie's offenses are many, but probably the most egregious to Preston & Child fans is the complete omission of the book's hero (and a recurring feature of the duo's novels), FBI Agent Pendergast. Pendergast's character is rolled into Lieutenant D'Agosta, who is a tired, boring, dumb cop stereotype who comes off as completely unlikeable compared to the eccentric and charismatic Agent Pendergast. Had the film left Pendergast in, they could have had a multi-film franchise on their hands, even going beyond the novel's sequel Reliquary. Oh, that reminds me! They also killed off Reliquary's villain in the movie, completely robbing themselves of a potential sequel any self-respecting Preston & Child fan would consider seeing. *SLAP*
I could go on listing the movie's deviations from the source material, but Wikipedia already did that. To me, the Kothoga's rampage through the museum seems completely meandering, as if the editor had trouble keeping the sequence of events in the film's final act straight. For some reason, the writers felt it prudent to spend more time focusing on D'Agosta's constant headbutting and chest thumping with museum security and city officials than the actual... you know... crisis going on. Speaking of the writers, they should be ashamed of their ham-handed attempts at humor.
The creature effects themselves are actually quite impressive and stand up quite well for the most part. Most of the time we only see the creature in shadow, but toward the end of the final act, we finally get a good look at it, and while the creature's face is a bit silly, the movie still manages to sell the idea of this being a living, breathing, moving creature quite well. All of this falls apart during the climax, however, when Margo sets the creature on fire. The CGI flames look completely hokey from start to finish, even by late 1990s standards.
I'm afraid I have to go with my wife's opinion on this one. The Relic really drops the ball in several ways, including painting itself into a corner by killing any hopes of a sequel anyone would actually give a rat's ass about. If you're not a fan of the books, the movie is passable, but just barely. It still suffers from an unlikeable male lead and some unforgivably stupid characters, which is quite an accomplishment for a building full of academics. If you just want something light on story and heavy on gory, go ahead and give the movie a go. Otherwise, I highly recommend giving the novel and its sequel(s) a read instead.