The Relic Blu-ray Review
The film is presented with its 2.35:1 frame encoded via MPEG-4.
The thing about The Relic is that it has always been a dark film. Almost preternaturally dark. At the flicks this was hugely evident. On DVD, the film has often looked atrocious but the dark swathes have always been largely intact, if not exactly overflowing with depth and strength. For its hi-def evolution from Lionsgate the film, for better or for worse, is the most accurate version that I have seen on home video - but this, if anything, simply means that the film is now much, much darker than ever. This is going to be a sore point for some people, I'm afraid, because there are a great many scenes in which it is nigh on impossible to make out much of the action and the detail is often hopelessly lost within the murk. This, however, is not a case of black crush. The black levels do not appear to have been artificially enhanced, or increased in depth and solidity - it is just that the film, faithfully transferred, simply is much too dark.
Well, okay, so we've ascertained that The Relic is a shadow-fest. Atmospherically speaking, this is very important, of course. But there are times, especially when we follow characters down into the subterranean warren of tunnels and passageways beneath the museum when the image is almost completely swallowed-up. Pin-points of light and torch-beams pick their way through the gloom quite nicely, offering a decent level of strategic contrast, but there are moments when you really could do with a bit more light to permeate the proceedings. When the creature, ironically seen for the first time, jerks into life from slumber and then bounds up the stairs from its lair, for instance. But, having said all this, another sad fact is that the blacks, as liberally used as they are, just aren't that strong all of the time. They can, on occasions, appear quite faded, a touch washed-out with shadows that look tired and dry and then, at other times, come across with strength and real weight.
Detail is better than in any version I've seen before, but this is not exactly pin-sharp and vivid. Much of this is, of course, down to the film, itself. Close-up detail is hardly revelatory and the deeper shots don't really promote themselves with anything to write home about either. This isn't to say that the transfer is poor, you understand. It is just not remotely clinical in its visual presentation. Facial texture is barely apparent, although some of those decapitated bonces are probably revealed as being far less convincing than they once were thanks to the added definition. Three-dimensionality is not really in evidence, the print looking quite flat and soft round the edges. To be honest, though, to have expected anything more would have been a mistake.
Colours don't jump from the screen, but then they never did. The primaries are evocatively rendered, especially for the daylight exteriors around the front of the museum, but they don't have any deep vividness or heavy saturation anywhere else. Although there is plenty of blood on show, the most memorable red is that of the ornate carpet that greets the guests for the gala opening. Skin tones are relaxed, though not unconvincing, the overall subdued lighting plays a large part in this, of course. During the big fiery climax we are treated with some intense burning ambers and orange, and this sequence does allow for some agreeably white-hot visuals.
Don't worry about DNR. The print looks faithful. There are plenty of little nicks and flecks and pops, and the film's grain is left intact. I detected some slight aliasing and a touch of shimmer on tracking shots over some more intricate details, but edge enhancement posed no problem. At the end of the day, this is a serviceable enough transfer that reveals the film to be barely restored from its original image. But this is better than a botched and digitally manipulated version any day of the week. If in doubt, sling the DVD in and check out the murky, softened and indistinct morass that it presented.
Apologies for the poor quality of the screengrabs, folks. They are taken from the R2 DVD and, if anything, they represent the darkness of the movie that Hyams made, even if they do not accurately represent the image found on the Blu-ray.
Having been spoilt in the past with Lionsgate's wonderful lossless surround mixes, it comes as something of a disappointment to find that The Relic, though still very exciting and detailed a sonic experience, is not quite the vivid whiparound barrage that some may have expected. There is plenty to commend it though.
John Debney's ominous score has some degree of presence, reaching out towards us across the soundfield with vigour in all the right places and offering quite a warm instrumental spread. Dialogue often has to compete with raining sprinklers, echoing tunnels, sudden bursts of gunfire and some quite thunderous action sequences, but there was never a time when I couldn't clearly discern any of it. The stereo spread across the front is quite well structured with activities and effects flung out to either side and a decent level of depth and spatiality afforded the mix. Positioning and steerage are fine without being too showy or viewer-immersive. The audio is carried around the set-up with accuracy, but there is little of the “wow” factor to such movement around the soundscape as bodies getting flung through glass case exhibits, voices emanating from off-camera or characters charging around corners. The lolloping thud of the Kothoga's mighty paws is a nice effect as it pursues its prey. It could have done with a bit more depth and presence to raise the hackles, as well as its ghastly wheezing, though, but the sound is still well picked-out amid the cacophony.
Personally speaking, I don't think that this required a 7.1 configuration at all. The surround activity is certainly there, but it is basic and offers nothing more than some occasional backup to the meatier elements of the track and spits and spats of atmospheric wrap, such as the cascade of the sprinklers, some breaking glass and the echo of gunshots. The carriage of the score and of ambience around us is only okay, nothing more, so the extra channels really aren't necessary. The bass does a fine job, though. There are plenty of rib-rattling impacts, from the thundering weight of the beast as it leaps around the place, or just runs this way and that, to the clanging of steel doors shutting into place or shuddering beneath the mighty onslaught of the Kothoga. But I actually found myself ramping up the levels on my Onkyo to help enjoy the experience that little bit more.
So, The Relic gets a lossless track that doesn't sound bogus and doesn't make any mistakes ... but it isn't going to blow you away either. Solid and entertaining.
Lionsgate haven't managed to come up much for The Relic. We get a commentary from Hyams which must have taken some considerable bribery since the director confesses to never watching his films again once they've gone past the editing stage, and we get a rather irritating and slightly po-faced ten-minute interview with the filmmaker that Lionsgate, themselves, had commissioned especially for this release.
The chat-track is dry, reserved and somewhat cursory at times, but Hyams still provides plenty of background to the production. He talks about the locations, and the various sets and sound-stages, as well as how he lit them. The mechanics of filming are obviously very high on his agenda and he is detailed about his cameras and why he loves the anamorphic lens. He corrects a mistake that he has heard IMDB asserts of him using “natural light” ... because he most certainly doesn't use it at all. Talk of the cast is not as comprehensive as I would have liked, but he does come across as genuinely overjoyed at working with the likes of Sizemore, Hunt and Whitmore. We hear about the FX and the design work of the monster, as well as the lessons he learned from what he acknowledges as being the forerunners of the genre, Jaws and Alien. Obviously recorded just for this release - he mentions the technological advances seen in Avatar and District 9 - this marks a rare revisit for the director that is at once proud, honest and informative.
A lot of the following featurette, entitled The Filmmaker's Lens: An Interview With Peter Hyams, employs the same comments heard in the commentary, leading to a feeling of redundancy. The little piece allowing Hyams to discuss his career and his modus operandi is a touch frustrating. Hyams, himself, strives for high-brow self-assessment and, although obviously an honest opinion of his own working practices and abilities, this chronicle is blighted by odd and incomplete metaphors that possibly reveal that he has talked himself into a corner at times. The featurette also contains stills from his back-catalogue and footage from the making of The Relic.
Naturally a full-on making-of would have been great. And I would have loved to have heard from Miller and Sizemore about their time battling the Kothoga. But, besides the film's trailer and some previews from other Lionsgate titles, this is our lot, I'm afraid.
One of the best monster films of the last couple of decades, The Relic has an intriguing story, awesome set-piece carnage, actors able to genuinely lift their stock characters right up and out of the formula scenarios they find themselves in and a thunderous momentum that hits the ground running and doesn't let up. Hyams has always been a workmanlike director. He's come up with a lot of flawed but wonderfully entertaining genre thrillers - only End Of Days really lets the side down - and The Relic is, arguably, his most enjoyable and admired.
Lionsgate provide the film with a transfer that few could deny was faithful to the source, but this still creates some problems for the viewer. The film is inherently dark to a point of possible distraction, but this is how it was shot so we shouldn't complain too much. Detail is not extravagant but it is a definite improvement over the discs that have come before and the sound is a sure-fire step in the right direction. Extras-light, the release does, at least, allow us to hear from Hyams, even if the commentary track isn't one of the best, and the tiny featurette winds up being nothing other than an unsatisfying piece of filler.
The Relic remains a classic of its kind. Pulse-pounding, disturbing and genuinely scary, it is a giddy rampage of monstrous fun that no fan of the genre should pass up and, despite the lower-than-expected technical scores, this BD release marks a distinct improvement over previous home video entries.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £12.39
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