The RELIC is a new film form the Producer of ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2, Gale Anne Hurd. It is a dark thriller riddled with myth, legend and superstition. Evolutionary biologist Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) and police lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta (Tom Sizemore) become unlikely partners when a series of gruesome murders take place in the normally tranquil atmosphere of the natural history museum where she works. Using a revolutionary technique developed by Green, they join forces in a desperate hunt to find the killer.
Info On The Movie
Behind The Scenes
About The Production
The Relic Movie Stills...
Still A - Shot of Exhibition
Still B - Shot of Cops looking for "The Killer"
PanMan Rating :
7/10 - See It !
Behind The Scenes
Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt and James Whitmore star in "The
Relic", written by Amy Holden Jones and John Raffo and Rick Jaffa &
Amanda Silver, based on the novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The
suspense-thriller is directed by Peter Hyams and produced by Gale Ann Hurd and
Sam Mercer. The film is a presentation of the Motion Picture Group of Paramount
Producer Gale Ann Hurd has had a passion for this genre since childhood. "I love seeing movies where I am terrified, surprised and scared out of my wits," she says. "This is going to be the most sophisticated haunted house movie ever made. The characters, trapped in a place that is already frightening after hours, are forced to confront the most terrifying creature ever seen on screen."
The action takes place in a natural history museum, and when director Peter Hyams read the script, he knew it was for him. "It was uncanny. The Museum of Natural History in New York was my second home as a child. I lived right across the street and I would go there every afternoon to sketch or just hang out. I used to have a recurring nightmare that I was locked in and had to spend the night there. Museums can be very dark and gothic places. The idea of being trapped in one - in the dark - with something truly terrifying in there somewhere ... that struck me as a wonderful premise for a frightening film."
Oscar® winner Stan Winston was responsible for the creation of Kothoga, a horrific creature with origins drawn from South American mythology. Creature creator Stan Winston and producer Gale Anne Hurd go back to 1982 when he worked with her on "The Terminator," the watershed film for special effects characterization. "Stan Winston has an ability to make his creatures truly come alive," says Hurd. "He can make them loving, compelling or absolutely terrifying."
Penelope Ann Miller (Margo Green) has received Golden Globe and Tony Award nominations for her performances in "Carlito's Way" and "Our Town," respectively. Most recently she was seen opposite Alec Baldwin in "The Shadow." Her research for the role of an evolutionary biologist took her behind the scenes at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. "It was really fascinating; I was able to talk to an evolutionary biologist there, and I was given a guided tour of places and things the public never get to see," says Miller. Some of those places included the maceration tanks and the beetle room. Miller says, "It could come as a shock if you didn't know what to expect; the smell is horrible and there are hundreds of beetles swarming over the carcasses."
Producer Gale Anne Hurd had worked with Penelope previously and felt she would be just the right mix for the role of Margo Green. "We wanted someone who the audience could identify with," says Hurd. "She's not cold and distant as most people assume scientists are. She's warm and engaging with an obvious intelligence and a good sense of humor."
Chicago police lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta is played by Tom Sizemore whose recent work includes "Natural Born Killers," "Strange Days," "Devil In a Blue Dress," and "Heat." For the past couple of years he has been steeped in police work, murder and serial killers, so the role of D'Agosta came easily to him. However, he did spend a great deal of time with a local technical advisor from the Chicago police department. "Jack helped a lot with the rhythm of the character," says Sizemore. "You know, every homicide lieutenant is not the same, although they do share qualities that make them different from a beat office or say, a New York detective. He helped me with how a Chicago lieutenant would dress, how he would behave, that kind of thing."
Sizemore was cast for his charismatic performances in his recent work. "He's physically impressive on screen and very believable in the role," Sam Mercer says. "I think it was a good time to take advantage of the transition in his acting career from an excellent character actor to leading man."
Ann Cuthbert, the director of the museum, is played by Linda Hunt ("Year of Living Dangerously," "Kindergarten Cop") who was much influenced by a profile in the New Yorker magazine on Maureen Setta, currently president of the Museum of Natural History in New York. "Setta is devoted to the notion of turning arts institutions around in a time of economic crisis and clearly has a special gift for it," says Hunt. "I think Ann Cuthbert has something of that gift in her."
Veteran actor James Whitmore ("Shawshank Redemption", "Them!") plays Dr. Frock. "He's a scientist with a rather broad view of nature," says Whitmore, "he believes that myth is usually based on some kind of fact."
About the Production
"The Relic" is based on a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln
Child. Author Douglas Preston formerly worked in the Natural History Museum in
New York and was involved in a tremendous amount of research for the project. "The
portrayal of the museum is absolutely accurate," says Preston. "Things
that sound crazy like the beetles eating flesh off bones and rotting animals in
big vats actually happen. The scientific background to the story was carefully
researched and the speculative theories were based on real science. The basic
premise is that a virus can introduce genetic material into your own DNA which
produces a hormone that can produce dramatic physical changes. There are many
examples of this in the animal world - for example, a salamander turning into a
"In evolution there are periods of sudden and radical changes where strange creatures suddenly pop up, seemingly out of nowhere. Most of them die out very quickly, but some don't." says Preston. It was this possibility of science fiction/science fact that intrigued the filmmakers. Producer Sam Mercer says, "That's certainly a question that this movie asks: Could this creature have evolved through some kind of a chemical DNA process? and I think more and more people believe that it could happen, might happen and might be happening."
Peter Hyams felt this possibility was extremely important in making the film work. "I believe that in order to truly frighten somebody, you have to make them believe that what they are seeing is real, and in order to do that, there has to be an intelligent basis to the story," says Hyams. "In order to really scare an audience, you have to make them believe that it is actually happening before their very eyes," he explains. That was the greatest challenge of the film - the creation of a terrifying creature that could utterly convince an audience that it existed.
When director Peter Hyams and creature creator Stan Winston sat down to
bring this aberration to life they decided it should be a combination of several
different species. "I wanted it to look less like a beast and more like a
creature," says Hyams. "I wanted it to look like DNA run amok, to have
mammalian and reptilian qualities."
As a brilliant after thought, Hyams decided to add insects to the mix. "Stan showed me the mouth parts of a spider, " explains Hyams "we enlarged them to enormous proportions and used them on the Kothoga. My point was that a beast is ferocious and dangerous, but it can be quite beautiful. I wanted this creature to be something you couldn't bear to touch you, something so horrific and disgusting that you'd just want to get it over with."
Once the creature had reached the final design stage, Winston began construction on three full-size suits - and full size meant full size - the creature measured 15 feet from nose to tail, stood some 5 feet tall and weighed over 150 pounds. The first suit was called the proto-hero suit which was used for the initial tests; they also produced a stunt suit and what was called a superhero suit. The superhero suit had full animatronic capabilities including extensive facial expressions such as eye movement, blink, cheek movement, nostrils, sneer and with jaw and teeth extensions.
One of the greatest problems with a suit of this size is maneuverability - in order to manipulate the arms and legs, it was necessary for an actor to be strapped inside the suit. Choreographer John Alexander spent months working with actors Brian Steele and Vincent Hammond, developing not only a range of movements, but also the strength required. "They went through an intense physical training program before we went on to work on choreographing the movements." says Alexander. "Although most of the weight of the suit is supporting by rigging, they still have to manipulate the arm and leg extensions which are unbelievably heavy."
Once the actors were able to cope with the intense conditions of not only working with the extensions, but also being inside the suit for long periods of time, Alexander went on with his work. "I based the movement of Kothoga on a big cat. Although the creature looked more reptilian, at that size the reptilian walk would have been inappropriate. The script required him to move powerfully and rapidly. What I wanted to pick up on was the stalking and speed of a cat." says Alexander.
The rig for the creature was designed by SFX supervisor Gary Elmendorff. "We basically built a monorail that is all computer controlled and we can make it move from section to section." explains Elmendorff. It helped us manipulate the creature by raising and lowering it, and giving it forward, reverse and rotating movement." In one or two shots it was not possible to use the rigging, so Stan Winston designed a pogo stick which was basically a chest support fixed to a tripod - it worked very well, although it was particularly uncomfortable for the actor inside because it placed the entire weight of the suit on the chest area.
Because of the size and weight of the suit, it was totally impossible to physically create the speed and range of movement required by the story. VIFX, a visual effects house, was brought in to bring the creature to life. Gregory L. McMurry, SFX Visual Supervisor, explains their task. "We were asked to create a computer generated version of Kothoga that could be used for full body walking, running and jumping shots." says McMurry. "This involved not only months of painstaking documentation of the exterior of the suit, but also the construction of a custom-made 80-bone skeleton. In order for it to look real we had to define restrictions for it. For example, your leg only goes so far forward and then stops, we had to make those definitions for every one of his movements," he explains. "The final stage was the creation of the muscle structure and again each muscle group had to be given it's own definition."
To create a single frame of the fully animated creature takes an enormous amount of time so in order to work with director Peter Hyams during the filming of each Kothoga scene, McMurry created a scaled down version which could be used for blocking and rehearsing movement. "This enabled us to quickly go through the possibilities with Peter, once we picked a particular motion we could then apply the full digital model." says McMurry. One of the most complicated shots for VIFX was when the creature takes hold of a victim and tears his head off. "As the guy is running down the corridor we have to convert him to a fully digital model of a man so that we can rip his head off." says McMurry. "Kothoga shakes him back and forth like a dog with a rag, rips his head off and throws the body down, followed by the head. All this is done full figure in front of the camera."
Another complicated shot both for McMurry and for SFX supervisor Gary Elmendorff was a scene where Kothoga pursues Margo through the laboratory crashing through the offices. "We built an iron replica of Kothoga and painted it dayglow orange," explains McMurry. "We set black lights in critical positions and then we pulled it through the offices on a cable, using a computer controlled rig that was linked to the camera. Basically, we cut a hole wherever we see orange and put Kothoga behind it."
In all VIFX was asked to produce around 20 shots involving the Kothoga, another 30 other shots involving wire removal and many composite shots such as Margo's escape from the explosion.
In order to create a realistic environment, production designer Philip
Harrison created a stunning montage of some of the most beautiful museums in the
world. On stages 14 and 15 he built a full-scale 2-story diorama with glass
cases filled with animal exhibits. The center-piece was a magnificent tableau of
two lions attacking a zebra, created especially for the movie by taxidermist
Bob Snow who also produced at least 20 of the other exhibits. Many of the other
pieces came from a collector in Stockton, California who was planning to start
his own museum. The diorama set led into a full-scale foyer based on the Field
Museum in Chicago which in turn led into the Superstition Exhibition. The
terrifying mask entrance was taken from a sculpture in the Boveli Gardens in
Italy. Directly behind the entrance was a superstition room which depicted the
most common held superstitions such as a black cat, spilt salt, ladders and
cracked mirrors. "I wanted to use the most simple things," says
Harrison. "It wouldn't have been right to do anything too elaborate as
museums just don't have the money."
In order to get the scope of the museum, Harrison tried to create long corridors, with one of these leading into an Egyptian Tomb, the walls of which were decorated with hand painted replicas of original tombs. This led into a Mayan tomb, again beautifully decorated and then into a voodoo room. It was during his research for this exhibit that Harrison began to feel uncomfortable. "I was reading up about voodoo and it's very chilling," says Harrison. "Some of the images you come up against are really frightening. I felt an icy hand of fear grabbing me. I must admit I didn't feel comfortable dabbling in this kind of thing."
The voodoo room certainly had that kind of atmosphere - filled with bottles with sinister looking substances and the walls hung with horrifying voodoo masks.
All the sets were linked so that in scenes where people run in panic the camera could follow them all the way through the museum and even circle if necessary. It is also essential to Peter Hyams' style of directing. "I am much more interested in what is happening upstage. The beauty of a wide frame is that it affords one the ability of looking deeply into things, so I like a set that looks into a set that looks into another set."
A particularly good example of this technique was the behind the scenes laboratory sets on Stage 5. Harrison had designed a large laboratory as the main set, but it was bordered by many cubicles and offices and led into a large tiled area filled with the maceration tanks. The most amazing aspect to this particular set was the incredible atmosphere Harrison and set decorator John Anderson had created. "I was aiming for a sense of place," says Harrison. "When we studied these areas in the actual museums, we found they had a kind of weird institutional quality to them, a mixture of laboratories and offices," he explains. The sets were dressed to create a feeling of the passing of time. Old-fashioned furniture was dressed with the most modern pieces of modern technology - it gave the set an uncanny life of its own.
In one area of the laboratory, an alcohol storage area was recreated which contained over 15,000 jars filled with specimens. Each of the jars was filled by the prop department using all manner of things including over 500 pounds of fishing lures.
One of the offices contained a replica of a beetle room - it was filled with large glass tanks which contained model carcasses. For filming, the carcasses were rubbed with bananas, and beetle wrangler Jim Brocket supplied over 100,000 beetles carried in large garbage cans - he used mealworm beetles because they were larger and better for filming. The horrible rustling and munching certainly reminded us all of the dermestid beetles used by museums to clean off the bones of dead animals, and the smell left nothing to the imagination.
In the maceration tank set, the vast aluminum tanks were replicas of those found in actual museums - the bodies of dead animals are placed in these vats and left to rot in the warm water - if they are in a hurry they steam the carcasses much like cooking a stew.
In addition to the creation of so many complicated sets, Harrison also had to depict San Pedro, not only as Chicago, but also as a South American port in Brazil. "We found a wonderfully appropriate building there," says Harrison, "it houses the fish market, but by giving a glimpse of it and a palm tree you could easily believe you were in South America."
The Santos Moralos, a cargo ship carrying the mysterious discoveries of explorer John Whitney was in actual fact the S.S. Lane Victory which played an important role in World War II. The art department took on the enormous task of aging almost the entire ship by applying layer upon layer of powder paints to give the effect that the ship was a rusting old heap.
One of the things Harrison most enjoys about working with director Peter Hyams was the fact that he also acts as D.P. "There's no second guessing," Harrison explains. "We can actually plan out the lighting at the same time as I am designing the sets."
Lighting is of course of enormous importance to Hyams as it is to any director. "It was particularly relevant in "The Relic" for an unusual reason - there was barely any light in the scenes at all. Hyams explains, "I've seen so many films that take place at night and there's this sort of phoney movie dialogue where people are moving around with a flashlight and yet who see everything around them. To me, this film is about fear and about being in the dark, and not knowing what is in there with you. I decided to literally have the audience see what the participants see so there are scenes that are apparently lit only with flashlights. If the audience can only see what is lit by the flashlight and something bad is just outside that light, then you are going to get the same surprise as the participants which makes it all the more terrifying."
To Hyams the choice of being both director and cinematographer is a natural one. "The only analogy I can make is that if you were raised speaking Japanese and you went to work in Japan, it would be much easier for you to just speak Japanese than to hire an interpreter - it would be a lot more difficult for me to try to explain to another person what I wanted than to do it myself."
Filming started on location in Chicago on October 16th, 1995. Exterior and
interior filming took place at the Field Museum of Natural History, where the
filmmakers captured the grandeur of this magnificent institution as well as an
exclusive look at the behind the scenes workings of the complex facility.
Founded by entrepreneur Marshall Field following the Columbus exhibition in
1890, the museum's collection of treasures soon outgrew its original location.
Situated on the banks of Lake Michigan, the present building opened its doors on
May 3, 1921.
Harrison fell in love with the extraordinary atrium, Stanley Field Hall, built entirely in marble, it is one of the only rooms in the world large enough to house its prize exhibit - a Brachiosaurus. Sunlight pours through its skylight roof and it was only necessary to add the striking superstition banners to turn it into a set.
For the exterior scenes, the massive neoclassical structure replete with columns, porticos and Beaux Art decoration designed by architect Daniel Burnham provided the perfect setting.
The production was extremely fortunate with the weather and for many of the exterior night scenes it was positively balmy. It was not quite such a pleasant experience when they left the gracious presence of the museum.
The crew moved on to shoot in the basement area of the Chicago Athletic Club - they took place in the boiler rooms and the temperature and humidity were often unbearable - however, they were considered vastly preferable to the tunnel location under City Hall. Beneath Chicago is a labyrinth of tunnels which were once used for the delivery of fuel to the big houses; at one point, they were in fact seriously flooded, leaving them damp and encrusted with deposits. Actor Tom Sizemore found these locations to be a real challenge: "the sub-basement was like a steam room - it was so hot and dingy - and the tunnels were really grim," he says.
These, however, were not quite as grim as the recreated tunnels back at Ren-mar Studios in Los Angeles. Several of the scenes involving the principal actors took place in the flooded tunnels. The carefully constructed sets were filled with about 5 feet of water and both cast and crew steamed for several days during filming - the water had to be kept warm to prevent hypothermia, but it led to unbearable sauna-like atmosphere which became extremely unpleasant after a few days.
Linda Hunt however had her own water-drenched nemesis on the movie. Several of her scenes took place in the Diorama. When the security systems took over after the party guests panic, the sprinkler system was activated. In the master shot the SFX crew were using about 1500 gallons per minute of icy cold water - it was basically like a monsoon taking place inside a sound stage, taking a crew of 20 people to mop up after each take.