Incident at Loch Ness
Fox // PG-13 // $27.98 // March 1, 2005
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 11, 2005
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Werner Herzog is the legendary director who had a 340 ton steam ship hauled over a mountain throughout the course of filming Fitzcarraldo...the man who reportedly pulled a gun on Klaus Kinski while directing Aguirre: The Wrath of God...the man who shot La Soufrière in an abandoned city in Guadaloupe as a volcano was on the verge of erupting. Ever the adventurous filmmaker, Herzog's latest project is The Enigma of Loch Ness, a documentary that (as you could probably safely guess from the title) has brought the renowned director to Scotland. Among the crew members in tow is Zak Penn, the screenwriter of such movies as X2 and Behind Enemy Lines. As bald men are prone to do, Penn likes to wear many different hats, and the one he's sporting for Enigma... is that of producer. Like any good producer, Penn has his eye on the bottom line and wants to make this as commercial a venture as possible. His vision clashes with Herzog's, and Penn's meddling sends some of the key crew members fleeing back stateside. The producer grates even more heavily on the people who live on the loch, all of whom have grown weary of the commercialization and unrelenting media onslaught. Abandoned by everyone except for a few straggling crew members, Herzog and Penn continue filming despite the director's severe misgivings, eventually culminating in an encounter with...nah, that would be telling.

"I wanted people to think and to feel like this was an authentic expedition to find the Loch Ness Monster. Jacques Cousteau didn't go out in a boat called...y'know...'The Tweety Bird'. Y'know, it had some cool name. I don't know what it was, but I'm sure it was cool."
Oh, and none of this actually happened. Incident at Loch Ness passes itself off as a documentary, but it's a comedy at heart, a description I could've more quickly encapsulated by slapping it with the 'mockumentary' label, but I hate that word, so instead I opt for rambling grammatical inaccuracies. Incident at Loch Ness can be lopped up into three distinct chunks. The first is the setup, which introduces Herzog (although any viewer who doesn't have at least a passing familiarity with the director is already at a disadvantage), his crew, and the core premise of the movie. The prolonged introduction is dry and straightforward enough for it to seem like a genuine 'making of' documentary, and if not for sound bites like "razor sharp and funny as hell!" splattered across the cover art and reviews like this that give too much away, some viewers might actually be duped into thinking this is all really unfolding. There's some scattered strangeness, but it's not as overtly comedic as part deux.

When Herzog and company set up shop in Scotland, Incident at Loch Ness grabs the clutch and shifts the comedy into a higher gear. Okay, maybe just to second gear, but that's just the approach the movie takes. For this sort of film, Christopher Guest is an obvious point of reference, and if you've seen Waiting for Guffman or much of anything else I could scribble down from his entry on the IMDb, you probably know what I mean. This isn't the type of comedy that shamelessly mugs to the camera, human excrement isn't played for laughs, there's no pie fucking...it's people with strong personalities doing and saying strange things. As funny as it is, it's also not the type of humor that translates particularly well to a plain-text review.

Take the cryptozoologist, someone whose life is devoted to the study of creatures that more than likely don't exist...someone who carries around a stack of incomprehensible tools and flecks of different beasts that may or may not be legendary, and speaks at length about why he doesn't use detergent while doing laundry...plus his beard looks great on film. Or Zak Penn discussing why he's left screenwriting behind for a career as a producer. "One of the reasons why I've shifted into producing is because, y'know, I'm sick of being in the background. I'm sick of not having any say...of being pushed around. One of the things I like about being a producer is, you know, you don't take as much shit from people. You say, 'Here's what I want. Fire that writer." Zak tries to make the expeditition look more official by berating everyone into wearing matching jumpsuits. He hires a sonar operator whose résumé includes a catfight on a beer commercial. It's funny in the movie...you have my word! my solemn vow!...but if I type it out, it doesn't have quite that same effect. Although I did find that most of its attempts at humor got a laugh, I was still left with the impression that there should've been more. There are some lengthy expanses between laughs -- not because it makes an attempt at being funny and fails, but because that often doesn't seem to be the focus at all. More comedy in a comedy is always a good thing.

I'm not sure how serious Zak Penn was trying to be with the final act of the movie, which takes a darker, Blair Witch-ian-esque-ish turn. If it's meant as an homage to The Blair Witch Project, parodying it by adopting its style as closely and as straightfaced as possible, then it's a complete success. If it's actually trying to be terrifying and unsettling, then...not so much. The tone's yanked 180 degrees, and a shift that drastic is unlikely to ever work. The climax isn't inept or embarrassingly bad by any means, but I'm not entirely sure it gets the reaction it's shooting for. For which it's shooting. Whatever.

Incident at Loch Ness isn't like much of anything else out there. On one hand, that's good, because much of anything else out there really isn't very good. Like any movie that tries to do something at least kind of different, Incident... isn't going to appeal to all tastes. Its lower-key approach to comedy, its prolonged introductory sequence, and a questionable finalé are certain to turn a good many viewers away. Although I wish there were a few more laughs and maybe a leaner runtime, that wry sense of humor is exactly what I go for, and I'd recommend giving Incident at Loch Ness a rental to see if it's up your alley or whatever your cliché of choice may be.

Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks strikingly similar to what you might expect from a movie shot primarily on digital video and trying to pass for a documentary. The interview segments are decently photographed, and the quasi-candid bits have a rougher hewn, more documentariatastic look. There's no real need for immaculate visual detail or eye-popping colors, which is good because you don't get either of those. The transfer's fine, and I'm sure it's very representative of the intended look of the movie.

Audio: Incident at Loch Ness sports a six-channel Dolby Digital track encoded at a bitrate of 448Kbps. The majority of the movie's about what you'd expect from a kinda-sorta-umentary, with the bulk of the activity anchored in the center speaker and occasionally splashing into the front mains. The surround channels are primary reserved for lapping water and music sparsely scattered throughout. When it's climax time and the movie shifts tones, things get a little more active, particularly in the thunderous lower frequencies. It's not a wall-to-wall sonic assault or anything, but the soundtrack accomplishes everything it sets out to do. An English stereo track is also provided, alongside closed captions and subtitles in English and Spanish.

Supplements: Incident at Loch Ness has a decent number of documented extras, but when you factor in all the hidden stuff...and there's a lot of it...it's an even more impressive disc. First, the not-hidden stuff. Incident at Loch Ness is a double-sided disc, and its extras are spread across each single-layered side. The A-side includes an audio commentary with Zak Penn, who's joined by Werner Herzog. It's done in-character, and even though the characters are themselves, it's...yeah. "No, it's not an argument when I'm saying I would not...as a female...I would not touch you with a pair of pliers." They bicker, argue about pending litigation, and quickly cut things short. From there, it's a rotating parade of people tangentially involved with the movie, if at all -- producer Jana Augsberger, assistant director Marty Signore, Fox commentary guy Lucas BrekozI'll-give-up-on-trying-to-spell-that, movie buff Ron the Foish?, Zak's wife Michele Weiss -- all of whom Zak shoves out the door in pretty short order. It's obviously a pretty jokey track, but it seems to hit the same few notes over and over again and isn't nearly as funny as the movie itself. At least the commentary's short, only running around an hour long.

"I know what's going on."
The other documented extras are a slew of outtakes piled onto the flipside of the disc. Several of the main cast members get their own submenus, each peppered with a handful of very short clips. First up is "Professor Karnow's Kabinet of Kuriosities", which catches up with the good professor in his hotel room. Since his stream-of-consciousness explanations make up some of the funniest stuff in the movie itself, it's only natural that he get more deleted scenes than anyone else...six total, although they're very brief, with only one running over a minute in length. The beefiest of the five minute set is an extended version of Karnow's hardware demonstration, and an alternate version of the laundry rant is also tacked on.

"The Life of a Hollywood Producer" consists of four snippets that run right at four minutes total, including Zak Penn's insight into the grueling life of working in the industry, blaming the suits at Fox for everything that went wrong on the expedition, noting how more than ever, he's convinced of his own innocence, extolling the virtues of a healthy sneaker collection, and likening his films to the Herzog ouevre. Speaking of French, Herzog won't, as he notes in "Herzog on French" (1:37), and the thirty-eight second "Herzog in Wonderland" sees the director commenting about the filming of the film within in a film of a film.

The "Extras" submenu is a catch-all for the remaining twelve deleted chunks. Again, they're very short, mostly hovering between thirty seconds and a minute in length. They include the remaining crew members taping some weepy goodbyes, Zak wrestling with a couple of different phones at once, John Bailey getting a lot more time on the other end of the camera, conflicting comments about a glimpse of the Loch Ness Monster from special effects guys like KNB's Greg Nicotero, Werner regaling his ridiculously cute wife with a tale about a hamburger from Pimp's, and...hey, tits! All of the scenes run a little over twelve minutes combined.

Now, onto the Easter Eggs, which is where all the really good stuff is. I was going to write something about how finding the Easter Eggs on this DVD is easier than the elusive hunt for the Loch Ness Monster, but that wound up sounding really lame, so I stopped. Each of the Eggs is marked by a black Nessie graphic floating in the water. For all I know, there might be even more of these than I've found, but here's a list of what I've stumbled upon so far. Side A includes two additional audio commentaries. The last of the menus on side A serves up a commentary pairing Zak Penn and Werner Herzog together for the second time. Yeah, deja vu and all, but Penn introduces it by saying "this is the actual, real commentary, and what I mean by that is the non-bullshit commentary you've unlocked." Not only is it a real commentary, but it's a pretty damn good one. The tone remains pretty serious as Herzog and Penn keep a steady flow of discussion going throughout. The track never drags, there's no dead air, and they cover a lot of ground. Some of the highlights include one of my favorite jokes from the movie turning out to be an honest mistake, the fact that Werner's film-within-a-film was actually properly shot, gutting an old boat 'cause it didn't look old enough inside, and decrying the use of red RECORD graphics with on-screen camcorders. Worth the non-effort to find and give a listen.

Sonar operator / Maxim cover girl Kitana Baker
Two commentaries may sound like a lot, but...hark! Hidden on the 'Languages' menu is a third, featuring Zak Penn with Michael Karnow, Lance Stockton, and Stephen Marinaccio. It's actually a very different commentary from the second Penn/Herzog track. That one was fairly serious and straightforward, whereas this third commentary is extremely jokey and not timid about leaping headfirst into the minutiae of production. From a nod to Halo to debating how many days are in a week with the prop guys to a production designer wanting to spruce up the movie's actual production office to make it look more like a production office, this commentary juggles being both fun and informative. Well, except for those ten awkward pauses, but what are you gonna do?

Flipping over the disc, there are even more hidden features. I don't want to give away the exact location of everything, but I promise that if you've ever menu-trawled before, you'll find these without any trouble. Most of 'em are, like the bulk of the documented extras on this set, very short outtakes. Ten extra clips are served up, running around eleven and a half minutes total, covering everything from a botched attempt at launching a faux-Nessie, a revelation at the dinner party, and Zak Penn's realization that Kitana Baker would make an excellent superhuman genetic deformity. Also stowed away are a set of 36 production stills and a pair of 'scriptments'.

The best of the Easter Eggs on this side of the disc is the comprehensive and thoroughly excellent 22 minute featurette "The Non-Evidence: The Making of 'Incident at Loch Ness'". It opens with Penn reveling in having duped so many press outlets with the hoax and continues with him talking about how the germ of the movie spring from a Powerade commercial, the structure of the not-quite-a-script that started making the rounds, the difficulty of trying to do so much in such an ambitious project, and the unconventional method of designing the movie's super-secretive secret special effects. The featurette consists of several different types of interviews, deleted scenes, effect tests, different stages of composited video, and tons of behind the scenes footage. This is one of the better featurettes I've seen in a good long while, so watch it. There may be more Easter Eggs that I overlooked, but I'm pretty sure that's everything.

The DVD features a set of animated menus -- 16x9 on the A-side, 4x3 on the other. There are 24 chapter stops, and the review copy I was sent did not include an insert sheet.

Conclusion: If you've suffered through this much of the review, you're clearly dedicated enough to find Incident at Loch Ness at least worth a rental. It's a clever, if not completely successful, spoof. More chuckles would have been a good thing, and it seems to strain to fill a feature-length runtime, but I enjoyed the film more than enough to recommend it. If you're only interested in the movie itself, I'd lean towards a rental over a purchase. The impressive selection of extras, hidden or no, certainly boost the replay value, and that makes adding this disc to a DVD collection a lot more compelling. Recommended.


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