Incident at Loch Ness (2005)

by | May 15, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Incident at Loch Ness (2005)

Werner Herzog and Zak Penn
Studio: Fox
Video: 1.85:1 widescreen, video & film
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DD stereo
Subtitles: English, Spanish, captioned
Extras: Audio commentary by Herzog & Penn, Deleted scenes &
outtakes, Featurettes & testimonials, Revealing photos and candid
clips, Inside information, Hidden “easter eggs” accessed by finding the
fake “Nessie” icon!
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: *****

Anyone picking up this DVD will immediately figure out that this is not
a serious documentary on the Loch Ness Monster. For one thing, there’s
the big blurb on the back: “Un-Loch the Secrets of the Film with
Shocking Extras!” I will sheepishly admit that although I had some
reservations, when I saw the film in the theater I was taken in hook,
line and sinker. Werner Herzog has got to be the most highly individual
filmmaker on the planet, and when he commits himself to a filmic idea
it is never half-baked or laid back. Witness the actual dragging of the
giant steamboat over the Andes in Fitzcaraldo to replicate exactly what
Fitzcaraldo had done. As successful as that film was, the Les Blank
documentary on its amazing struggles and setbacks, Burden of Dreams,
proves just as worth watching.

This latest film purports to be mostly a documentary shot on video by a
couple of guys following Herzog and Penn to Scotland to do a
documentary of their own on film about the legend of the Loch Ness
Monster and how persistent it remains against all logic. For the first
time, Herzog is supposedly not the director but has worked out a deal
with screenwriter Zak Penn who will be the actual director. In the
video documentary footage (tapeage?) of the dinner party in LA at which
the various participants and friends (including Jeff Goldbaum) get
together there are already rumblings of strong disagreements between
Herzog and Penn. The cinematographer tells the camera how honored he is
to be making a film with the famous Herzog. Next we are in overcast
Loch Ness, Scotland and meeting some of the staff Penn has hired there.
We meet an over-the-top scientist with all sorts of specimens in jars
and who has some rather bizarre theories about Nessie. There are
negotiations over the boat and its captain which will take them out on
the Loch.

The first morning of the expedition the plot thickens. Among the crew
boarding the boat is a shapely brunette in a jump suit who is said to
be the sonar expert, hired by Penn unbeknownst to Herzog. Penn had
insigniaed jump suits made for everyone, but Herzog steadfastly refuses
to wear his. At one point the sonar expert strips hers off to sun tan
in the fog – revealing a tiny American flag bikini. (THAT’s when I
should have realized my leg was being pulled.) I think I’ll stop there
so viewers will have some fun getting pulled into the “incident.”
Suffice it to say some very clever ruses were used, from originally
announcing planning of the new film by Herzog (which made Variety) thru
the directions Penn gave the actors to just improvise on their general
personas rather than following a script (there was none). The
appearance of the “real” Nessie is set up earlier by Penn’s insistence
on Herzog filming a laughable homemade floating Nessie – of course
Herzog steadfastly refuses. The believability of the attack on the boat
by Nessie is heightened when it is revealed two of the crew members
were drowned and there is even a service for them later.

The hoax doesn’t stop with the extras. First, although the box lists
all sorts of extras the only one that shows up with the feature is to
hear the optional audio commentary or not. The commentary starts right
off with a disgruntled Herzog arguing with Penn over the way he
commandeered the film with dumb ideas such as the sonar expert. Penn
tries to get him to agree to cool it so they can do the commentary
together, but Herzog gets so mad he stomps out of the studio and slams
the door, leaving Penn to record all the rest of the commentary alone.
(At least I think he does it alone – I didn’t want to see the whole
film again just then.)

I studied the notes on the cover and tried to access the other extras
again with little success. There were no instructions on how to
proceed. Finally I flipped the disc and tried the other side, which
turned out to have all the rest of the extras – featurettes, deleted
scenes etc. All interesting but still not revealing the hoax. So I
tried navigating around the various section titles appearing on the
extras menu. They really make you work to get at the truth. Finally, I
glimpsed a tiny black “fake Nessie” icon in the Loch in the background.
It took me some time to get it to appear again but when I did all the
beans were spilled. A complete explanation of the planning that went
into the film, statements by Herzog – he reveals how difficult it was
for him to keep a serious face at some points, by Penn and other
members of the cast-”crew.” Even some footage of meetings with the
special effects people who created the Nessie effects as well as the
supposed sinking of the boat and drowning of the two crew. It turns out
most of the “real” Nessie was done with a simple bucket on a long pole
dragged just under the water. Penn admits that the whole project would
never have been possible without Herzog (and his name). Herzog was the
last director that Hollywood or any fan would have expected a comedy
from, so that supported the hoax. One review compared Incident at Loch
Ness to Blair Witch; I find that a demeaning comparison – Blair is
nothing about nothing and Incident is a great deal about something
entirely different! I think it’s one of Herzog’s finest efforts.

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