DVD Review of Incident
At Loch Ness
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 10/14/05
Incident At Loch Ness
is one of the best mockumentaries ever made. While not quite there with This Is
Spinal Tap, it is a cut above many of the other contenders. The reason for this
is because its star is German filmmaking legend Werner Herzog (who could be a
Teutonic doppelganger for Gene Hackman) of Fitzcarraldo
fame. The basic premise is that Hollywood screenwriter turned producer Zak Penn
(played by the real Zak Penn- as all the folks in the film are ‘themselves’)
recruited Herzog and some other well known Hollywood types to dupe the press
into thinking that Herzog was making a documentary film called The
Enigma Of Loch Ness, all the while
another filmmaker named John Bailey was shooting a documentary, called Herzog
In Wonderland, about the making of
that fictive film. Given the fact that not a shred of evidence for the existence
of the Loch Ness Monster has ever been found, in nearly two thousand years, what
this film is, then, is a fictive documentary on the making of a fictive
documentary, or a hoax about a hoax about a hoax, or meta-meta-fiction. Yet,
this does not imply the film is self-serious, in the least. Unlike, say, The
Blair Witch Project, aka The Least
Scary Horror Movie Ever Filmed, Incident
At Loch Ness is played just for
laughs, and, putting aside the absurdity that someone like Herzog would even
undertake such a project, the real test becomes how many viewers will be gulled
into thinking the film is a real documentary, for how long, and what will tip
The narrative in a nutshell- Penn, Herzog, and crew head off to Loch Ness, where they have some hilarious misunderstandings, including Herzog’s threatening to walk off ‘his’ film, because Penn- the character in the film, not the real director of the film- is trying to ‘spice up’ Herzog’s ‘serious’ documentary with such things as fake Nessie props, and a gorgeous brunet Playboy Playmate Of The Year named Kitana Baker (whose first name just screams porno star- although her real name is Christi Josenhans), who is hired as a ‘sonar operator’ who just happens to look utterly devastating in a red, white, and blue bikini. All along, the various players in the film are commenting on what ‘really happened’ in future filmed studio headshots. Then, things really go wrong, as the ‘real’ Nessie attacks the ship, sinks it, and Penn escapes in the life raft. He comes back to rescue the others, but not before two of the crew are killed by the creature. The film ends with Penn’s blaming others for the disaster and stating that he and Herzog are being sued by an assortment of people.
This conceit continues over into the main DVD commentary, where Penn, in character, and Herzog bicker, with Herzog walking out on the commentary about twenty minutes into it. Penn then replaces him with several other people who also chide him and the film, and the last bit of commentary takes place when a Fox Studio engineer gives a bit of commentary, and then gives up with a good half an hour left to go. There are also plenty of extra scenes, and the usual goodies that come on DVDs, but the real treat come from the Easter Eggs the DVD has. Easter Eggs are hidden features that DVD fanatics love to find. Fortunately, there are websites devoted to exposing the many ways to access the assorted eggs. There are three primary eggs on this DVD, with over a dozen others- just Google the film and the term Easter Eggs and you will find ways to find and unlock them. These Easter Eggs are the straight story of the film. On the B Side of the DVD there’s a 22 minute making of featurette which includes how the media was hoaxed, and on the A Side are two ‘serious’ commentaries- one with Penn and several lesser known cast members, and another with Penn and Herzog. Both are solid, but Herzog’s is the better one, for you get a few insights into his views on the art of filmmaking.
As for the film itself? The weakest aspect of it, and the thing that prevents it from Spinal Tap or Zelig-level greatness is that the film could have pretended a bit more seriousness. To me, at least, I never bought into it, but loved the idea and the way it was attempted, but Penn’s character is just too parodic to be real. That said, the special effects, in this low budget film, outdo many a mega-blockbuster’s because they know the tricks of magic too well to reveal all. It’s no wonder that at an early party at Herzog’s fictive home (really Penn’s) one of the guests, along with the ‘crew’ and Hollywood actors Crispin Glover and Jeff Goldblum, is magician/card sharp extraordinaire Ricky Jay. Yet, references like this, or shots that are just ‘too convenient’, are just too obvious for me to ignore. However, for others, they might be swept along. As I said, the hilarity of the film more than compensated for its lack of gulling me, yet a few less things on its plate, I feel, may have worked better for the totality of the filmic experience. Dropping the conceit that there was a real monster in the film, and it was after the boat, and instead focusing on the idiocy of the lunatics who believe such nonsense would have been enough to possibly gull me into thinking this was really an aborted Herzog documentary. Other highlights include a renamed ship (top sound more exciting- like Jacques Cousteau), jumpsuits with the word expedition misspelled as expeditition (which Penn claims in the real commentary to have been a real accident they kept in the film, an insane megalomaniacal actor named Michael Karnow, hired by Penn, to portray a cryptozoologist, a real ship’s captain (David Davidson) with the deadest pan face since Bob Newhart, or maybe Buster Keaton, and a final shot reminiscent of the walk of the astronauts in The Right Stuff. Add in the seemingly effortless witticisms by Herzog, such as wondering why alien abductions take place only in America, not Africa, and why all the women gang-raped by aliens turn out to be obese, and there’s no denying that the film will become a minor comedy classic.
That said, despite its vast superiority, Incident At Loch Ness did a fraction of the business The Blair Witch Project did. That mystery may, and should, end up the next ‘documentary’ subject for Herzog to tackle.
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