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20th Century Fox presents
Incident at Loch Ness (2004)

"This whole thing about Loch Ness is more or less a figment of our fantasy."
- Werner Herzog

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: March 08, 2005

Stars: Werner Herzog, Zak Penn
Other Stars: Gabriel Beristain, Kitana Baker, Russell Williams, David Davidson, Michael Karnow, Robert O'Meara, Jeff Goldblum, Ricky Jay
Director: Zak Penn

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Run Time: 01h:33m:47s
Release Date: March 01, 2005
UPC: 024543139379
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-BB+ A-

DVD Review

The often slippery slope of the mock documentary genre is tackled admirably, and with a bit of sly humor, by director/screenwriter Zak Penn in Incident At Loch Ness, a hardworking and sometimes uneven attempt at delivering a nudge-nudge-wink-wink bit of "documentary inside a documentary" filmmaking.

The layered premise is that Penn (screenwriter of Last Action Hero, X-Men 2 and Elektra, among others) is producing a documentary about legendary director Werner Herzog (Aguirre, Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo) and his search for the Loch Ness Monster. The wrinkle is that a separate team of filmmakers—led by cinematographer John Bailey (Silverado, For The Love of the Game)—are filming them, making a documentary about Herzog making a documentary, entitled Herzog In Wonderland.

Get it?

Though all of this is complete fiction, Incident At Loch Ness plays it pretty much straight all the way through, that is until a series of Blair Witch-like events late in the film, and if one weren't paying close attention this could all be taken as being quite real and on the up-and-up. That is when Penn's film works the best, during those small pockets of conversations that seem particularly natural and believable, as during the pre-production/dinner party at Herzog's home, where we meet "the crew" for the Nessie documentary, including cinematographer Gabriel Beristain (Blade II, The Ring Two, K2).

Three-quarters of the film is set on a cramped, rented boat on the Loch itself, as the almighty Herzog struggles with making an unconventional film his own unique, slightly obtuse way, all the while battling the Hollywood tactics of Penn, which include hiring a rambling and eccentric cryptozoologist, Miller Lite "cat fight" model Kitana Baker as a bikini-clad sonar operator, outfitting the crew in matching jumpsuits, or his use of a remote-controlled Nessie head meant to spice up the production. There is in-fighting, bickering and artistic differences a plenty, most of which seem genuine and funny, save a few moments here and there of jarringly stilted conversations meant to sound spontaneous that just come across a tad too scripted. It's a noticeably uneven mixture at times, and only served to take me out of the moment I was willingly trying to buy into for 90 minutes.

While Penn makes himself look intentionally foolish and bull-headed (a noble act on its own), it is Herzog who proves himself the dominating force throughout, and his persona—bristling with all sorts of unwavering vision and creative intensity—is the stable centerpiece of the film. Exhibiting some surprisingly decent acting chops and some deadpan comic timing, Herzog almost seems like he's actually being pranked here, and he even gets to mock a bit of his own larger-than-life legend during a scene where, in a moment of frustrated desperation, Penn pulls a gun on him, meant to poke fun at an infamous myth about how Herzog allegedly held a gun on actor Klaus Kinski while directing him.

This is an ambitiously odd project, because I'm sure there are a lot of casual viewers who have probably never even heard of Herzog (sad, but true), and for them the whole film might just unintentionally play out like the big joke that it is. Not knowing about Herzog isn't key to watching this, but the quasi-inside humor that comes with being familiar with the director and his work only makes the self-deprecating humor more biting and enjoyable, and the absurdity that eventually unfolds seems even more comically surreal.

Strange, funny, but definitely not true.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is decent without being remarkable, and as a mock doc the presentation cleverly falls well within expectations of the genre; this shouldn't look like a big-budget feature, and it doesn't. Fleshtones look generally solid, and other than some early sequences in Herzog's home, colors do tend to fall on the muted side overall. Things that would otherwise be considered good transfer no-no's, such as fine grain and some poor lighting, are more acceptable here, helping to reinforce the whole "shot live on location" intent of Penn.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: For this release, audio options are either English language 5.1 Dolby Digital surround or 2.0 stereo. Considering this is essentially a documentary with a "shot on location" feel to it I wasn't anticipating much from the 5.1 track, but I was pleasantly surprised at the way it was utilized, primarily late in the film when creaking boats, lapping water and mysterious thumps rise out of the surround channels. It's not overdone, though perhaps it takes away from the "real life" feel for a moment, and it did add some dramatic punch when used. Most of the dialogue and conversations cleanly recorded, and locked in the center channel, with occasional directional movement to add some spatial depth.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
20 Deleted Scenes
Screenplay
1 Documentaries
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Zak Penn, Werner Herzog
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Easter Eggs galore
Extras Review: Here's where things get interesting, as the joke continues, beginning with the so-called main commentary track featuring Penn and Herzog. This one perpetuates the mock doc's fake reality, and Herzog doesn't last long in it, getting incensed at the final project and storming out of the commentary session after about ten minutes. Penn stops and starts the track a number of times, dragging in progressively more distant connections to the film, ending with his wife offering her two cents. It's a fairly funny track at times, though it doesn't run the full length of the feature.

Poking around reveals not one, but two more commentary tracks carefully hidden among the menu screens. The first features Penn and assorted crew members talking about the film, but the real treat is locating the third commentary, which reunites Penn and Herzog, this time doling out what is deemed the "official" commentary, i.e., not a joke.

Flipping the disc over reveals a large block of deleted scenes (most under a minute), broken into a number of different sections, some featuring the wacky cryptozoologist, some with Penn, and a couple with Herzog. Another set of 12 deleted scenes runs a bit longer, and for the curious features a topless scene by Kitana Baker.

It is easter egg city on Side B, with 12 different hidden bonus bits, ranging from a 14-second behind-the-scenes clip to a 22-minute making-of, entitled The Non-Evidence, to production stills to script excerpts. The making-of is particularly good, and begins with Penn cracking up at industry press reports of Herzog's "new" documentary, which as we all know is completely fictitious.

The disc is cut into 24 chapters, with the feature on one side and the extras on the other.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

I'm a sucker for a nicely executed mockumentary, and while not fully on the Christopher Guest plateau, Incident at Loch Ness does work more often than it doesn't; the "story within a story" is solid enough, with plenty of funny sequences, even if some of the ad-libs come off stiff occasionally. Plus, if nothing else, the opportunity to see a great director like Herzog goofing on himself more than makes up for any other shortcomings.

As an added boost, this disc contains not just a fair amount of traditional extras, but also a ton of hidden features and commentaries.

Highly recommended.

 


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