Judge David Johnson's preferred crypto-zoological creature is the jackalope.
So this would be a "Loch-umentary," right?
Legendary documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog and Hollywood screenwriter Zak Penn embark on an expedition investigating the myth (or voracity?) of the Loch Ness Monster. This mockumentary blends elements of This Is Spinal Tap! and The Blair Witch Project and produces a witty, often hilarious, and surprisingly suspenseful piece of entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Here's the setup: filmmaker John Bailey is shooting a documentary about Werner Herzog called Herzog in Wonderland. During his shoot, Herzog and Penn go into business together to film the documentary Enigma at Loch Ness. Penn is producing, Herzog is directing. It isn't long, however, before the two begin to clash. Once they get to Scotland, their production is immediately met with challenges, and their radically different approaches to filmmaking intersect like speeding cement trucks.
First, the boat they want to take onto the Loch has an engine that runs too loud and interferes with the production sound. Penn's suggestion: replace it with a smaller engine from another boat. Second is the purchase of jump suits for the crew, with the word "expedition" misspelled on the back. Then there's the contentious selection of Playboy model Kitana Baker as the "sonar operator," a casting decision Werner was unaware of, finding out only after he spots her stripping down to a barely-there bikini and dribbling bottled water all over her ample bosom.
And then you've got "crypto-zoologist" Michael Karnow. Herzog wanted a credible, though slightly obsessive, expert for his documentary, but this scientist, who's a visiting professor six months of the year to an 100-student online university that spans "three countries and two continents" proves to be more on the obsessive side than the credible.
Personality conflicts will eventually prove to be the least of the concerns for the crew of the Discovery IV (renamed by Penn to lend more gravitas to their sojourn) when they are brought face to face with an unknown presence, which may or may not be Nessie herself.
Incident at Loch Ness seeks to blur the line between fact and fiction. Everyone involved plays it straight, no matter how crazy their actions or words are. Certainly, much of the film seems authentic, but that I believe is a testament to the performances.
Herzog sells this thing like crazy. He plays the hapless filmmaker to perfection. All around him, things go wrong, and he is consistently understated and hilarious when confronted with the unexpected, such as his run-in (in a deleted scene) with a topless sunbathing Kitana.
Meanwhile, Zak Penn as the foil for the rigidly traditional Herzog is equally great. Where Herzog's comedic strength is his affectations and reactions, Penn's is his delivery of some truly funny lines, like his claiming that no one suffered more than he did, except maybe the guys who had died (but a case can be made that they're dead and not suffering any more!).
And while these two guys are great, the "character" who steals the show is Michael Karnow, the crypto-zoologist. Everything he does is gold—"laundering" his clothes by hanging them up and letting the "dirt fall out," showing off a tiny tentacle that he's convinced could have grown to 100 feet, and boasting about tracking and photographing the elusive "jungle pig." Better still, the bonus features include six deleted scenes of Karnow material, all of it superb.
This is a movie I had never heard of, and it caught me completely off guard. Incident at Loch Ness isn't of the gag-a-minute ilk like This is Spinal Tap! and Best in Show, but the laughs are strong and memorable. I'm glad I was lucky enough to watch this, and I'd encourage you to do the same.
The disc is two-sided, with bonus features relegated to the B-side. On the visual side, the film looks great. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is extremely sharp, and the colors are appropriately soft and atmospheric. A 5.1 Dolby Digital mix accompanies, though there isn't much use for it, aside from a few kinetic scenes at the end.
The bonus features, while not diverse, are quality. A DVD commentary by Zak Penn and Werner Herzog is hilarious. The two prolong the charade, with Herzog even storming out of the commentary fifteen minutes in. Other members of the production later dip in and out of the track for the rest of the time. The second side of the disc is composed of deleted scenes and additional footage. Penn, Herzog, and Karnow each have specially devoted sections of deleted scenes, and an "Extras" category is the catch-basin for the remaining footage, notably some comparative expert analysis of the Nessie proof captured on film, a few testimonials during the more intense scenes, and the aforementioned sunbathing clip, where Kitana's bodacious body immediately increases the MPAA rating of the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The final third of the movie switches gears and treads into horror film spoof territory. Surprisingly, I felt this little spritz of suspense works well, though some people might find it a jarring, needless transition.
A very funny concoction of slapstick, dry wit, and creature feature, Incident at Loch Ness is a great flick. And combined with some truly amusing bonus features, this disc represents an excellent value—don't hesitate to at least give it a rental.
The accused is released back into the Loch.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Filmmakers Zak Penn and Werner Herzog
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