“Starring” Werner Herzog, Zak Penn, Gabriel Beristain, Russell Williams, Kitana Baker, Michael Karnow
Directed by Zak Penn
A recent string of faux “reality” commercials may have inspired director Zak Penn to embark on a Loch Ness voyage, but once you catch on to his game, it’s apparent Penn partly owes the fruits of his debut film’s success to the works of Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show). But Guest’s mockumentaries and his recurring acting troupe pull their schtick off with a knowing grin and wildly broad characterizations. Penn and company, on the other hand, are tackling a similar yet vastly different beast altogether (in more ways than one, actually); Penn’s experiment tests the waters of cinematic truths and falsities leaving the viewer to guess what’s real and what’s not. The line – as this disc’s many layers reveals – is not as easily discernible as one might think and the best part of Incident at Loch Ness is not experiencing it the first time around but watching it back again and again.
It’d be dishonest of us to play this “documentary” up as a horror film, which, it’s not. Not until the last half hour, at least. Given its two avenues of focus – Werner Herzog (Nosferatu) and the elusive Loch Ness monster – this docu-within-a-docu deservedly gets our attention. The set-up is this: We’re told Herzog has agreed to let director John Bailey and his documentary crew follow him around, discuss his works, etc. for an endeavor called Herzog in Wonderland. Bailey has picked an ideal time to peek in on Herzog’s life as he’s about to begin a project of his own with producer Zak Penn (co-writer, X2: X-Men United). The Enigma of Loch Ness is the documentary’s title, a piece that, as Herzog puts it, explores humanity’s need to put their belief in monsters. The motivation behind the myths, you might say.
Penn allows Bailey, ultimately the viewer, to follow the inner workings of the production including all of the “banalities,” like Herzog taking a jaunt to buy shaving razors. It’s a funny sight. It’s even funnier to see Herzog getting his feathers slightly ruffled over Bailey’s insistence to get everything on camera.
A crew limited to the bare essentials – camera and sound – is gathered and everyone sets off for Scotland. Upon touchdown Herzog begins his work interviewing the locals; production runs smoothly until the gang, however, take to the water for the meat of their principal photography schedule and we begin to get a sense that Penn has a different film in mind. His movie reaches a wider demographic and features Playboy Playmate (and Vampirella model) Kitana Baker as a “sonar operator” and a fake, man-made Loch Ness monster.
As quickly as it had begun, Herzog’s documentary begins to implode and bitter and terrifying truths begin to present themselves.
Unlike Chris Guest’s stuff, Incident at Loch Ness is played with a straight face even though you may think some of the parties involved need to be put in straight jackets. The Hollywood personalities on display here couldn’t feel more authentic, and, for the most part, they are. And those egos colliding on the waters of Loch Ness that are fabricated are still based on someone else in the biz (as Penn elaborates during one of the DVDs three audio commentaries). There’s a lot of total Hollywood bullshit Herzog needs to contend with to get his film done including the manipulative producer’s dogged attempts to get his crew to wear official Loch Ness jumpsuits (which came back from the shop with the word “expedition” spelled wrong on the backside). You just know – even if you’re not industry-savvy – that insignificancies like this come up on real film productions and are mulled over daily.
Loch Ness, in short, captures the makings of a documentary that’s the equivalent to a freeway pile-up. You’re watching it hit after hit, you’re waiting for Herzog to snap, and damn, you can’t turn away for one second even if, in the end, the joke is on us. And if the evidence of this doesn’t hit you early on in the movie, Fox’s disc will clear your eyes. It’s a presentation that works hand-in-hand with the main feature beginning with a large selection of deleted scenes (Baker gets her gratuitous nude shot in here, gentlemen) that further the unbelievable misfortune of Herzog’s docu. Moving further into the supplemental features you’ve got Professor Karnow’s Cabinet of Kuriosities, The Life of a Hollywood Producer and Werner, a collection of extended scenes and alternate takes. Do some searching with your remote and look for all of the Easter eggs. A silhouette of Nessie validates that you’ve hit the jackpot – this goes for both sides of the discs (yes, it’s a flipper). Some of these eggs features more outtakes (why did Penn hire Kitana Baker?) and a Making of… featurette (22m 22s) is on hand to drop the curtain on Loch Ness‘ illusion.
Herzog and Penn’s hidden (and real) audio commentary do a deft job of explaining their experiment as well; this track is well worth finding before you dive into the other two commentaries – one of which has Herzog and Penn “in character,” the other has Penn with some of the crew.
And for those creature fans: Do we ever get a look at the Loch Ness monster itself? Like I said, do a thorough egg hunt and you won’t be disappointed.
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