Incident at Loch Ness

review by John W. Herbert

When famed film director Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo) decides to make a documentary on the enigma that is the Loch Ness monster, the film crew that has been trailing Herzog for a documentary about his own life tag along to capture the master at work on a project. We see Herzog team-up with producer Zak Penn (X-Men 2, Last Action Hero), and we follow the crew to Scotland, where Herzog and Penn prep
differing views on the project. Herzog sees this as a quiet personal film, a psychological study of why people need to believe in a mythological monster, while Penn, author of many Hollywood blockbusters, wants a monster movie and insists on a little more razzmatazz, going so far as to hire a crazy crypto zoologist and a former Playboy model as the sonar operator. As the conflict between Herzog and Penn builds to a crisis and the crew begins filming, intrigue and disaster wait on the surface, and something mysterious lurks in the deep gloomy waters of the dark Scottish lake.
To say much more would ruin the story. Suffice it to say it is similar to Lost in La Mancha, the documentary of Terry Gilliam’s effort to film a version of Don Quixote that goes disastrously wrong and is never completed, and the only footage that survives to any degree is the on-set documentary footage. Similarly here, Herzog’s film is overtaken by deadly disaster and abandoned, and the only record that survives is the footage that was shot by the documentary crew following Herzog.
Herzog has an amazing on-camera presence (we’re talking serious gravitas here), and his disappointment and fatigue as his project collapses around him is palpable, and as the battle of vision with Penn grows, his frustration boils over. Herzog is clearly the star of this film, and brings to it a weight and a seriousness that serve the film well. It would be much less of a movie without him. Penn, who is no Klaus Kinski, has to be given credit for allowing himself to be portrayed on film as a class-A Hollywood schmuck. Penn’s enthusiasm for the project overwhelms his sensibility, and as his dealings with Herzog become more strained, he becomes all the more desperate.
Shot digitally, the film looks great for a budget of less than $1,000,000. (And it would take a lot of work to make any film shot on the scenic Scottish Lochs look bad.) The film itself is uneven; clearly the best part is the middle act as Herzog’s film dissolves before his eyes. There are no really big surprises in the film, save perhaps one, but there are plenty of laughs in Penn’s increasingly pathetic attempts to spice up Herzog’s film.
The DVD has a bunch of deleted scenes, most of which were cut for good reason. But a few are interesting. There’s also the obligatory commentary track:
Penn: Werner, I just want to say I’m glad, given all the legal problems, that you could come do this. It means a lot to me—
Herzog: Yes, okay, it’s one of those rituals of DVDs. Let’s just get it over with. It’s okay. I try to be a good sport.
The DVD is also loaded with Easter Eggs, at least 13 by my reckoning, including two other commentary tracks, and a documentary.
Incident at Loch Ness could be viewed as a metaphor for the modern movie industry: a talented director, working with a talented group of artists, has his work destroyed by the mindless interference of a moronic Hollywood powerbroker.
Golly, one might even think the whole thing is a satire.

(originally published in Under the Ozone Hole #17)

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