**½/**** Image A Sound B Extras A
directed by Zak Penn
by Walter Chaw You could say that Werner Herzog has been hunting monsters for the whole of his career. (Chasing demons: even better.) Find in that the reason the satirical Incident at Loch Ness works to the extent that it does. The picture locates the mad German on the Scottish loch, where he's ostensibly shooting a documentary on Nessie under the auspices of Hollywood wunderkind Zak Penn while a film crew, led by veteran cinematographer John Bailey, shoots Herzog for a piece on the director's method called "Herzog in Wonderland." It's a fake documentary about the making of a fake documentary, in other words, commenting at several points about authenticity in a way that pings off the whimsical existentialism of Being John Malkovich at its best--and off the sudden shift into darkness of the same at its worst. Mocking the capricious ignorance of Hollywood moneymen is always sporting, I guess, and as Penn simultaneously acts the monster (he insists on the crew wearing matching jumpsuits) and surreptitiously slips a plastic monster-bot into the wake, the picture can be satisfying in a familiar way. But by this point in our progressive cynicism, anyone watching the film--and, more particularly, anyone at all familiar with Herzog--could say the same things regarding the venality of the blockbuster mentality with less effort. This doesn't mean that the film's closing shot of a sunglasses-wearing Herzog walking in front of his team in a Michael Bay heroic slow-motion is any less funny, but it does add up to a generally empty, if fitfully amusing, experience.
The commentary on the DVD release of Incident at Loch Ness finds Penn and Herzog continuing their charade, sniping at one another in a way that starts funny but becomes, perhaps inevitably, tedious. Though it demonstrates that the two are excellent improvisational actors, the film in question already accomplished that. What I did like was the bit where Penn says that his wife has left him, prompting Herzog to reply that he shouldn't wonder why and, more, that if he were a woman, he wouldn't touch Penn with a "pair of pliers." It's funny when Penn identifies a quick cameo with Jeff Goldblum as "star of Jurassic Park, ladies and gentlemen!"--funnier still when Herzog responds to Penn's plea that he works really hard by saying that it's no excuse to work hard, that doubtless the cops beating Rodney King were working hard, too. At around the sixteen-minute mark, Herzog "walks off" and Penn introduces "Jana Brainerd" (now Jana Augsberger), producer or something (is she for real? Who knows), who tells anecdotes Penn finds embarrassing, leading me to believe she was carefully scripted. Her delivery, however, is flawless. A half-hour in, Jana departs in a similar huff and is replaced by AD Martin Signore, who's swapped with a DVD technician ten minutes later, and so on and so forth. The commentary is a satire of commentary tracks in the same way that the film is a satire of Herzog's reputation and relationship with mainstream fare. Taken as such, it's genuinely hilarious and more consistently successful than Incident at Loch Ness itself. Wouldn't it be an interesting stunt had the film been released with this as its dominant audio?
Fox releases Incident at Loch Ness on a double-sided DVD featuring the film in a handsome, clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that handles the shifts from crisp digital video to traditional 16mm and back again with relative fluidity. If the step from the one to the other isn't a long one, credit the telecine operators for a subtle touch. Neither the DD 5.1 nor 2.0 stereo options sound terribly distinct, but choose the former for the horror-movie third of the film--you can better feel the boat get crunched in the rear, and who doesn't want that? The flipside offers the bulk of supplementary material, including deleted scenes and unused footage split into three different categories: "Professor Karnow's Kabinet of Kuriosities," itself broken up into six clips--each of them extended riffs by the alleged cryptozoologist that wash out as a homage to Richard Dreyfuss's shark expert in Jaws--ranging from approximately thirty seconds to just over a minute in length; "The Life of a Hollywood Producer," four clips that see Penn complaining about the rigours of Osmosis Jones ("It took as long as Fitzcarraldo to make!"), among others, and bemoaning working in Toronto (funny stuff, but it would be more self-deprecating if Penn were a better-known personality); and "Werner," comprising one clip in which Herzog discusses documentary work (and how awesome is Herzog that never seems to distinguish between documentary and feature work?) and another about how he can speak French, but refuses to on principle. "Extras" contains twelve additional short elisions (one-two minutes apiece) that are generally unused testimonials once intended as padding, though the section does sport a 30-second "Nude Sunbathing Scene" (the sun came out in Scotland? Better get some trauma counsellors on a plane) wherein foxy Playboy playmate and "Sonar Expert" Kitana Baker catches a few rays.
94 minutes; PG-13; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0 (Stereo); CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-10; Fox