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Zak Penn
Werner Herzog, Kitana Baker, Gabriel Beristain, Russell Williams, David A. Davidson, Michael Karnow, Robert O'Meara, Zak Penn, Steven Gardner
Writing Credits:
Werner Herzog, Zak Penn

This fall ... There's something in the water.

Incident at Loch Ness chronicles the story of the making (an unmaking) of acclaimed director, Werner Herzog's film. Herzog's stated intent was "to explore the origin and the necessity of the monster" rather than to look for the creature itself. Shocking, controversial and strangely humorous, the film raises many questions about where reality ends and fiction begins.

Box Office:
$1.400 million.
Opening Weekend
$13.313 thousand on 2 screens.
Domestic Gross
$36.830 thousand.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 3/1/2005

• Audio Commentary with Director Zak Penn and Others
• Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
• Easter Eggs


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Incident At Loch Ness (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 29, 2005)

Back when The Blair Witch Project turned into a massive smash in 1999, pundits predicted plenty more flicks of its ilk. We never got such an onrush of movies in the genre, but occasionally we find movies that attempt a similar style of fake documentary.

In that vein came 2004’s Incident at Loch Ness, a mockumentary about a film project by director Werner Herzog. Incident starts with the following text: “On June 5, 2003, John Bailey began production on a documentary called Herzog In Wonderland. His subject was the life and work of filmmaker Werner Herzog.” The program opens in LA at Herzog’s home, where he states he plans to make movie called The Enigma of Loch Ness. He wants to debunk the myth about “Nessie”.

From there the movie alternates interviews and documentary footage. We get remarks from Herzog, producer Zak Penn, director of photography Gabriel Beristain, production coordinator Robert O’Meara, sound mixer Russell Williams, boat captain David Davidson, crypto-zoologist Professor Michael Karnow, and actor Kitana Baker. Various creative differences start immediately at Herzog’s dinner party, and we see them head to Scotland and get settled. The film follows the production there as we see various problems and some strange events as well.

Essentially Blair Witch crossed with This Is Spinal Tap, Incident presents the strengths of neither film. It lacks the believability of Blair Witch and the hilarity of Tap. Instead, it comes across as a half-assed vanity piece designed to allow the filmmakers to feel clever.

Unlike Blair Witch, Incident telegraphs its phoniness very early. That’s mostly because the performers - a mix of real filmmakers and plants - can’t act. The work alternates between the dry blandness of Herzog and the goofy theatrics of Penn, with no sense of reality in the middle.

If the film delivered some laughs, this might not be so bad. Unfortunately, it remains stunningly unfunny from start to finish. Gags fall flat and never develop into anything worthwhile.

Incident feels like Penn’s revenge on the moronic producers with whom he’s worked, as he makes his own character into the main cause of problems. He does things like bring Baker on the expedition for sex appeal and forces Herzog at gunpoint to film a fake Nessie. Again, the lack of realism submerges these gags. It’s not a bad conceit, but the dopiness with which the film executes all its elements undercuts any potential.

Would Incident fare better if I didn’t know it was fake? Nope, because it lacks the necessary verisimilitude. Even if I went into the movie with the belief it was a true documentary, it would quickly become apparent that something was amiss. This kind of program can’t succeed as easily as it might have 20 years ago. Too many people are too familiar with similar behind the scenes programs, so we can innately detect phoniness. From start to finish, Incident simply doesn’t feel right. I never accept it as real.

Since the filmmakers always leave us with a project that feels staged and phony, Incident at Loch Ness is doomed for failure. It doesn’t help that it turns into a half-assed Jaws at the end. Burdened with a lack of cleverness and no believability, the film comes across as little more than a self-congratulatory home movie.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus A-

Incident at Loch Ness appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite its origins as a videotaped program, Incident looked consistently solid within those parameters.

Sharpness seemed fine. As I expected from this sort of production, the image rarely looked extremely detailed, but it was better than average for a videotaped piece. Very little softness interfered, as the movie remained accurate and concise the vast majority of the time. Though videotape often tends toward those problems, I detected very few instances of jagged edges or moiré effects, and it seemed free from edge enhancement. Source defects also appeared absent, as I noticed no flaws of any sort. Some video artifacting appeared occasionally, especially in low-light situations, but that was inevitable given the shooting conditions.

Colors appeared unexceptional but more than acceptable. The cameras captured the tones as they showed up in real life, and they came across as reasonably distinct and accurate. The hues never popped up strongly, but they were totally fine. Black levels also seemed tight and deep, while shadow detail was as clean as possible under the conditions. I wouldn’t use Incident to demonstrate the visual capabilities of DVD, but the program looked positive and actually seemed more attractive than I anticipated.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Incident at Loch Ness, it came with a mix of strengths and weaknesses. On the moderately positive side, the soundfield opened matters up more than I expected. Given the chattiness of the project, much of the audio stayed focused on the center. However, shots on the boat and outside in general presented a decent sense of environment, and occasionally we got some specific activity in the surrounds. For instance, in one scene a jet flew from rear to front. These moments failed to occur frequently, but they created a sense of involvement. Music also displayed positive stereo imaging.

Audio quality usually seemed fine but varied a bit. Speech was erratic. Most of the lines came across as distinctive and concise, but occasional edginess occurred. Music showed nice vivacity and range, with good clarity and dimensionality. Though most of the effects remained relegated to the background, they were consistently realistic and acceptably dynamic. Truthfully, this mix rarely became impressive, but it was more than satisfactory given the film’s scope.

A decent roster of extras popped up on this double-sided disc. On the movie side, we get an audio commentary with director Zak Penn and a constantly changing roster of others. Penn starts with Werner Herzog, but he “storms out” after about 15 minutes. From there, Penn brings in producer Jana Augsberger, first assistant director Marty Signore, commentary producer Lucas, “Ron the film buff” and Penn’s allegedly-estranged wife Michelle Weiss. When she leaves, Penn abandons the commentary, so someone named “Kurt” briefly pops in to chat about the movie. The track ends after that, with about half an hour left.

If you hope that the filmmakers will pull back the curtain, you’ll not get what you want here. The participants play it straight and treat all the movie’s events as real. This means talk of “lawsuits” and all the problems, most of which get placed at Penn’s feet. Essentially the track acts as a bitchfest in which everyone gangs up on Penn and criticizes him. There’s bickering and nastiness as Penn tries to keep things happy but the others want to expose the “truth”.

All of this comes in the interest of alleged comedy. It doesn’t work. Actually, it’s more entertaining than the movie itself, but that doesn’t say much. The commentary is basically a lame attempt to continue the flick’s themes and it’s not effective. The gags get old quickly and wear out their welcome in a hurry.

Side One tosses in two extra commentaries as Easter eggs. For the first, head to the “Languages” screen and click up from “Resume Feature”. This highlights a “Nessie” icon, so hit “enter” to hear a commentary with Penn, actor Michael Karnow, assistant Lance Stockton, and unit production manager Stephen Marinaccio. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion.

The track mostly covers some nuts and bolts issues. We hear about technical elements connected to the production as well as some notes about improvisation and other storytelling techniques. A reasonable amount of insight occurs, such as when we hear that some audio was re-recorded later to make it sound worse; apparently the original material was too clean and didn’t match the documentary format.

The commentary maintains a chatty and loose tone with a reasonable amount of humor. During its second half, it meanders more than I’d like, and it lacks a lot of focus. The participants seem to run out of much material to discuss. Despite those moments, it adds up to a pretty informative and enjoyable piece.

To get to the third commentary, head to the special features menu and highlight “on” for the main commentary. Click left, up and enter to gain access to the third track. This one presents a running, screen-specific piece from Penn and Herzog as they give us the “real” commentary. This means they look at the hoax they perpetrated and tell us the methods they utilized.

At best, this commentary offers an interesting look at the nuts and bolts of the production. We find out a mix of issues connected to executing various aspects, and we learn the truth about different elements. Unfortunately, some of this repeats from the second commentary, and both Penn and Herzog reside in self-congratulatory mode way too much of the time. Penn occasionally says that he doesn’t want to be one of those guys who does nothing but praise his own film, but that’s a lot of what we hear in this commentary; both seem quite impressed with their little prank and they make sure we know that. There’s good information to be heard here, but it’s tough to take with all the back-slapping.

Heading to the second side, we get four separate collections of deleted scenes/outtakes. Professor Karnow’s Kabinet of Kuriosities includes six clips connected to that character. These run between 21 seconds and 91 seconds for a total of five minutes, one second. Four snippets show up in The Life of a Hollywood Producer. Not surprisingly, all of them feature Penn, and they fill between 23 seconds and 105 seconds for a total of four minutes, six seconds. Within Werner, we locate two pieces with the director. They go for 38 seconds and 97 seconds, respectively.

Finally, Extras presents 12 segments. These take between 28 seconds and two minutes, 34 seconds for a total of 12 minutes, 10 seconds. All told, the DVD presents 23 minutes and 32 seconds of unused footage - is any of it any good? No, of course not. Almost nothing in the final product is interesting, so why would the deleted clips be interesting? Okay, “Nude Sunbathing” gives us a quick glimpse of a topless Kitana Baker, but that’s a brief reprieve from the general inanity of these segments.

I found a few more Easter eggs here. If you go to the “Extras” page, highlight “Main Menu” and click up, you’ll highlight a Nessie icon. Hit enter to see the film’s original script treatment. It differs from the final film in many ways, which makes it a good extra. Click down from the same spot to get “Scriptment 2”, a revision of the first attempt.

Still on “Extras”, click left from “Recording Sound” for another Nessie. This opens up “Production Stills: Revealing the True Film”. It offers a collection of 36 behind the scenes shots.

Continuing on “Extras”, go right from “The Phone” for a 23-second clip in which Penn and Nicotero acknowledge the hoax. Heading left from “Testimonials” gives us a similar clip, as Penn addresses the folks at the dinner party to mention the staged nature of the project in this 103-second piece.

On the “Life of…” page, find “Innocence” and click right. Repeat the usual Nessie procedure. This 49-second clip shows underwater test footage of a fake Nessie head. From the “Kuriosities” screen, go left from “Life as a Field Researcher”. We get a 52-second outtake in which Penn tosses the fake Nessie into the water. A third outtake comes when you click up from “Werner in Wonderland” to get a two-minute, 20-second snippet in which Penn chats with visual effects artists.

From the main menu, highlight “Professor Karnow’s…” and press to the right. This lights up another Nessie; push enter to see a 22-minute and 22-second documentary called “The Non-Evidence: The Making of Incident at Loch Ness”. We see more behind the scenes footage and get remarks from Penn, Herzog, Karnow, Marinaccio, effects artist Greg Nicotero, and visual effects supervisor Mark Russell.

This piece looks at the perpetration of the hoax. We hear about the project’s genesis and development, directing challenges, casting and the participants’ approaches to the roles, visual effects and creating Nessie, and the effectiveness of the hoax. Surprisingly thorough despite its brief length, “Non-Evidence” offers a solid look at the film’s making.

Only a program as misbegotten and self-impressed as Incident at Loch Ness would include the DVD’s most interesting supplements as Easter eggs. “Mockumentaries” are a tricky genre, and Incident fails to capture any of their strengths. Instead, it suffers from a lack of believability plus lame attempts at humor. The DVD presents pretty positive picture and audio along with a very long set of extras if you factor in the massive number of Easter eggs. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make this atrocious movie entertaining, so I can’t recommend it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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