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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 29.82%
Average: 10.53%
Pretty Bad: 21.05%
Total Crap: 3.51%

5 reviews, 27 user ratings

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Incident at Loch Ness
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by Luke Pyzik

"Spinal Tap Meets Nessie"
4 stars

'Incident at Loch Ness’ is a sly little Hollywood satire, marketed as a mockumentary thriller, but having more in common with David Mamet’s ‘State and Main’ than ‘The Blair Witch Project.’ There have been rumors swirling about the genesis of the film, and rumblings about how much of it is genuine documentary footage, but upon viewing, it seems evident those talks can be chalked up to the result of good advertising. The movie tells the story of the classic battle between art and commerce, pitting two real life figures on opposite ends of the spectrum against each other. In this corner, the legendary master of the adventure art film, Werner Herzog; and in that corner, Zak Penn, screenwriter of such Hollywood schlock as “Behind Enemy Lines” and “Inspector Gadget.” Get ready to rumble.

The movie purports to be footage from “Herzog in Wonderland,” which was to be a behind the scenes film about the making of Herzog’s own documentary, “The Enigma of Loch Ness.” Early scenes find Herzog waxing philosophical about his reasons for doing “Enigma,” including his desire to understand why people need to believe in improbable myths like the Loch Ness Monster. These scenes provide valuable insights into Herzog’s mystique for anyone who may be unfamiliar with him, as they efficiently summarize his career and reputation with a few select stories and some archival footage of when he made the production crew of one of his films pull a large boat over a mountain. Herzog plays himself as the tragicomic straight man, trying desperately to keep his production together as a multitude of forces align themselves against him. It’s genuinely refreshing to see a man of Herzog’s stature have such a sense of humor about his own image, a feeling increased when we get the sense that Herzog’s portrayal of himself is not far from the real thing. He comes off as sweet but passionate, extremely committed to his vision and intolerant of banality. Even in performance, he exudes that aura that most great filmmakers must have – please them and they’ll love you for eternity; upset them and you’ll be reduced to a pile of humiliation before their feet.

Zack Penn, also playing himself, is the producer of Herzog’s “Enigma,” and gives a performance more inclined toward parody. He has the swagger of Project Greenlight’s Chris Moore (who is thanked in the closing credits), but adds on an extra layer of slime and treachery to the model. The real life Penn wrote and directed “Incident at Loch Ness,” and his not-so-complimentary portrayal of a Hollywood producer suggests he may be tiring of the Hollywood machine that has manufactured his career thus far.

Though the real life Penn is clearly a fan of Herzog, his real inspiration for the film seems to be “This is Spinal Tap.” The film has an absurdist energy reminiscent of Rob Riener’s classic, as well as the like-minded work of Christopher Guest. When the fictional Penn insists that all the members of “Enigma’s” crew dress in jumpsuits during the shoot, he spells the word “expedition” wrong on the back of the uniforms. Instead of a twenty-four inch version of Stone Hedge, there is a miniature Loch Ness model that appears to be made out of garbage bags. Rather than speakers that go up to 11, the “Enigma” crew sets sail on the Discovery IV (Never mind that there was never a I, II, or III, the fictional Penn simply “liked the sound” of Discovery IV).

The Discovery’s crew includes Herzog, Penn, soundman Russell Williams, cinematographer Gabriel Beristain, and some assorted wacky characters like an overzealous “crypto-zoologist,” a sonar expert/bikini model, and a crotchety local ship captain. Tension develops quickly as Herzog becomes suspicious of Penn’s intentions for the film, while everyone is exasperated with the crypto-zoologist, who is the only one that believes Nessie might actually exist. Soon, strange things are appearing in the water, and the line between what is real and what is fiction becomes blurred.

The first half of “Incident at Loch Ness” squarely hits its mark, poking fun at all the ass kissing and schmoozing of the Hollywood pre-production process and the needless absurdity of falsely manufactured drama. When the film becomes a sort of horror/adventure in the final third, it looses a little steam. The movie’s structure is committed to the documentary form and is interspersed with post-incident interviews. From those interviews we can predict who will live and who will die, thus tempering the mystery, and we are left with a climax much less exciting than it should be. Though, in all fairness, the Nessie special effects are pretty impressive, especially for a low budget, art house mockumentary.

The collaboration between the fictional Herzog and Penn is no more curious than the real life pairing. How did Penn convince Herzog this movie was going to work? What was it that attracted Herzog to the story? Was it for the exact same reasons he describes on camera? I don’t know the answers, but I do know I have a new level of respect for Werner Herzog. And who would have ever thought I would be looking forward to the next project by one Zak Penn, writer of “Inspector Gadget?”

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originally posted: 10/30/04 00:50:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

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9/14/07 DC zak Penn is NO Christopher Guest. one of Werner's collection of BIG misses 1 stars
9/18/06 vice prezident that was awesome but wtf^ with that fake plastic monster they through in werner rocks 5 stars
5/26/06 Elisha Marr I didn't like the movie at all. Even for a hoax, it was WAY too scripted. 2 stars
11/28/05 ALBERT a good joke! 4 stars
5/24/05 Indrid Cold Moderately funny mockumentary. Herzog arrogantly assumes we know the myths surrounding him. 3 stars
9/26/04 Gray "prove to me its not..."=unscientific 3 stars
9/18/04 Fat Bastard this film rocks 5 stars
8/30/04 Sean Clarkson funny and entertaining, I went into it without any expectations I loved it! 5 stars
8/12/04 Sally Rover An inspired thought-provoking film that challenges our ideas of myth and cinema! 5 stars
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  17-Sep-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 01-Mar-2005



Directed by
  Zak Penn

Written by
  Zak Penn

  Werner Herzog
  Jeff Goldblum
  Michael Karnow
  Zak Penn
  Pietro Scalia

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