Incident at Loch Ness (2004)

Rating: B+

Dir: Zak Penn
Star: Werner Herzog, Zak Penn, Michael Karnow, Kitana Baker

What is about Herzog and boats? When he’s not sending mad Conquistadors down the Amazon on one, he’s dragging them over mountains. Or now, cruising up and down Loch Ness, in search of a monster he doesn’t believe exists. His unlikely pairing with producer Penn – who wrote Last Action Hero – is documented by another film crew as they head to Scotland to make Enigma of Loch Ness, a documentary about the monster myth. Only, Penn and Herzog differ sharply on how ‘real’ things should be, summed up by Penn’s hiring of Baker, best known as one of the Miller Lite catfight girls, to play a sonar operator [Herzog’s reaction to the discovery his film has been invaded by a Playboy model is priceless]. As shooting proceeds, things spiral down into barely-controlled chaos…and beyond.

It’s difficult to say more, because basically, the less specific detail you know, the more effective this will be. “I’ve always been very interested in the difference between fact and truth,” Herzog says early on, and that’s a good touchstone for much of the film. It’s almost impossible to tell what is real, what is staged, and what is utterly fake. Is it a prank by Penn? Is Herzog in on the joke too, or is it another case of his well-known, obsessive approach to cinema? Towards the end, this does (literally) go overboard, and the best moments are subtler ones, such as Penn muttering that at least they aren’t pulling a boat over a hill. Herzog plays himself brilliantly; Penn occasionally hits a false note as the “asshole producer”, but on the whole it’s a smart, funny rumination on documentary film-making, perhaps the best since Ghostwatch.