This inventive documentary features the renown German director Werner Herzog on the trail of the fabled Loch Ness Monster. Herzog and his elite documentary crew travel to Scotland to begin production. On the first day, Producer Zak Penn encourages the entire crew to wear the awful jump suits they would wear if they were characters in an ocean melodrama. Later, the crew discovers Penn has secretly hired an exotic-looking actress in a string bikini to operate the boat's sonar system. By the time the crew catches a glimpse of a mysterious shape moving through the water, Herzog believes that it must be Penn, again, tinkering with the "reality" of the documentary by creating false drama.
Directed by: Zak Penn
. Starring: Werner Herzog
, Kitana Baker
, Gabriel Beristain
, Russell Williams II
, David A. Davidson
, Michael Karnow
, Robert O'Meara
, Zak Penn
, Steven Gardner
, John Bailey
, Matthew Nicolay
, Tanja Koop
, Marty Signore
. Music by: Henning Lohner
Christopher Guest is the master of the mockumentary. Werner Herzog is one of many documentary greats out there. Zak Penn isn't good at either but he could certainly take a lesson from the other two. Guest often plays around with reality and fiction but the line between the two is always clear in his films, sort of an essential with a mockumentary. Penn could also take a lesson from the The Blair Witch Project. Even though you knew it was a fake documentary going in you totally bought into the world the filmmakers created. It seems to the audience as if the whole thing is real even though you know, deep down, you're watching fiction. In other words, it was fiction successfully disguised as truth. In fact many early audiences watching it, at Sundance and other premiere audiences thought it was real. Penn, whose forte, by his own admission, is screen writing, should probably stick to that. Documentary or mockumentary film-making (and it's hard to tell where one begins and the other ends with this film) is obviously not.
Penn sets the stage for what he tries to sell as a legit documentary on the filming of a documentary, sort of a meta-documentary. Penn, however, confuses the audience, and loses their trust, from the get-go as he enters Herzog's house before the filming of Herzog's film, "Enigma of Loch Ness" about the myth of the Loch Ness monster (a film which apparently was never finished probably because of Penn's interference). Even though Penn is apparently the director of the film we're watching, he starts it by looking at the cameras and saying, "What is the film crew doing here?" and starts shying away from them. He does this on a couple other occasions as well. He will stop and tell the cameras to stop filming, thus forcing the camera guy to hide in the shadows to pick up snippets of dialogue between Herzog and Penn. It seems to be a gimmick, but that is never made clear, and Penn is apparently keeping us in the dark intentionally. This leaves the audience scratching its head wondering, "Who is in charge here?" If Penn is working against his own film crew what kind of a world are we a part of? This is just one of many examples of how he confuses the line between reality and fiction.
Penn seems to only fully enter the fictional world (I think) when the crew has sightings of what appears to be the Loch Ness monster. But by the time the monster makes its first appearance we have totally exited the fictional world Penn has attempted to create, so it all just seems silly and pointless.
This is a potentially fascinating movie and a real missed opportunity in that Penn has a chance to document a master at work, but completely loses focus and it becomes a movie about Penn and his antics instead of the filming of a documentary. Penn's presence begins to pervade and overshadow everything else in the movie.
The Herzog interviews are convincing and we actually believe he isn't acting. We even start to wonder if he and others on his crew are being duped by Penn, much the way the audience is, but you're never sure of even that. Penn, in his interviews to the camera, attempts to be quirky and unintentionally funny, like the characters interviewed in a Guest mockumentary, but he only succeeds in being annoying. In a Guest film this effect is hilarious, while here it falls flat because you're never sure what Penn is about. As a result we, the audience, start to dislike him as much as the crew apparently does. Aside from the beautiful scenery and the superfluous appearance, out of nowhere, of a beautiful model, thrown in to give the movie spice, there is little to recommend here. Perhaps its only redeeming quality (an unintentional one at that) is that it's a great example of why the audience is important; and by completely ignoring the conventions of storytelling your doing them a disservice. For that reason alone I think this would be a good film to show to film students sort of a "what not to do" kind of movie. I have nothing against a movie told in an unconventional way as long it's done skillfully, with a thematic base to give it substance. This film is completely lacking in that.
I'd like to call it a valiant effort at something, but I'm not sure what it is, other than a complete mess and ultimately a waste of time.
(As a side note: It seems like bad art always calls to mind good. This film made me think of the book "Picture" by Lillian Ross. Ross followed John Huston around during the filming of "The Red Badge of Courage" and brilliantly documented it for the New Yorker. It would make a great movie in fact. If you want a great example of meta-art, read it.).
Review by bcdc39 from the Internet Movie Database.