Gary Couzens has reviewed the Region 2 release of Loch Ness, a pleasant if mild family film starring Ted Danson and Joely Richardson, which gets a standard MGM back-catalogue edition on disc.
Since St Columba sighted it in AD500, the existence of a monster in Scotland’s deepest lake, Loch Ness, has been the stuff of rumour and legend. Many visitors have visited the Loch in an attempt to solve the mystery, but all have failed. When his predecessor has a fatal accident, an American scientist Dr Jonathan Dempsey (Ted Danson), fresh from hunting the equally legendary Sasquatch, is sent to Scotland on Nessie’s trail. He stays at the Moffat Arms, a B&B owned by single mother Laura (Joely Richardson)…
Although made for the big screen – shot in Scope, no less – and shown that way in Britain and elsewhere, Loch Ness bypassed cinema release in America and debuted on television. That’s a little unfair on the film, as for the most part it’s pleasant, decently made, visually attractive family entertainment…nothing groundbreaking, but on the other hand nothing offensive either. (Except the ending, but I’ll get to that.) It’s certainly a watchable ninety minutes but falls short of total success. This was a Working Title production, a company that had just had the biggest hit of its existence with a romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and as a result this film is an unusual genre combination, a fantasy played as romantic comedy. That wouldn’t be too bad with a different combination of leading actors. Ted Danson and Joely Richardson are quite competent singly, the latter’s Highland accent not seeming out of place, but together they are lacking in chemistry. As a result, the romance plot and the hunt-the-monster plot both tend towards the mild and predictable side and neither is really strong enough to sustain even ninety minutes. The supporting cast are stock types in the subgenre you could define as Highland Whimsy, from Ian Holm’s water bailiff determined to have the loch and its contents undisturbed, to Isabel (Kirsty Graham), Laura’s wise-beyond-her-years nine-year-old daughter. At least young Miss Graham (in her only film to date) plays her character with a pawkiness that wards off the worst of the sentimentality. Ian Holm gets to deliver an anti-science speech that’s a model of setting up a straw man and shooting it down (it’s only good for acid rain, pollution and global warming, don’t you know) which sets up a to-hell-with-science, pro-irrationality plot development at the end, which certainly stuck in my throat. Up to then, Clive Tickner’s photography is an asset to Loch Ness tourism and Trevor Jones’s score sweeps you along. Nessie itself is represented by some fine animatronics from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop – nowadays it would almost certainly be all-CGI and probably lose something in the process.
A product of Working Title’s then output deal with Polygram, Loch Ness finds itself on DVD as a back-catalogue disc from MGM. The disc is encoded for Regions 2 and 4.
Loch Ness is transferred to DVD in a ratio of 2.35:1, anamorphically enhanced. The transfer is a little soft but generally pleasing. Some artefacting is noticeable in lower-light scenes and also a little grain. Shadow detail is fine.
Most of MGM’s back-catalogue discs have a surround-encoded Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack where appropriate. Oddly, Loch Ness, which certainly had a Dolby SR track in the cinema, has a plain 2.0 mix, which only plays as Surround if you set your amp to ProLogic mode. The surrounds tend to be used for the score, though there is some left-and-right separation and occasional directional effects. There are fewer language and subtitle options than on other MGM discs, no doubt a reflection of the territories where MGM hold the rights. There are the standard sixteen chapter stops, a menu with three language options but even so uses symbols instead of words. No extras at all, not even a trailer.
Loch Ness isn’t a waste of your time, but it’s not essential viewing either. As for the DVD itself, it may be worth picking up cheaply, but it’s a typical disc from this distributor nonetheless.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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