Kon-Tiki (2012)

Director:  Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg
Cast:  Pål Sverre HagenAnders Baasmo Christiansen,Gustaf Skarsgård 
Plot:  Legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal's epic 4,300-mile crossing of the Pacific on a balsawood raft in 1947, in an effort prove that it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.

Genre:  Adventure / History
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Film
Runtime:  118min
Rating:  PG13 for a disturbing violent sequence.

“And only a hundred days to go.”

The actor who plays Thor Heyerdahl looks like a cross between Ryan Gosling and the late James Stewart, not that it matters because after more than one hundred days aboard a raft, he is reduced to a hair-full of a face. 

In Kon-Tiki, a Norwegian feature that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, the epic voyage of Thor is recounted, but perhaps told in such a straightforward fashion that all unpredictabilities are fed to the sharks.  It is a conventional adventure with familiar underpinnings that works as a triumphant ode to the human spirit... if you allow it to.  As you may already sense it, the film didn't quite do it for me.

In order to prove that the South Americans first landed on the Polynesian Islands rather than the Asians, Thor attempts to sail (though not alone) across the Pacific on a naturally-built raft from Peru to those islands. 

Call him insane or... showboating, but what he did was recorded in the history books, and was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, which is also called Kon-Tiki (1950).  It is of course contentious if everything that happened in this dramatization of the voyage did actually occur, but that is beside the point.  The point is to marvel at the feat. 

The direction from Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg is assured, and coupled with the quite stunning cinematography, Kon-Tiki is a visual delight.  Of course, there is the use of visual effects, but technology has now caught up with the possibilities of photorealism that it is very difficult to discern which parts are shot or created.  But that does not kill the fun in viewing the film, which is exciting and suspenseful because the voyage is wrought with constant danger (sharks and waves galore!). 

The performances are uniformly good, and the actors are conversant in English, which by the way isn’t dubbed.  You see, the filmmakers took the unusual step of shooting the film in two languages – Norwegian and English.

Survival in the ocean seems to be trending in the last couple of years with films such as the high-profile Life of Pi (2012) by director Lee Ang, and All is Lost (2013) starring Robert Redford, making their way to the cinemas. 

Kon-Tiki is similar (yet different) to those films.  The men onboard the raft made the decision to partake in the voyage in the name of science.  They have to live with the consequences of their decision.  In sum, being marooned in the high seas is indescribably frightening, so Tom Hanks ought to count himself lucky in Cast Away (2000).  Well, sort of.

Verdict:  A conventional storytelling of an extraordinary voyage – it is at once exciting and dangerous, but also predictable and safe.


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