Sunday, April 21, 2013

“Kon Tiki” – Movie Review



This weekend, my movie class had a bonus screening of “Kon Tiki”, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.



Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sets out on an expedition to prove that the Polynesian Islands were settled by South Americans.  



In the late 1930’s, adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his wife spent time living in Polynesia in order to learn more about the people, their customs and their culture.  Heyerdahl’s curiosity is aroused when he starts finding various artifacts that suggest they might have come from another land long ago.  Thus begins a decade-long obsession with researching and writing about these findings to assert that the Polynesian Islands were in fact settled by South Americans, most likely from Peru.

Heading to New York City in late 1946, Heyerdahl presents a manuscript to a prospective book publisher who is skeptical of his theories about the settling of Polynesia.  Of particular question is how someone from South America could make an almost 5000 mile trip by sea in the days long before ships had been invented.  Deciding to make the trip himself, Heyerdahl pays a visit to the office of National Geographic magazine to propose a series of articles for them on this very trek – in exchange, they would help to fund the excursion.  The magazine declines. 

Ultimately, Heyerdahl winds up borrowing some money to buy materials to build the raft and heads off to Peru to begin construction with five other men whom he’s enlisted to accompany him on this journey.  Meeting with the Peruvian government, he is able to convince them to help finance the trip – and they in turn get the United States Navy to contribute supplies.  With the raft constructed, the team sets sail on the beginning of a trip they estimate will last over three months.  But can they and their flimsy raft survive storms, sharks and a potential mutiny?



Perhaps the most remarkable thing about “Kon Tiki” is the fact that the film itself isn’t terribly  noteworthy.  Upon his return, Heyerdahl assembled the notes from his journal into a book which was extremely successful – translated into 70 languages, it sold over 50 million copies and changed the explorer’s life forever.  The footage recorded onboard the raft was released as a documentary which then went on to win an Academy Award in 1951.  This version of “Kon Tiki” seems to be trying to piggyback off that success and it’s something of a puzzle to me as to why it was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film this year. 

While the film does a reasonable job of keeping the adventure going at a good clip so you don’t get bored watching six guys on a raft for two hours, you can’t help but wonder how much of what’s presented in this dramatization was based on actual fact and how much of it was merely the invention sprouting from a screenwriter’s fertile imagination.  At the heart of it, maybe that’s the problem – throughout the movie, you can’t help but wish that you were really watching the documentary as opposed to this fairy tale version.  Essentially, the movie failed for me because it was being haunted by its own ghost. 

As part of the lecture accompanying this screening, our instructor told us some interesting trivia about the shooting of “Kon Tiki”:  there were apparently two versions that were shot – one in Norwegian and one in English.  Naturally, we saw the English version.  Supposedly this came about because although “Kon Tiki” was produced by a Scandinavian company, one of the financial backers of the movie was so insistent that it be shot in English that they threatened to withdraw funding if their wishes were not respected.  The result was the filmmakers wound up shooting the entire motion picture twice – once in Norwegian and once in English.  


Kon-Tiki (2012) on IMDb 7.2/1010,812 votes7.2/1010,830 votes7.2/1010,830 votes

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