Norway's most expensive cinematic production to date, "Kon-Tiki" (2012) is about one of the greatest sea voyages of the 20th century. The movie re-enacts the real-life ventures of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl on his legendary 5,000-mile voyage by raft from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. A 1951 documentary titled "Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft" was made by Heyerdahl himself and won the Best Documentary Oscar.
The film starts from Thor's childhood, with a scene in which he almost drowns in a frozen pond. Then it shifts to 1937, where the grown-up naturalist Thor (Pal Sverre Hagen) resides in Polynesia and imagines himself as a new Darwin. His lives with his beautiful wife Liv (Agnes Kittelsen) and among the natives. The couple is subjected to many kinds primitive tropical hardships. Thor Heyerdahl is not only shown as a eccentric character but also as a guy, who is largely oblivious of the feelings of others.
Over the years he has developed a theory (which was considered unconventional and rejected by every publisher in New York) -- that 1,500 years earlier, the Polynesian islands were not discovered by Asians, as was the accepted belief of the day, but by South American Incas. He proposed that, they made nearly 5,000-mile trek through often-rough seas to their destination by the guidance of their god Tiki. Thor's travels to New York but his trusted sponsor turns down the chance to underwrite his proposed 4,000-mile trek.
Disapproved by scientific community, Thor sets out to prove his theory by sailing the 4,300-mile route from Peru to Polynesia himself. He decides to make the journey using only materials available thousands of years ago. He recruits three Norwegians (radio operator Knute, a sailor named Erik and Herman, a former refrigerator salesman and engineer) and one eccentric Swedish guy, who is the camera operator. As the movie grows on us, so does the characters, especially Thor—showing the odd contrasts, childish but brash and oblivious to the needs and problems of everyone else, including the wife and son he deserted back home.
Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg get the facts down efficiently in an well researched array of details. The real journey might be the documentation of lulling repetitions of everyday life (like catching fish, cooking, sending out radio messages ) with few hazards here and there. Whereas, the film-makers, through their filter, makes every mishap to near-catastrophic scope to heighten the stakes (the violent story, an incident in which their on-board parrot, Lorita, bites through a radio wire, and the danger of omnipresent sharks). Though the film succeeds as a sheer epic spectacle, it misses out the hallucinatory surreality that comes with spending 101 days marooned at sea.
In the film, there are many petty squabbles among the crew. Heyerdahl struggles to maintain his authority and engineer Watzinger repeatedly falls into panics. A lot of these dramatic accounts aren’t even true. The real-life crew had an impeccable harmony and the real-life Watzinger was a handsome and capable scientist who served in the elite Norwegian Royal Guard. All these may undermine the movie's esteem as an educational tool, there's no denying its status as a rousing and thoroughly enjoyable adventure.
The technical aspects of "Kon-Tiki" are excellent and was beautifully shot by Geir Hartly Andreassen (Locations across Norway, Maldives, Thailand and Malta are gorgeously shot). The film finishes with an epilogue reminding us that adventures distract us from life’s challenges but do not erase them. Most historians and anthropologists still remain skeptical about the theory of east-to-west migration across the Pacific, but there’s much to admire in this adventure -- a man who never veered from the course he set.
Devoid of meaningful character explorations, "Kon-Tiki" is an excellent visual treat than a visceral one.
Kon-Tiki Expedition -- Wikipedia
Kon-Tiki -- IMDb