Film Reviews
The crew of the Kon-Tiki face a whale shark in 'Kon-Tiki'

‘Kon-Tiki’: 101 Days in High Water

An excellent high seas family adventure, with truly tense and exciting scenes

The world goes round on the sweat of those who ask “why?”, yet progresses with the exploits of those who wonder “why not?”. Kon-Tiki, a Foreign Film nominee from the 2013 Oscars, tells the tale of a “why not?” Norwegian named Thor Heyerdahl. While he did not possess the strength nor the abilities of the mythological god that shares his name, both characters share the same self determination, stubbornness and love for adventure.

Kon-Tiki in a Nutshell

As the movie explains, the perennially optimistic Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen) lived for a while with his then-girlfriend Liv (Agnes Kittelsen) on Fatu Hiva, one of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. During his stay there, he proposed that the archipelago was not populated by Asian tribes – the prominent theory up to that point – but was in fact settled by Incas that emigrated from South America. His hypothesis and research were rejected. No expert at the time considered it possible to make the long journey across the Pacific Ocean. At least not with the maritime technology of pre-colonial South America. Therefore, in 1947 Thor the Explorer built a boat using only rope and balsa wood, the material the Incas would’ve picked. This in order to silence the skeptics, navigate the currents and demonstrate that trip was indeed possible fifteen hundred years ago.

Somehow Heyerdahl – using his charisma, determination or black-magic – convinced five other individuals to serve as his crew on this dangerous journey. There was Herman Watzinger, a New York refrigerator salesman looking for a change in his life. Erik Hesselberg, a childhood friend of Thor. Bengt Danielsson, an ethnographer who documented the trip with his 16mm film camera. Torstein Raaby, a radio expert. Knut Haugland, a veteran hardened by his experiences during World War II, rounded out the group. With assistance from the government of Peru they built their raft, which they christened Kon-Tiki (the god who came from East Polynesia). They then set sail for a long and risky 101-day journey.

Norwegian explorers have more than one bad day on their ocean adventure in Kon-Tiki. (SOURCE: Nordisk Film.)

A Well-Oiled Crew

Kon-Tiki works surprisingly well. Better still if you’re unfamiliar with the real story, since it makes the film’s twists that much effective. Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, its directors, made the western Bandidas with Salma Hayek and Penélope Cruz. After their latest success at sea, the duo are set to helm Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

It’s no wonder, since Kon-Tiki shows how versed they are on the language of cinema. They know how to craft scenes of pure tension worthy of Steven Spielberg. Rønning and Sandberg spend their first act listing the dangers our Norwegian sailors will face aboard their primitive transport. It’s a strategy similar to what Spielberg does in Jaws.

Some of the movie’s most impressive moments include several run-ins with sharks. There is also an encounter with a whale shark that turns out both awe-inspiring and exasperating. Both of these scenes are completely convincing. My brain could not fathom how they were filmed without the help of visual effects. (They were, of course, which is a compliment to the work of everyone in the VFX Department.) Geir Hartly Andreassen’s cinematography highlights the beauty of every environment showcased in the film, from 1940’s New York City to the lonely open sea.

An Impressive Visual Achievement

Kon-Tiki is a marvelous visual and narrative achievement on par with Life of Pi. Like Ang Lee’s other maritime adventure, the visuals and themes in this movie are suitable for the whole family without being childish. Both also employ classic and effective storytelling techniques. What Kon-Tiki has going for it that it’s based on a true story. There is an Oscar-winning documentary from 1951 that proves it, also called Kon-Tiki. (You can find it after a quick search on the Internet.) There is no reason why the Kon-Tiki expedition should’ve succeeded. Yet Thor Heyerdahl and his crew did. Their story serves as an example of all the wonders man has attained with nothing more than great determination and even greater luck.

FUN FACTS: Kon-Tiki was simultaneously filmed in two versions, one in Norwegian and another in English for international markets. Trailers on the web reveal no significant difference between them. The movie also holds three records: it is Norway’s most expensive film production to date, as well as that country’s highest-grossing film of 2012 and the only Norwegian production to receive both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations in the same year.

Available on Blu-ray and the iTunes Store.

This review was first published on the Revista U website. Click here for the original article (in Spanish).


Movie title: Kon-Tiki

Movie description: An excellent high seas family adventure, with truly tense and exciting scenes.

Date published: 2013-06-20

Director(s): Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg

Actor(s): Pål Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Tobias Santelmann, Gustaf Skarsgård, Odd-Magnus Williamson, Jakob Oftebro, Agnes Kittelsen

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama


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