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Movie Review: Kon-Tiki – Awesome true-life adventure

Posted by on May 3, 2013 – 12:01 am


I love true adventure stories about survival against nature and the elements, and as a kid I devoured tales of ships lost at sea and grizzly bear attacks on unsuspecting campers, as documented in the “Drama in Real Life” section of my school library’s collection of Reader’s Digest magazines. One of my favorite books at that time was Thor Heyerdal’s “Kon-Tiki,” about the explorer’s journey across the ocean on a primitive balsawood raft, and now Heyerdal’s Kon-Tiki has been turned into an awesome feature film dramatizing the determined man’s odyssey.

The English language film Kon-Tiki (which was simultaneously shot in Heyerdal’s Norwegian language, if you prefer that version) is a real treat and for me this is what great movies are all about. It is brilliantly acted and directed, it has intense drama, a fun sense of humor, spectacular adventure and you learn something about history and our world all at the same time. What more could you ask for in a two hour movie?

Kon-Tiki tells the true story of Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdal (Pal Sverre Hagen) and his efforts to prove that the Polynesian people originated from South America and not Asia (which is the more popular theory.) With a name like “Thor,” how could you not be destined for a life of daring adventure? And this dramatic film captures Thor’s daring bravado from an early age when he nearly drowns while jumping between ice patches on a frozen lake in his homeland of Norway.

The movie perfectly captures Heyerdal’s blind courage and dogged determination, risking his life, his wife (Agnes Kittelsen), family, fortune and friends to prove his theories and gain stature and recognition equal to his hero, Charles Darwin. There’s no doubt that history’s explorers required a special kind of stubborn personality, gumption and unwavering commitment to their ideals, and this film wonderfully captures that spirit onscreen.

Kon-TikiIn 1947, Heyerdal assembles a scrappy band of five followers who have faith in him and his theory and the group builds a large raft using the same primitive materials that he hypothesizes the Peruvians used 1,500 years earlier. The team then sets out on the Kon-Tiki (named after the Incan God of the Sun), riding the ocean currents on a 4,300 mile journey west, to prove that the ancient South American people had the ability to travel to the Polynesian islands.

Along the way the six adventurers combat sea-sickness, life-threatening storms, boredom, loss of faith and conflicting personalities – not to mention some nail-biting close encounters with a wide variety of sharks. In fact, this Kon-Tiki film has some of the most amazing shark special effects (I’m assuming composites of practical & CGI FX) that I’ve ever seen.

After 101 days the Kon-Tiki lands in Polynesia after a hair-raising raft-surfing sequence across a dangerous coral reef. Heyerdal proved his theory that the pilgrimage was possible, but to this day the jury is out as to whether or not his hypothesis is probable. Nevertheless, Heyerdal’s odyssey proves that it’s the journey, not the destination or the conclusion, that is important.


Kon-Tiki © Nordisk Film/HanWay Films

This is a wonderful movie in every way, its cast is first rate and the co-direction by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg is superb. Kon-Tiki was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, but as mentioned, the movie I saw was in English (as it was shot in both Norwegian and English at the same time – which had to be a monumental task in itself) so I’m assuming it will be the English version that is released in the United States.

This film is highly recommended and is one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year. I have no idea why it’s just now making its way to the U.S. — but don’t miss it while it’s here. Grade: 9/10

Kon-Tiki plays exclusively at Harkins Camelview starting May 3, 2013.

Photos © Nordisk Film/HanWay Films