Although the 1950 documentary of Thor Heyerdahl’s epic 4,300 mile Pacific journey was compelling enough to earn an Oscar win, this 2012 cinematic effort from directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg brings the story of Kon-Tiki to a whole new generation. Less raw than the documentary, Kon-Tiki paints a portrait of Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen) as a stubborn and rebellious young man who defies authority in the quest for answers. That being said, the highlight of Kon-Tiki remains the journey itself, although the colorful cast certainly makes the ride all the more enjoyable. For those who who are interested in picking up the Blu-ray in the hopes of discovering more historical information, there’s only a cursory look at the events of the real Kon-Tiki and the original documentary is, sadly, not included. Hit the jump for my Blu-ray review.
Written in part by Petter Skavlan after a number of drafts from previous screenwriters, Kon-Tiki is a dramatic look at Heyerdahl’s quest to prove that Polynesia was, in fact, settled by people of Peru rather than Asia. (The film leaves out the fact that Heyerdahl’s ethnocentric view presumed that these settlers were descendants of early European voyagers, ie tall, white, bearded men who were eventually chased out of Peru.) Even though the filmmakers take some dramatic license with the story, it’s odd that these moments occasionally underwhelm (ie a mention of a non-existent maelstrom to the south of the Galapagos Islands that is feared but never shown), while smaller, throw-away scenes – such as a crewman’s reveal of smuggled metal cable due to his fear that indigenous rope won’t be enough to hold the raft together – do more to portray Heyerdahl as having complete faith in his theory, even though this account is historically inaccurate. Basically, if you want to make an historically accurate historical drama, get your details right; if you want to make an action-adventure inspired by historical events, up the adrenaline value. 2012’s Kon-Tiki is stuck somewhere in between.
That being said, Kon-Tiki remains a timeless story of overcoming adversity, not only that of the established scientific authority but of the brutal elements of nature itself. The crew members of the balsa wood raft each exhibit their own particular eccentricities, fears and confessions over the course of the 101-day journey, revealing to the audience that their lives really are on the line. Shark attacks and sudden storms aside, just surviving the journey without starving or suffering dehydration would have been trying enough in real life, but a somewhat less interesting ride for theater-going audiences.
Kon-Tiki was not only Norway’s most expensive production to date, it was rewarded with the country’s highest box office return in 2012. The film also earned both an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe nod here in the States. For those who haven’t read Heyerdahl’s accounts or seen his 1950 documentary, 2012’s Kon-Tiki should make for a good introductory watch.
In addition to the English-language version, the Oscar-nominated Norwegian version of the film is also available. Unfortunately, the original documentary is not.
Kon-Tiki: The Incredible True Story (~25 min)
Hosted by Maria Menounos (for some reason) and featuring commentary from Matt Lauer (again, for some reason) and fashion designer, Diane von Fürstenberg (…), this look into the historical account of Heyerdahl also features co-directors Rønning and Sandberg, screenwriter Skavlan, Hagen on playing Heyerdahl, and producer Jeremy Thomas on the long road to bringing the right story of Kon-Tiki to the screen. It’s not the most in-depth look back in history, but it’s a start.
Visual Effects Featurette (~10 min)
Without any dialogue or interviews, this behind-the-scenes featurette takes a look at the numerous effects shots throughout the film. They include the digital replacement of cityscapes and landscapes, rendering of the various animals throughout the film, selection of the film’s color palette and other visual effects.