Old 04-25-2013, 03:35 PM
Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg's Kon-Tiki

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Kon-Tiki (2013)

In 1947, a Norwegian by the name of Thor Heyerdahl set off with five crewmates on an epic journey from Peru in an attempt to prove that it was possible to sail all the way to Polynesia on a simple balsa wood raft. This was quite an undertaking considering that the two locations are around 5,000 miles apart. Even the idea of it sounds a little crazy, and indeed, that’s the initial reception that Thor receives from just about everyone.

Thor’s (Pal Sverre Hagen) idea originates from a conversation he has with a local on the island of Fatu Hiva, the location of one of his long-term expeditions, who tells him that Polynesia was originally populated by people from the East. From there, he seeks to gain funding for the trip from magazines like National Geographic and publishers, all of whom think the idea is absurd. He even has trouble convincing anyone to join his crew, that is, until an engineer, Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), happens to overhear his conversation and volunteers. Eventually, other friends and acquaintances join up, and with the help of a little funding from a high-ranking Peruvian official, the plan finally comes together.

As you can imagine, this is meant to be an incredibly inspiring story of a few brave men overcoming the odds to prove that a nearly-impossible task could be completed with some very basic equipment. It accomplishes this is part, but what the film doesn’t do particularly well is pull you into the adventure. This is an epic journey that these men are undertaking, one that will change history should they arrive at their destination. However, with the journey being as uneventful as it turns out to be, was it really worth the trouble of bringing it to film?

The film begins in an intriguing way, as Thor is attempting to bring his plan to fruition. With all of his determination, you can’t help but root for him to accomplish his goals, but strangely enough, this ends up being the most engaging part of the film. Once our heroes hit the open water, you can easily begin to predict what kind of perils they will face (pretty much the same perils that any crew would face in the open ocean on a flimsy vessel). This, of course, includes stormy weather, sharks, a little bit of hysteria, and for the climax, a reef. Nothing out of the ordinary and nothing particularly gripping.

What the second half of the film does have to offer are some amazing visuals. The raft itself is an amazing bit of construction, featuring a cabin for the men to sleep in, a couple of layers of thick logs, sails, and a rudder. It became their home for 101 days, making it even more surprising that they didn’t all go a little batty after a while. The crew encounters whales, sharks, and even a bird that was a gift for their voyage, all making for some particularly striking imagery. While not much is going on in this part of the film, it at least has these to fall back on.

One thing that I would have liked to have seen developed a little more was Thor’s relationship with his wife, Liv (Agnes Kittelsen). In the first half, we can tell that their relationship isn’t a particularly strong one, especially when he has to tell her that he’s not coming home before heading out on his journey to Polynesia. In the second half, she’s almost entirely forgotten about until the end of the film. I suppose this was unavoidable given where Thor is, but it could have been given a little more attention than the quick conclusion we’re given at the end.

You do have to admire Thor and his crew for the bravery that was required to fulfill such a journey. It takes guts to travel 5,000 miles across the open ocean in an attempt to make a trip that you’re not even sure can be accomplished. Even when things look particularly bad, causing one of the crew to beg Thor to use modern materials to reinforce their raft, he refuses, determined to stick to the plan of using only what the original travelers had in the making of the craft.

It’s an interesting idea for a film, but again, the question nags at me as to why they went to all the trouble of making it given the rather standard events that take place during the voyage. It’s an important historical event and certainly worthy of being discussed and analyzed, but as far as making an engaging film out of the material, they were left with a somewhat difficult task. In the attempt, “Kon-Tiki” ends up being a little underwhelming, lacking the strength that such a story deserves. There are parts of it that work pretty well, but sadly, more often than not, it leaves you feeling adrift. 2.5/4 stars.
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