Jul 23, 2014

Review: Kon-Tiki (2012)

Kon-Tiki is a take on the famed voyage that Norwegian ethnographer/explorer Thor Heyerdahl undertook in 1947. With only a raft, some supplies and a small crew, he sailed from South America to Polynesia which is a total distance of 8,000 km. The guy couldn't even swim! That's insanity right there but obviously it was a success because the man lived until his 87th birthday and went on many other ill advised voyages in non-modern boats and rafts.

Kon-Tiki is based off of Thor Heyerdahl's 1948 book The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas. There was also a documentary that was released in 1950 directed by Thor Heyerdahl himself during the expedition which I really want to watch. The 2012 Kon-Tiki is a dramatization of all these events but I think it's definitely a story that has the potential to make an interesting movie. It was even nominated in the foreign language categories for both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.


Genre: adventure, history
Directed by: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg  
Produced by: Jeremy Thomas, Aage Aaberge  
Written by: Petter Skavlan, Allan Scott  
Music by: Johan Söderqvist  
Running time: 118 minutes
Production company: Nordisk Film  
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company  
Country: Norway
Language: Norwegian, English
Budget:  93,000,000 NOK ($15,500,000)
Box office: $22,842,887 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Odd-Magnus Williamson, Agnes Kittelsen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Jakob Oftebro, Tobias Santelmann




Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen) has been working in Polynesia for ten years and has a theory that the natives came over the Pacific Ocean from South America in nothing but rafts. The migration took place around 1,500 years ago and simply put, it's just an incredible discovery because the scientific community believes that the Polynesians came from Asia. Thor is unable to convince anyone of his theory and they scoff at the idea that anyone could sail a raft across the Pacific Ocean. Thor decides to prove them wrong by building his own raft and making the trip himself from Peru to Polynesia with a small crew and some supplies that are donated by the US Army. 


The first thing that needs to be said about Kon-Tiki is that it is extremely well shot. The widescreen lensing that is used gives an impressive sense of scale and shows off the beauty of the locations. The parts of the film that had to be shot in water weren't done in a set, but instead on the open ocean. Not only is that more challenging but it looks incredible. There is some light CGI that is utilized in a few scenes but it's nothing too heavy-handed or unbelievable.

Besides the gorgeous cinematography, Kon-Tiki benefits from great utilization of sound. The sounds of the water, of balsawood logs hitting each other or wind just add up to making Kon-Tiki a very technically proficient film. The soundtrack which was composed by Johan Söderqvist is also really nice and I want a copy.

When it comes to the story of Kon-Tiki though, there aren't really any surprises. I like the way Thor Heyerdahl was introduced and I like the way that despite his confident and winning personality, he gets nervous and he gets scared. There's been some criticism in how the character of Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) was portrayed and presented in the story but I can all the same understand why changes were made to add some drama. (Spoilers) We're made to start seeing Herman Watzinger has a problem even though in actual accounts he apparently was nothing of the sort. There's even a scene where Herman begs to put metal wires around the balsawood logs to reinforce them and protect the raft from falling apart which is something that apparently never happened. (End Spoilers) What this does is make the men on the Kon-Tiki who are already fighting against nature also fight themselves which I thought made for some very taut tensions at certain points. 

I can understand people who dislike the addition of the man vs. man element of the story but I didn't mind it. The tension that we get is well worth the price of the perhaps unoriginal storytelling. Technically speaking, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg have put together a great movie that looks and sounds the part. The changes and additions to the story while questionable had a good effect on the entertainment side and everything was well handled by Kon-Tiki's cast of actors.



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