I lapped up Thor Heyerdahl’s book as a teenager and, whilst I had a personal preference for ‘Aku Aku’, it was always clear to me that the true story of his insanely foolhardy journey aboard the Kon-Tiki would make for good cinema fodder.
For those who don’t know, in 1947 Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl, one of the last great explorers, set out to prove that Polynesia was settled by Peruvians 1500 years ago. The problem with this theory was that Peruvians didn’t traditionally build boats. They did, however, build rafts. Thus, with half a dozen other men, Thor set out to drift from Peru to Polynesia on a raft made of balsawood.
The whole endeavour was so damn crazy that it’s surprising the film hasn’t been made until now. Apparently Heyerdahl was reluctant to let his story be adapted for the screen, which is perhaps understandable (and especially so in this case, considering that his own documented feature on the voyage won an Academy Award back in the day).
The film is a European co-production, and whilst the cast is filled with Norwegians, the dialogue is in English. You’d think that if you hailed from Norway, you’d be mightily pissed off at this fact, but it turns out that they filmed every scene twice, once in Norwegian and once in English. It’s a slick film that features many impressive visual effects, particularly in the scenes featuring sharks.
Speaking of sharks, it’s these moments that are the highlight of the film. As a tense thriller, Kon-Tiki truly excels. It’s such a pity then that such sequences take up less than a quarter of the film. The rest of the time, the script comes across as overly corny and/or simplistic. There’s an initial rush to get the journey underway that simply feels forced, despite the best efforts of Pål Sverre Hagen as Heyerdahl, and the film is in such a rush to get to the ‘good bits’ that we miss some of the minutiae of life at sea that made reading the book such a gritty, tactile experience.
Hagen effortlessly portrays the foolish determination of the headstrong Heyerdahl, whilst Anders Baasmo Christians excels at playing the least experienced member of the expedition, the engineer/refrigerator salesman, Herman. The rest of the Kon-Tiki’s crew do a good job but their characters suffer a little from lack of depth.
Kon-Tiki is an uneven film that isn’t quite as good as it could have been. There are, however, some excellent scenes that are worth the price of admission.Rating: