KON-TIKI. Starring Pål Sverre Haggen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Agnes Kittelsen, Gustaf Skarsgard, Jacob Oftebro. Directed by Joachim Roenning, Espen Sandbery. 118 minutes. Retd M (mature themes and violence).
Older audiences may remember the stories of Thor Heyerdahl’s epic journey on a balsa raft across the Pacific from Peru to French Polynesia to give proof of his theory, derived from Polynesian legends, that ancestors sailed from South America and settled the islands. Theories to that time favoured migration from Asia. Heyerdahl’s expedition took place in 1947, April to August. The film of his voyage won the Oscar for Best Documentary.
So, now the background to the voyage, the voyage itself and the consequences are dramatized over sixty years later.
This is an old-fashioned kind of film, of heroics against the odds, of an indomitable leader who had a vision which no hardships could block. It is a Norwegian production but filmed in English in Scandinavia, Bulgaria, Malta, Thailand and the Maldives. It looks good, with plenty of photography at sea, fish, whales, sharks, phosphorescent creatures.
We are introduced to Heyerdahl as a young boy prepared to take risks, falling through the ice and rescued but refusing to promise his father never to take risks again. Shift to French Polynesia, where Thor and his wife Liv, are living amongst the locals doing ethnographic studies. It is here that Thor discovers the raft voyage of ancestor Tiki 1500 years earlier.
Shift to New York, 1947, where Thor is unsuccessfully trying to persuade editors and publishers to back him. Huge Pepsi Cola neon signs are seen twice seeming to indicate that Pepsi did sponsor the voyage, but it is only product placement sponsoring this film.
Heyerdahl comes from Viking countries. He is tall and blond but not a heavy or hefty build. But, he is determined, assembles some friends in Peru and builds the raft, made only of the materials Tiki would have used. However, they takes some food supplies, a radio and a camera. The point to be made was that this kind of raft could have gone with the tides to Polynesia.
The main part of the film is the voyage itself, storms, menace from a whale, the pursuit by sharks, being becalmed, the logs absorbing water and beginning to rot. There are also the inevitable tensions amongst the men, especially when the engineer harpoons the whale and the danger of capsize, and when one sailor takes a shark aboard the stabs it, the blood drawing other sharks. Audience attention is grabbed particularly at these crisis moments. Otherwise, interest will depend on interest in sailing, in the sea, in Heyerdahl’s single-minded determination.
In the background is the tension between Thor and his wife, his not returning home to his family, his driven life, always on more quests (which he did until his death in 2002).
This film serves as a tribute to Heyerdahl and his crew (who had adventurous lives afterwards as we are informed at the end).
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out: April 11, 2013.