Director: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg

Stars: Pål Sverre Hagen, Tobias Santelmann

Release Company: Weinstein Company

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Sandberg: Kon-Tiki

Growing up in the 1950s I was fascinated with dinosaurs, nature, and adventure. One book I devoured was Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki that detailed his incredible journey across the Pacific to prove his ideas about Pre-Columbian ocean travel were possible. I read it at least twice--partly to refresh my memory for a grade school book report, but mostly because I loved it. 

What an adventure!  Imagine believing in your ideas so much that you'd risk your life floating on a primitive balsa wood raft constructed with NO modern tools!  Trusting that the ocean current would carry you 5,000 miles while you survived circling sharks, storms, and possible starvation.  I never considered potential boredom; the journey Heyerdahl described dripped with excitement!

So I was instantly struck when seeing movie notices for a new rendition of Kon-Tiki. Recalling a childhood icon can be a double-edged sword, however. High anticipation frequently leads only to disappointment.

Happily, directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg translate the script of Petter Skavlan and Allan Scott into a credible account. Consider the circumstances of the journey:

  • The National Geographic Society initially passed on sponsoring Heyerdahl's epic 1947 journey
  • It occurred before the U.S. and Russia began the space race in earnest
  • This raft sailed over a decade before Gene Rodenberry created his Star Trek mission to go where no man has gone before!

The film deftly draws essential backstory sequences--an opening icebreaker to show Heyerdahl's non-swimming abilities and incidents on Fatu Hiva that form the basis of his theory about pre-historic ocean travel. Given bits of oral tradition and puzzling edible plants common to both South America and the South Pacific, Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen) is convinced that the two civilizations are linked. The raft itself takes its name from an ancient Inca sun god.

The film smoothly transitions to familiar terrain, as Heyerdahl gathers a motley crew of Norwegians who trust him sufficiently to take on this crazy venture. They agree to his uncompromising demand that ONLY primitive materials be used for the raft (outside non-essential modern equipment like a camera, radio, and sextant). Although not overtly a religious film, it's clearly evident that this journey requires incredible faith.

The filmmakers even channel Terrence Malik in one amazing sequence to emphasize the mission's spiritual nature--the camera pans skyward to a grand pantheon of stars before descending through the atmosphere and returning to the tiny vessel.

This film refuses to exploit modern technology for a special effects extravaganza and it remains amazingly steadfast to Heyerdahl's actual narrative. So in one sense, the film remains relatively ordinary--with inevitable dangers of weather, sea, and sharks. But this is based on a true man vs. nature journey captained by a determined visionary, so the glimpses gained are more than worth its two-hour viewing time.

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