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Review: ‘Kon-Tiki’

by James Croot, from Reviews, May 15 2013,

Based on the true oceanic adventure taken by Thor Heyerdahl, this Golden Globe and Oscar nominated Norwegian film follows the legendary explorer’s 1947 journey across the Pacific in a balsa wood raft.

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Despite a slightly fractured narrative, Norway’s most expensive cinematic undertaking ever is very much a film of two halves (even the soundtrack changes from piano schmaltz to naturalistic, near silence) with the first part involving Thor Heyerdahl (Hagen) attempting to get to his journey’s start line, and the second out on the open ocean. It’s there where, naturally enough, comparisons will be made with Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. And, amazingly for a film that cost a fraction of Pi’s budget and eschewed using a tank, it stacks up pretty well visually, with off-centre angles and on-the-surface shots really giving the audience a sense of what little stood between the adventurers and the briny blue.

Some of the episodic encounters look and feel similar, but what sets Kon-Tiki apart in these scenes is a nice line in gallows humour as our weary explorers’ beards get more bedraggled, their spirits begin to waver and mistakes are made (but quite how they confused tomato soup with shark repellent is anyone’s guess). Of course it probably helped the filmmakers immensely that Heyerdahl filmed the voyage himself, footage that won an Academy Award back in 1951. To their credit, though, this is not simply a faithful recreation or hagiographic biopic, but rather widens the focus to include the toll Heyerdahl’s obsession had on his marriage and how his blind faith extended to his less-than-appropriate crewmates.