I have an affinity for films and shows that involve being stranded on an island, or finding ones self in a desperate situation in the middle of the sea after something like a ship sinking. I don’t know why–perhaps it is to see someone survive without modern comforts and vicariously experience the adventure and danger therein, or perhaps it is because I was introduced to Robinson Crusoe at a very young age. All things considered, a film about six men traveling months at a time on a simple raft should be right up my alley, and while the story itself was up to scratch, the film was not.
Kon-Tiki is based on a true story, from book, documentary, and personal accounts of Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen), a scientist of the 1940s who wanted to prove that Polynesia was populated not my Asians as the world believed, but by Africans. No respectable publisher or scientist would give him the time of day and told him the only way for anyone to take his theory seriously would be for him to make the trip across the sea from Peru himself. National Geographic would have none of it, and although he had no money, Thor got together a crew and congregated in Peru where he convinced the government it would be worthwhile to finance their mission.
They built a balsawood raft precisely as it would have been built, using no modern technology to construct it, and set out on a 4,300 mile crossing. The crew is briefly introduced to us: Thor is the ever optimistic and never doubting scientist, Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) is an engineer turned refrigerator salesman who is controlled by fear, Knut Haugland (Tobias Santelmann) is a war hero obsessed with his parrot, Bengt Danielsson (Gustaf Skarsgård) is the photographer, Erik Hesselberg (Odd Magnus Williamson) is the only one who has been to sea before, and Torstein Raaby (Jakob Oftebro) is the young adventurous one who works the radio. We never learn more about the characters than this, really, and that is one of the big faults in Kon-Tiki.
What could have been a three hour adventure in which we get to know each character as I am sure they got to know each other in their 101 day sailing across the sea, we only get a hour and a half, most of which documents their adventures with sharks, whales, and glowing sea creatures. Most of the film they are trying to find the southern current that will take them toward Polynesia, and there is one dramatic moment in which they must go over or around a reef. All things considered, the film was shot beautifully, the introduction was well done and exactly as it should be, but the raft ride itself was a bit lacking. We saw a lot of Watzinger’s fear and Thor’s struggle to captain him. Their raft was absorbing water, and while this would probably be a big concern in reality, as would their inability to catch the current, only Watzinger seems to take these things seriously (although perhaps too seriously).
I enjoyed the film, but it did not give me enough. The run time wasn’t enough for the characters, so instead they chose three of the seven to focus on–one being the sea–and left it as good. Although there is one terrific scene involving a nail biting encounter with sharks, the rest of their adventures that should have been exciting were somewhat dull. In the sequences they chose to dwell on, their timing was exquisite. The colors and contrasts were beautiful, both in Norway in the beginning, but especially in their raft trip, alone on the big blue sea.
As the film is only an hour and a half, and it depicts a bit of history that is brave and encouraging, I would recommend this film. It certainly isn’t my favorite, but the good scenes were magnificent, while its short comings kept it from being well rounded. If you have ever read the book or seen the documentary, this is probably one movie you should add to your Netflix list.