The classic adventure film has been lacking in the American mainstream in recent years, with most budgets blown on Transformers sequels, young adult fiction trilogies, superhero reboots, or Peter Jackson's whims. Even the most recent attempt to revive Indiana Jones couldn't find its footing. Thankfully, into this stale creative landscape arrived Kon-Tiki, the most expensive film ever produced in Norway and one of its most critically acclaimed, nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe as Best Foreign Language Film. (For trivia enthusiasts: It also draws from Kon-Tiki, the 1951 documentary about the same story that won Norway's lone Academy Award to date.)
Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, Kon-Tiki illustrates in stunning color the story of pioneering Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl's epic 1947 expedition from Peru to Polynesia. A movie about a simple boat ride this is not: Heyerdahl, possibly one of the world's last great adventurers, attempted the journey on a balsawood raft constructed using ancient techniques and crude instruments he theorized were employed by indigenous South Americans 1500 years earlier. While Heyerdahl's crew of six men did have some modern day instruments and U.S. Army rations and equipment (an interesting use of American tax dollars after WWII), the raft's design was primitive and provided little protection from the elements of the open sea, including storms, sharks, and even flying fish.
Nordic Lights Film Festival
March 2 & 5
Directors: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Producers: Aage Aaberge, Jeremy Thomas
Writers: Petter Skavlan, Allan Scott
Cinematographer: Geir Hartly Andreassen
Editors: Per-Erik Eriksen, Martin, Stoltz
Music: Johan Söderqvist
Cast: Pål Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Tobias Santelmann, Gustaf Skarsgård, Odd Magnus Williamson, Jakob Oftebro, Agnes Kittelsen, Peter Wight
Premiere: August 18, 2012 – Norwegian International Film Festival
US Theatrical Release: April 26, 2013
US Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Heyerdahl's mission was to prove that Polynesia was first settled from the East, but as interesting an ethnological artifact as that may be for history fans, Kon-Tiki's cinematic strength and appeal is drawn from its anthropological study of the human spirit. Heyerdahl is an indomitable force, and Norwegian actor Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen (who also starred in Max Manus, the war epic also directed by Rønning and Sandberg) delivers a remarkable performance in capturing his headstrong character's insatiable appetite for adventure and accomplishment. The rest of the cast are terrific in their respective roles, hitting the right notes at mostly the right time when the story calls for a bit of drama, humor, or horror. Little can be done with a true story about some of the more predictable plot elements, but Rønning and Sandberg maintain a level of suspense by occasionally taking some dramatic license (which they were not surprisingly criticized for back home).
That the film's $16 million production budget is Norway's highest ever says a lot about the waste that exists in the Hollywood studio system; an original American version of the same film was being prepped with $80 million in mind. And it's not as though Rønning and Sandberg cut corners—the CGI animation, stunts, production design and cinematography are outstanding, particularly one scene transition that hypnotically transports viewers from the ocean to the heavens and back down again (Gravity, eat your heart out). Kon-Tiki is the ultimate champagne film made on a beer budget, and deserves to be seen on the big screen. If you have that chance, run, don't walk, to experience an adventure that will leave you invigorated in a way that you forgot movies still could.