Film Review: Kon-Tiki

Handsomely produced but indifferently scripted account of one of the most legendary sea voyages.

This squad of handsome, buff, blue-eyed blonds could be a bunch of models for an Aryan Youth poster, as photographed by Bruce Weber. What they are, in fact, is the crew of the raft Kon-Tiki, captained by the visionary Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen), which made its legendary 1947 journey from Peru to Polynesia, proving that it was indeed true that it was South Americans, not Asians, using a similar conveyance, who first settled there, arriving from the east.

For those who love seafaring tales of adventure with the tang of salty air practically wafting through the theatre, Kon-Tiki is highly recommended and is certainly less static than the second half of Life of Pi. Co-directors Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg have helmed it with an abundance of loving care and respect and it has been magnificently photographed by Geir Hartly Andreassen, who achieves some awesome underwater effects involving the various monsters which lurk beneath the raft and threaten it. A basic problem, however, is that those sharks and whales too often dominate the film, which gives devastatingly short shrift to the actual men aboard. It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t trust the audience to become involved in their backstories, as well as more of the technical aspects of the journey, and decided to deliver “adventure,” instead.

Although he ironically cannot swim, Heyerdahl, as played by Hagen, is the epitome of Gary Cooper-ish stoic heroism, with prescient visions in his baby-blues that we mere mortals can only guess at. The rest of the crew, apart from engineer Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), who provides traditional, comically incompetent relief as a chubby bumbler who never should have signed on in the first place, are completely interchangeable. The fact that you never really get to know any of them—their backgrounds or families—diminishes your caring about their survival.

Johan Söderqvist’s score tries to fill in the gaps in the screenplay but only succeeds in being overloaded, blustery and obvious, like imitation Max Steiner. Everything should come together with the climactic, triumphant sighting of land but the finale falls strangely flat, and the film wraps itself up too quickly with shots of the men partying at the biggest luau ever. End titles supply more information about what happened to them and, indeed, finally give them some real individualization, but it would have been preferable to see, and not read all about it. In short, this film, for all the money spent (as Norway’s most expensive movie to date) and dazzling visual scope, only makes you yearn to see the Oscar-winning documentary which Heyerdahl himself made in 1950.