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I Saw Kon-Tiki
July 10, 2013Posted by on
I love films about survival against the elements, extreme environmental conditions, man versus nature, and all that good stuff. They are too few and far between, but at least once a year it seems a film comes out that is designed solely to appeal to this taste and sensibility that I possess. Early in 2012, that film was the Liam Neeson survival-themed thriller The Grey, a great film that beautifully captured survival against the cruelest of elements. This year, that film is Kon-Tiki, a Norwegian film directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, which was released into theaters in a limited run at the end of 2012 and a wider run in late spring 2013.
Internationally acclaimed and Norway’s highest grossing film of all time, Kon-Tiki is the Oscar-nominated true story of Thor Heyerdahl and his Northern European compatriots who set out from the coast of Peru in a balsa raft in the spring of 1947. Their intent is to travel from Peru all the way to Polynesia via simple raft, hoping to prove that Peruvians could have settled and colonized the South Pacific first (a theory that most anthropologists, both then and now, believe is wrong). During the perilous journey, Heyerdahl and his crew must face off against the elements of the ocean (including ocean currents, marine wildlife, and treacherous reefs) as well as each other, as the men constantly risk their lives for the sake of the voyage.
Kon-Tiki is incredibly accurate to real life, with some critics noting that the film’s least compelling moments are its inaccurate ones. Even though some real life character traits and actions get switched around between character portrayals, everything makes narrative sense. It helps that the cast and crew chose to film on the open sea rather than on controlled sets for a more heightened sense of realism, which I appreciate. The film was also shot on several locations, including Malta, Thailand, and the Maldives. The notable lack of a green screen is appreciated.
The film is not without its flaws, however. Due to the low budget of the production (Kon-Tiki was made for about 15 million dollars), the CGI scenes with sharks and some ocean life can look fairly cheaply done. The physical props, however, look perfectly fine. Kon-Tiki also runs 118 minutes, most of which are on the ocean with just a few characters, and the length can certainly feel like a hindrance at points. There are quieter character moments which take place before the journey begins, and these are pretty great (such as Thor’s first meeting with Watzinger), and some more of these would have been good. Additionally, I would have liked the film to connect more with Thor’s detractors, who brush him aside at the beginning of the film but aren’t acknowledged much after that.
On the whole I can see why Kon-Tiki has connected the way it has with an international audience. It is a very interesting and fairly accurate description of an amazing true-to-life accomplishment. The men who served on the Kon-Tiki went on to some amazing things in life as well, with Thor himself living until 2002 and making several other expeditions throughout his life. Though the film can look cheap in places due to a low budget, it is quite something that Kon-Tiki was filmed at sea and not on sets with green screen. I love a good adventure film steeped in survivalism, and in that respect this film greatly succeeds.