Film Review: Kon-Tiki

A Norwegian man decides that the only way to prove his theory that French Polynesia was originally populated by Ancient Peruvians from the east and not from the west is to build a raft using only the raw materials that were available 1500 years ago and then recreate the journey. Why does he decide to take this treacherous journey across four thousand miles of wide open ocean? And why should we care about him or his crazy idea? Kon-Tiki never takes the time to tell us. Instead it sets up its lead character and plot like a lazy business pitch and hopes we’ll be interested. Such is the nature of cinema, whether we care or not, we’re caught up in the current and have to drift along until the inevitable conclusion.

It’s a remarkably disjointed visual style the film is going for. It starts off with protagonist Thor Heyerdahl as a child in Norway falling into an icy lake and being rescued. From here it cuts to a tropical island where Thor and his wife Liv are doing some sort of research. Then we cut to a dark New York where Thor tries to convince publishers of the worth of this seemingly random idea of how French Polynesia was originally populated. Eventually we get to Peru and then onto the ocean where, at one point the camera goes completely insane and drifts off into space. Why? Who can say, there is no logic at work here.

There is as little creativity in the long sequence of 101 days which the crew of the Kon-Tiki spends adrift. Besides the vague fear expressed by some of the crew that the raft’s log’s will become disconnected at some point, all the film-makers seem capable of using to drum up a bit of tension is sharks. Fifteen minutes may pass without some threat of a shark attack, but just to mix it up they’ll replace the one shark from the previous attack with ten sharks this time around. There are also repeated men overboard situations, which we’d probably care about if any of the white blond Scandinavian men on the craft were discernible from one another in some way.

As the credits are about to role we are informed that the footage the crew of the Kon-Tiki were shooting during their voyage was turned into an Oscar winning documentary. What, you have to ask, does this film add to the story of Thor Heyerdahl that that documentary doesn’t say? The man’s motivations remain vague, apart from the “you’re on the right track, baby, you were born this way” letter he gets from his wife at journey’s end. A fun fact the film doesn’t reference is that that documentary is the only Norwegian film to ever win an Academy award, a fact this film is unlikely to change. In cinemas 19 December 2014. Watch the trailer here.

Stephen Murphy

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