[Film Review] Kon-Tiki (2012) and (1950)

Kon Tiki 2012 poster

Title: Kon-Tiki
Year: 2012
Country: Norway, UK, Denmark, Germany, Sweden
Language: Norwegian, English, French, Swedish
Genre: Adventure, History
Joachim Rønning
Espen Sandberg
Petter Skavlan
Allan Scott
Music: Johan Söderqvist
Cinematography: Geir Hartly Andreassen
Pål Sverre Hagen
Anders Baasmo Christiansen
Tobias Santelmann
Gustaf Skarsgård
Odd Magnus Williamson
Jakob Oftebro
Agnes Kittelsen
Peter Wight
Søren Pilmark
Rating: 6.9/10

Kon Tiki 1950 poster

Title: Kon-Tiki
Year: 1950
Country: Norway, Sweden
Language: English
Genre: Documentary
Director/Writer: Thor Heyerdahl
Music: Sune Waldimir
Knut Haugland
Erik Hesselberg
Thor Heyerdahl
Torstein Raaby
Herman Watzinger
Thor Heyerdahl
Knut Haugland
Erik Hesselberg
Bengt Danielsson
Torstein Raaby
Herman Watzinger
Rating: 6.7/10

Kon-Tiki 2012

Oscar’s BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE nominee of 2012 from Norway, KON-TIKI is an ambitious endeavor from directors-duo Rønning and Sandberg (currently are recruited by Hollywood to shoot the fifth installment of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise), to recount the story of Norwegian national legend Thor Heyerdal’s monumental near 5,000-mile expedition on a balsawood raft (named Kon-Tiki) sailing from Peru to Polynesia in 1947, to simply prove that it is possible for South Americans to migrate in Polynesia in pre-Columbus times.

The astonishing cinematography during Thor (Hagen) and his five equally audacious companions’ maritime adventure is first-rate, sometimes reminiscent of Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI (2012), the most admiring shot starts with an overhead frame of the raft in the nighttime, slowly the camera elevates itself above the atmospheric layer and showcases a space vista as if it is from a revolving satellite, then the shot continues to retrace back to the raft from the same overhead angle, but now it is the day time, the sleight of hand is not for anyone, Rønning and Sandberg confidently conjure up that magnificence, they might be a fitting choice to revive Johnny Depp’s nautical escapade.

Certainly viewers are more intrigued in Thor’s journey, but the film spends a leisurely 40-minutes before embarking on the heroic mission, tries to give a comprehensive overlook of Thor’s motivation, from the inspiration during his Polynesia study times to the setback where nobody is willing to publish his works for 10 years unless he can corroborate his theory. Also his deepest fear of water (due to a childhood incident), which creates the irony that he actually cannot swim, plus family entanglements, he is married with Liv (Kittelsen) and they have two young sons, his steely conviction to perform exactly as the ancient people have done, without any modern enhancement to fortify the raft, with triggers a major chasm en route with Herman (Christiansen), a refrigerator salesman, whose incentive to join the journey is explicitly overlooked. Not just Herman, apart from Thor, the film doesn’t overtly manifest other members’ motives as well, from the aspect of character study, it is not well-done.

Once the voyage commences, actually the undertaking is not as perilous as one might fancy, apart from a heavy rainstorm, the immature conduct when facing a genial whale-shark and a close encounter with a group of great white sharks (with two of them hauling a giant shark out of the water just using a harpoon and a pair of bare hands, it is quite a stretch even for a Nordic), the threatening disruption of the raft never comes off, neither is a maelstrom nor a discouraging orientation confusion. Generally speaking, the crew is in harmony, tensions have been tentatively built, but of little avail, indeed, it is the heroic act of Knut (Santelmann) saving a drowning Hermann with sharks swimming around, comes as the most gripping moment. The final obstacle is the dangerous coral reef when Kon-Tiki approaching the land, again, the most horrific fear is our imagination, reality truly bits, but for Thor and his team, is pretty clement.

Pål Sverre Hagen establishes Thor as a believable leader in spite of his baby-face, but the script never touch a darker side of his psyche, as a controversial figure in real life, we only glance at his bigotry fleetingly in this all-sanguine hagiography.

Kon-Tiki 1950

Now, the 1950 Oscar-winning documentary, what I find is a 58-minutes version, almost 20 minutes short of the running time indicated on IMDB (anyone watched the 77-minutes version?), is made by Thor himself, entirely based on the video and photo footage they shoot and some informational legends, with Thor chronicles his daredevil mission in perfect English (a post-dub maybe), which serves as an apposite double bill with the 2012 crowd-pleaser.

Firstly, the footage shows that the real waves are much choppier but the spirit is always high, and six men living on a crowded raft floating on the sea is actually quite eventful, fishing novel species (sometimes a delicious shark), consolidating the raft regularly, marking the direction and verifying the speed, communicating through radio and of course, shooting the whole adventure while danger is alway on their tail, really can appeal to a certain type of enthusiasts, why it hasn’t been milked into an enthralling 100-days getaway adventure? Maybe not in a primitive balsa raft, but a more modernized and safer means, but small-scaled, for maritime adventurers, could be a profitable business.

Also, the perishing of the seventh member of the crew – Lolita, a female parrot is dramatized in the 2012 feature, so is the conflict between Thor and Herman, all is embellished to make the picture more engaging, while in the documentary, in a matter-of-fact fashion, Thor never mention any dissension among the crew, only focuses on their novel discoveries and daily activities, plus the reception when they finally reaches the island land, with the local Polynesians.

In view of the version I watched is a curtailed one, and I cannot estimate what is missing, but, one sure thing is that even with these footage alone, the journey is no less captivating than the 2012 re-enactment created by cinematic magic, only if there would be more talking-head interviews with the original members, I firmly believe, each individual would bring about a different but vicarious impression on audience who are stunned by their groundbreaking deeds!


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