Rating: Yes, though Kon-Tiki is a foreign film, 90% of it is in English. Don’t ask me to explain.
While it deserved its Oscar nomination last year as one of the year’s best foreign films, Kon-Tiki is better suited for the history channel than the big screen. While it does a sterling job recreating Thor Heyerdal’s epic journey by raft across the Pacific in 1947, you can’t help but gradually wonder, “How long before we see dry land?”;
The strength of the film is obviously found in Mr. Heyerdal’s quest to prove that it was possible for ancient man to sail from Peru to Polynesia 1500 years ago. Having lived in Polynesia for over 10 years while he explored the terrain, his anthropological studies clearly suggested a connection with South America.
Despite the fact that he could convince no one to fund his journey, including the powers-to-be at National Geographic, he found financing to build his own balsa raft, using the same materials used by our ancestors a thousand years earlier. He and his four comrades set sail not knowing if they would live or die, and it wasn’t hard to wonder why his wife thought that he had lost his mind.
Don’t get me wrong, Kon-Tiki captures much of the magic that made Mr. Heyerdal’s subsequent book an international bestseller, not to mention creating a documentary while at sea that won an Oscar in 1951. Awash in an unknown sea filled with storms, whales and giant sharks, they relied on a damaged radio as their sole connection with the outside world. Accompanied only by a land crab and a parrot as pets, not all of them made it safely in the end. I’ll let you guess who eventually became food for the hungry sharks.
Ironically, last year’s fictional masterpiece, Life of Pi, was in some ways more dramatic than the real-life Kon-Tiki. Many of their adventures paralleled one another, and you couldn’t help but occasionally wish that the friendly parrot could mutate into a hungry Bengal tiger. Like it or not, sometimes fiction triumphs over fact from a cinematic standpoint.
On the other hand, given the reality that I liked both films for different reasons, does it really matter? The unanswered question in Kon-Tiki is whether Heyerdal’s wife was still around when he stumbled on to land following over 100 days at sea. You had the feeling that she finally said, “Have a nice sail, darlin’, but I’m outta here!”