Judge Clark Douglas once sailed across the entirety of his neighbor's lake.
Based on the incredible true story.
In 1947, a Norwegian explorer named Thor Heyerdahl and five fellow adventurers set out on an exceptionally dangerous expedition. Heyerdahl was determined to prove that it had been possible for a primitive raft to make the journey across the Pacific Ocean from South America to Polynesia (thus validating the notion that such journeys had been made many years ago). His journey, of course, was a successful one, and Heyerdahl went on to great fame and fortune over the next few decades.
Given that the conclusion of Heyerdahl's journey is so well known, the makers of the film Kon-Tiki (which details that journey from start to finish) had their work cut out for them. It's tough to wring a whole lot of suspense out of a potentially deadly voyage when you know that everything will turn out fine. As such, it's impressive that directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have managed to churn out an adventure tale that is increasingly engaging and tension-filled as it proceeds. We may know that Heyerdahl (played with earnest sensitivity by Pal Svere Hagen, Troubled Water) will be fine, but that hardly seems to matter right around the time that one crew member finds himself surrounded in the water by a herd of bloodthirsty sharks.
The film's opening act is its weakest, as it sets up the adventure in fairly conventional fashion. We get familiar-feeling scenes of Heyerdahl debating with stuffy academics who think his mission is foolhardy alongside equally routine scenes of Heyerdahl's wife (Agnes Kittelson, Happy, Happy) fretting that her husband may never return from his mission. Initially, the performances seem a little stilted and the dialogue is on the pedestrian side. However, once our hero hits the ocean, the film hits its stride and never looks back. One is reminded of what someone once said about Esther Williams: "Dry, she ain't much, but wet, she's a star!"
There's a warm, affecting sense of camaraderie between Heyerdahl and his men, but the relative inexperience and fretfulness of plus-sized crew member Herman Watzinger (a very good Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Dag) occasionally throws a wrench into the group's harmony. Watzinger's family was reportedly unhappy with the depiction of Herman as a coward, but his fear makes him the film's most relatable character. He's an ordinary refrigerator salesman who reacts as many of us might on such a voyage, and he delivers several of the film's stronger scenes. The very best scenes, it should be noted, are those that feature non-human co-stars, as we're presented with some breathtaking encounters with whales, sharks, jellyfish and other aquatic creatures.
Fascinatingly, Kon-Tiki was shot simultaneously in two different languages. As such, the English-language and Norwegian versions of the film are nearly identical…or they would be, if the scissor-happy Harvey Weinstein hadn't trimmed the running time of the American release by nearly a half-hour. Though Weinstein has famously ruined a number of films with his editing room meddling, I have to admit that the results aren't so disastrous here. The English-language version moves at a slightly faster clip and doesn't really lose anything terribly important, so it works. The primary reason to watch the Norwegian version (which has thankfully been included on a second disc) is that you get to hear the actors speaking their native language (which many of them understandably seem more comfortable with).
Kon-Tiki has received an exceptional DVD transfer, though you really ought to be watching this one in hi-def if you're able to. Still, detail and depth are strong throughout, and those shots of the clear blue Pacific just look gorgeous. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track gets the job done nicely, proving quite immersive during the more intense sequences on the high seas. Supplements include the original Norwegian version of the film and two featurettes: "Kon-Tiki: The Incredible True Story" (25 minutes) and "Visual Effects Featurette" (9 minutes).
While I'm not sure that Kon-Tiki is quite rich enough to merit the Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination it received, it's a well-crafted adventure tale that proves rather engaging once it gets going. Whichever language you choose to view it in, it's worth a look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Original Version
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