It’s a compelling story for obvious reasons, but the finished product does sport a list of disappointments. First and foremost—the DVD is in English! “Kon-Tiki” was among the five nominees for Best Foreign Language film at 2013’s 85th Academy Awards(I’ve now seen four of the nominees, btw, so just one to go), but I couldn’t find a Norwegian language option on the disc. Perplexed, I turned to Google. And it appears that the film was shot in two different versions simultaneously, in order to secure international funding. Now, I’d be cool with that if only I could choose to watch the Norwegian version on my DVD copy. Since I couldn’t, I’m majorly peeved. Throw in the fact that the English language version is said to be up to a half hour shorter than the Norway cut finds me nearly apoplectic. Ultimately, I’d have to say that I didn’t experience the Oscar-nominated film at all. Much to my chagrin, I watched a truncated knock-off. I call foul! And I suspect the rising importance of international box office, of the last decade or so, is only going to make this sort of thing more common. Too bad, because some gravitas has been lost in the translation here. But is “Kon-Tiki” any good? Well, yes and no.
“Kon-Tiki” is based on the real life story of Thor Heyerdahl and his world-renowned ocean expedition of 1947. His 1948 book chronicling the voyage sold millions of copies. And the 1950 documentary film of the journey won the 1951 Best Documentary Academy Award. The story in this film finds Thor(Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen)trying to prove a theory that Polynesia was settled by people migrating from the west, by floating primitive balsa wood rafts over 5,000 miles of treacherous ocean. The naysayers spout that the trip is impossible to accomplish, so experimental ethnographer and bold adventurer Thor works to garner funding to prove them all wrong. His solution? Gathering five other men to join him on a wood vessel, built with only the simplest materials, for a 100 day odyssey that could lead to their deaths. Drifting on the vast blue ocean, surrounded by sharks, whales, violent waves, and subject to unpredictable storms—the men’s bravery is unapproachable. Throw in that Thor can’t swim, and you may find the actions completely insane. There will be no one to help them if tragedy strikes. It’s no secret that they make it, of course, but what an amazing example of human will and unconquerable spirit.
My father, who passed away this year at the age of 70, was only formally educated through the eighth grade and failed to finish his high school equivalency. The “Kon-Tiki” novel, released in America when he was around eight, is the only book I can remember ever seeing in his home(my parents separated when I was seven). That speaks well to the popularity of this tale, and also to the fact that I became acquainted with it at a very tender age. So, I knew quite a bit about what I’d be seeing in this latest film version. But I couldn’t quite remember it all, so I had to turn to some internet research again when certain things didn’t seem to ring true. And the directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg employed quite a bit of artistic license at certain stages. It’s distracting, because it took me out of the film(see my “Argo” review). I mean, did that guy really pull a huge shark out of the sea with just a hook and his bare hands! Ah…no. And the late film “thirteenth wave” stuff is nonsense too. So is the bit involving the wire binding. Some of this is forgivable, and some isn’t. Wasn’t this amazing trek able to stand on its own? Also, while its oceanic wildlife scenes are certainly beautiful, they will suffer in comparison to the recent “Life of Pi”. It may not be fair, but it’s unavoidable. Ultimately, the new version of “Kon-Tiki” is a disappointingly mixed-bag. It’s a marvelous story that is only marginally well-told. And it looks great, even when it looks fake. But if I ever get a hold of that Norwegian cut, you can be confident that I’ll review it again. Grade: B-