Synopsis: The story of legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal’s epic 4,300 miles crossing of the Pacific on a balsa wood raft in 1947, in an effort prove it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.
Stars: Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Jakob Oftebro, Odd Magnus Williamson, Tobias Santelmann, Agnes Kittelsen
Director: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, think of Kon-Tiki as the other Oscar nominated film (after Life of Pi) set on a raft adrift in the ocean. Kon-Tiki was one of the only films I wasn’t able to see before the Oscar ceremony this year so I was happy to get a chance to catch this historical adventure/drama at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. Hailing from Norway and telling the true-life tale of explorer Thor Heyerdal, it’s easy to see why this film rose to the top of the crop in yearend award nominees – it’s a handsomely made film with beautiful images, solid special effects, and a team of winning performances.
I wasn’t familiar with Heyerdal before I saw the film and only caught a small piece on him on one of those Sunday morning news programs. Wanting to prove that it was South Americans that settled Polynesia, he assembled a crew (some experienced, some not) to construct a similar vessel that would have been used in the time period to make the treacherous journey across the Pacific Ocean to show that it was possible. Laughed out the door by National Geographic, Heyerdal pulled up his bootstraps and flew by the seat of his pants to get the funding necessary for the 100+ day in 1947.
Directors Rønning and Sandberg keep things moving from the start as we meet Heyerdal and his wife Liv (Kittelsen, who looks like she stepped out the 1940’s) as they start out in Polynesia. Over the next few years, the trip will become an obsession to Heyerdal and though it’s never expressed stated here, the movie hints that this took a toll on his marriage. Soon Heyerdal has a crew of comrades building the raft and setting sail on this historically famous journey.
As you may guess, the sea is a harsh lady to these men and they battle all sorts of problems…though surprisingly none that give the audience the feeling that any real danger will come to them. Not even knowing the eventual outcome, I wasn’t ever truly concerned at the various challenges that come up on the open waters.
Considering Heyerdal couldn’t swim, you have to appreciate the moxie it took to undertake proving his theory and Hagen is ideally cast in this role. With a megawatt smile and rugged good looks, he cuts a great image as the determined theorist showing a tough exterior that may hide some internal self-doubt. Equally good are the rest of the men on the raft, all stars in their own right in Norwegian films.
The cinematography by Geir Hartly Andreassen is epic in scope and very engrossing even without being shown on a mega size screen (oh, how well this would play at the OmniTheater or IMAX!) and the special effects from the team at Gimpville successfully render various sea creatures like sharks and whales with striking believability (hope Hollywood keeps them on speed dial if another Jaws sequel should come to fruition). I was drawn in by Johan Söderqvist’s subdued orchestrations that spike at just the right times.
It may be a slight spoiler to reveal that Heyerdal survived the journey to win an Oscar of his own in 1950 for the documentary he crafted from footage filmed during the trip but that should give you another resource to visit if you, like me, are as taken with this winning historical adventure like I was. It’s perhaps a bit too easy of a film to heap with a lot of praise, but it’s so well made and delivered that it makes for very worthwhile viewing.