The Reel Review
Thor Heyerdahl’s Oscar-winning, 1950 documentary details his six man crew’s historic, 101 day journey across the Pacific Ocean, from Peru to Polynesia, in 1947. Using only materials available 1500 years ago, the explorer hoped to prove that people from South America could have settled in Polynesia.
Filmed in 16mm black and white and narrated by Heyerdahl in a stilted cadence typical of the time period, the documentary has an old-fashioned, school textbook type vibe. You can almost smell the mustiness. But it is fascinating, packed with a wealth of detailed information about their fantastic voyage.
Heyerdahl kicks off the hour long film explaining how, due to balsa tree deforestation in Peru, he and his engineer Herman Watzinger traveled deep into the forests of Ecuador to harvest the nine huge balsa trees that would serve as the base of their raft. Using these fresh, living trees would prove invaluable, as the resins inside would waterproof the log base of their raft throughout their journey.
Eating, plotting their daily progress and diving under the raft to check the lashings were their chief daily activities. Their menu: sharks, fish and edible shells all caught or harvested from under their raft, nutrient-rich plankton and food supplies they brought with them. They never went hungry. Heyerdahl’s encounters with giant luminescent cuttlefish that would appear at night and their frequent encounters with curious and playful whale sharks are legendary. It truly was a trip of a lifetime.
• Kon-Tiki was the first Norwegian film to win an Oscar.
• Torstein Raaby was the first of the Kon-Tiki crew to perish, dying in 1964 of a heart condition in Greenland during a trek to the North Pole, at the age of 45. Thor Heyerdahl died of a brain tumor in 2002 at the age of 87. Knut Haugland, the last surviving member of the Kon-Tiki expedition, died of natural causes in 2009 at the age of 92.
• The Kon-Tiki raft, approximately 45 feet long and 20 feet wide, sits in the Kon-Tiki museum in Oslo, Norway.
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