The Reel Review


In the summer of 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl made history, crossing the Pacific Ocean with five colleagues on a balsa wood raft, to prove that South Americans could have been the settlers in Polynesia 1500 years ago. Although genetic mapping has since disproven that theory, this adventure drama chronicles their epic, 101-day, 4300-mile journey from Peru to Raroia atoll.

The crew making a rescue of a man overboard in Kon-Tiki.

The moments where Kon-Tiki soars are when it celebrates the awesomeness of nature – whale sharks, flying fish, luminescent jellyfish, massive thunderstorms and the like. All of this really happened in their journey. Where it falls a bit short is when it delves into contrived, faux melodrama – a “quarrel” over modern vs. primitive materials with engineer Herman Watzinger (which never happened), fears over catching the right current to Polynesia (never happened) and the claim that every 13th wave on a shoreline is the largest (not true). That aside, the acting, led by Pål Sverre Hagen (What Happened to Monday) as Heyerdahl, is solid and the cinematography is stunning with some impressively realistic shark CGI.

Pål Sverre Hagen as Thor Heyerdahl in Kon-Tiki.

The decision by directors Joachim Running (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) and Espen Sandberg (Amundsen) to film Kon-Tiki in the open ocean rather than a soundstage also gives the film a realism needed to convey the incredible scope of the journey. The ending, updating what happened to each of the mission’s explorers after the expedition, is also particularly fascinating, which will make you want to watch Heyerdahl’s more impressive Oscar-winning 1950 documentary about the voyage.


• There are two versions of Kon-Tiki, Norway’s 2013 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film – one in Norwegian for domestic audiences, and another in English, for international audiences. Heyerdahl’s documentary about their journey, Kon-Tiki, won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1952.

The Kon-Tiki raft at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway.

• The actual Kon-Tiki raft is on display in the Kon-Tiki museum on the Bygdøy Peninsula in Oslo, Norway.

• In 2006, Olav Heyerdahl, Thor’s grandson, made the same Pacific Ocean voyage, shown in the documentary The Tangaroa Expedition. Thor Heyerdahl died of a brain tumor in 2002 at the age of 87.



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