The ocean is vast and filled with peril, but it is the foolhardy resilience of men that proves the crux of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s cinematic voyage, Kon-Tiki (2012). Norway’s most expensive production to date, it was nominated for last year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and now receives a UK release with both Norwegian and English-language versions available (they were shot concurrently). Charting an explorer’s journey from South America to the South Sea Islands on a tiny raft, it is an admirable and handsome picture that peaks in moments of intricately crafted tension, but which never quite captures the adventurous essence of its subject matter.
The story behind Kon-Tiki is a true one. Ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl (played with blue-eyed intensity by Pål Sverre Hagen) sets out to convince the academic establishment that Polynesia could have been – and was – settled by intrepid sailors from Peru. It’s a tale of endeavour on the high seas as Thor and his motley crew attempt to traverse the tempestuous Pacific on a vessel held together with rope, just as they hypothesised had been done hundreds of years earlier. The grand traditions of large scale drama are where Rønning and Sandberg are pitching with this and they certainly achieve that end evoking the sweep of old-fashioned epics. As the raft bobbles across the ocean, friendship and camaraderie are both tested while further danger lurks beneath the surface.