Norway’s most expensive film to date, Kon-Tiki was rewarded for its efforts with an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards. Directed by Joachim Ronning (Max Manus), Kon-Tiki stunningly recreates one of Norway’s most famous national narratives, namely the crossing of the Pacific by Thor Heyerdahl (Pal Sverre Hagen) on a balsawood raft in an attempt to prove his theory that Peruvians discovered the Polynesian Islands rather than Asians.
The film is quick to have its cast get out onto the water and thus early elements of characterisation are skipped in favour of cliche and caricature. This means when there is tension out at sea, there is less emotional engagement between audience and character and it’s difficult not to question why they would all put themselves in such a harmful position to prove an odd anthropological theory? It’s difficult to understand the rationale at all, despite Hagen’s stunning 1950s heartthrob approach to the elusive and enigmatic Thor.
Once on the water, Kon-Tiki quickly devolves into very obvious action scenes involving sharks and huge whales. It’s actually bad timing that this should be released in the same year as Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, which has a lot of the same strokes, but does it in a far more engaging and impressive way. It is here where the real lack of character depth and intrigue is felt most powerfully and just goes to further highlight how good Life of Pi actually was.
The special effects are however, sublime. It is clear to see that this is Norway’s most expensive film to date and everything from the sun-kissed day-time to the cold, unforgiving night time are given a glossy Hollywood treatment. In many ways Kon-Tiki is the kind of mid-range summer blockbuster that Hollywood are in the habit of releasing. Full of beautiful effects, with some neat action scenes and scored within an inch of its life so that no effort is needed to figure out exactly what’s happening next. Still, from a technical level it is impressive and will no doubt be a huge success in Scandanavia.
If you consider films like Holy Motors, Rust and Bone and Untouchable missed out on deserved Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language film, it’s a real shame to see something as vacuous and shallow as Kon-Tiki appearing on the list. Perhaps a reconsideration of Oscar nomination rules is in order to avoid it happening again and if you want a tense, dramatic out-at-sea on a raft film go see Ang Lee’s Life of Pi instead. It would be easy, and possible lazy to call Kon-Tiki; Life Of Pi Light. But, if the show fits.