The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The two versions of six men on a float

with 15 comments

Six men spend three months on a raft, drifting across the ocean where the wind and waves will carry them. Day in and day out. They don’t encounter any substantial danger; they don’t blow up against each other; they don’t go nuts. Nothing of interest happens apart from the growing of their beards, at a pace and intensity that makes you wonder if it’s a condition similar to the one the Thompson brothers go through in one of the Tintin albums.

This is the concept of the Norwegian feature film Kon-Tiki, which for reasons that are inexplicable to me managed to get nominated for the Best foreign picture category at the Oscars. I don’t even quite understand why the movie was made at all.

It’s not that I have anything against the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, whose life this movie is based on. In fact he’s been an important presence in my life for as long as I can remember. My grandparents used to own of his books about various expeditions and my parents had them too. As I remember it, his name was constantly referred to in dinner conversations between my father and grandfather and I think I’ve inherited some of this interest for Heyerdahl’s adventures.

I remember especially how Fatu-Hiva, the story about how Heyerdahl and his wife left civilization in order to live on a remote island for over a year made a huge impression on me and my husband when we were in our twenties. It took me years after I had read it to fully realize what a squishy and armchair adventurer I am in reality, not at all fit for spending long periods out in the wilderness.

Did little for me
Considering this background, I was a little surprised at how little the 2012 version of Kon-Tiki did for me. Maybe I should have predicted it. The thing is that the raft expedition, arranged in 1947 in order to verify that the inhabitants of Polynesia had originated from South America rather than Asia, was almost as eventless as it was successful.

For being Norwegian, this is big budget movie, but you can only create ever so much tension in a story that contains almost no conflict or threat. The biggest excitement we have is to find out if Heyerdahl’s wife will forgive him for leaving her at home with the kids to look after while he’s travelling the world. And sadly this doesn’t suffice for bringing life into this dish. After spending an hour in company with the bearded guys on the float, it’s getting slow – and then you’re only halfway through it.

kontiki 19507The documentary film
So the 2012 version of Kon-Tiki was a disappointment. There was one good thing about it though: it inspired me to watch the Oscar awarded documentary Kon-Tiki , which Thor Heyerdahl put together in the years after the expedition.

Made in 1950 it has some technical limitations. The film is in black and white and doesn’t only consist of moving pictures, but also contains some still images with voiceovers that make you think of educational films for schoolchildren. But this doesn’t matter, because it has something else that the 2012 Kon-Tiki film lacks: it’s authentic. When you know that the men on the raft are real and not actors and that you see exactly what they saw 65 years ago, it suddenly gets much more interesting and engaging.

Some stories from real life work are good material for feature films. But six men on a slowly drifting float is not such a story. On the other hand it makes for an excellent documentary. My advice is to go out of your way to watch Kon-Tiki – the 1950 documentary version.

Kon-Tiki (Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg, NO 2012) My rating: 3/5
Kon-Tiki (Thor Heyerdahl, NO 1950) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

April 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

15 Responses

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  1. I agree about Kon-Tiki. There really isn’t much there apart from the production values.


    April 19, 2013 at 1:33 am

    • It was really well made, but the nerve wasn’t there. And this has nothing to do with the film being bad in any aspect; the story just isn’t material for a feature film unless you invent something that didn’t happen. And considering how well known Heyerdahl’s story is, that would be hard to get away with.


      April 19, 2013 at 7:28 am

  2. This is one that won’t reach the cinema or tv screens of many Jessica but I have heard of it and I’d like to get my hands on it. From what I’m hearing it’s definitely worthwhile.

    Mark Walker

    April 19, 2013 at 1:52 am

    • Again: I’d recommend the documentary from 1950 over the new film. This said: I wouldn’t advise you against watching it if you get the chance. At least not if you’re into stories about adventurers and exploring, which I am. But don’t expect to be floored by it. And its no Life of Pi.


      April 19, 2013 at 7:30 am

  3. I had the same reaction to the film, it was decently made, just bland and lifeless. I had been meaning to find the documentary, but got busy and forgot about it. Your post reminds me to try and seek it out.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    April 19, 2013 at 3:25 am

    • Yes, that’s a good way to wrap up my view as well. You should check out the documentary though. It’s worth chasing.


      April 19, 2013 at 7:32 am

  4. I saw some images for the new one, and the shark on the boat made it look exciting! Your review tells me otherwise 🙂

    Tyson Carter

    April 19, 2013 at 11:51 am

    • Not even the shark gets truly exciting. We already know the outcome. Sometimes you can make an exciting movie despite that you know how it will end (recent examples: ZDT, Argo), but in this case it doesn’t work.

      I think the black and white documentary is more thrilling.


      April 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm

  5. They tried to put action in the new movie – sharks again and again, the landing but it didn’t work. Plus the timing felt wrong – around 90 minutes for 10 days (with the sharks), one minute for 90 days, they didn’t even try to show what the journey really was about.

    And I wouldn’t call it “successful”. They survived, floating on a raft for 100 days could have be done a thousand years before – but that doesn’t mean it was done this way. And current research, especially genetics, show that it is next to impossible that Polynesians came from the east. Scientifically the journey proved nothing. It was an adventure. A successful adventure, economically and personally.


    April 20, 2013 at 12:37 am

    • I didn’t know about the recent research. Interesting! Again: I think the documentary reflects the adventure much better. You’re reminded of that it’s real people doing this kind of experiment at a time long before cellphones. It’s a different and at some extent lost world we’re seeing there. But the film doesn’t manage to recreate the atmosphere.


      April 20, 2013 at 12:45 am

  6. Shucks. I kind of wanted to check this one out. Not heartbreaking if I miss it, though.

    I have to say, I really like the term “armchair adventurer.” I think I fit into that category as well. It reminds me of Garrison Keillor once saying he was “a great indoorsman.”


    April 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    • It’s not bad, just a little underwhelming for a fan of this kind of adventures. Not necessarily the filmmaker’s fault; it’s more in the topic. The adventure wasn’t material for a feature film. Re: the armchair adventuring, I’m bordering to silliness in this area. For instance I can’t walk anywhere near a steep for getting too dizzy, but I’m crazy about reading stories by mountaineers, pretending I’m one of them. 🙂


      April 21, 2013 at 9:43 pm

  7. Well that is certainly a bummer I was looking forward to checking this one out. Thanks for the heads up about that documentary, guess i will check that out instead.


    April 20, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    • I feel a bit bad, not wanting to talk people out of watching Scandinavian movies. But I need to be honest. The doc is much more interesting if you ask me.


      April 21, 2013 at 9:51 pm

  8. […] A film that I’ve been looking forward to ever since I heard good things at TIFF is KON TIKI, which was nominated for Best Picture. My desire to see it has grown even higher since I finally caught a trailer for it before TRANCE. I might want to temper my expectations a little, since my favorite Swede Jessica has put up a review where she walked away from it somewhat mixed. […]

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