There is something to be said - a nostalgia, maybe, though the word may be a bit too strong - for a film that attempts to recapture the sense of wonder and adventure of the pre-technological days before CGI effects and the internet effaced any mystery; a time where the British coined the phrase "Boy's Own adventure" to signify those character-forming, grand exotic adventures that shaped a certain idea of resilience, fortitude and daring. Kon-Tiki is precisely that, being a retelling of the true story of Danish explorer Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 sea trip from Peru to Polynesia in a raft made only of natural materials and carried by wind and sea current alone, in order to prove his counter-intuitive scientific theory about the ascendancy of the Polynesian natives.

     For screenwriter Petter Skavlan and directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the passage of the Kon-Tiki is one of the last great "old-fashioned" adventures of the modern age; though Heyerdahl was savvy about the need to stoke media attention with his exploits, the technology of the day was often as much of a hindrance as of a help. Hence its presentation in a reasonably "classic" style, following the assembling of the expedition and of the crew until its arrival in Polynesia, handsomely widescreened and breathtakingly photographed by DP Geir Hartly Andreassen. Yet, Messrs. Rønning and Sandberg also handle it in typically restrained Scandinavian fashion, avoiding unnecessary diversions and paying special attention to the human factor of the adventure, whether in the relationships between the crew of five or in the motivations and doubts of the charismatic yet occasionally abrupt Heyerdahl (Pål Hagen), the only character to be fully developed, with a past and a family that in many ways helped shape his adventurous tendencies.

     For all that, and despite the sense that the directors are deliberately going for a human-sized throwback to a more wholesome type of adventure film, Kon-Tiki suffers from that very same Scandinavian sense of modesty; it's an efficient, functional, well-made film rather than a glorious or inspired one, with little narrative or stylistic flourishes. (Practical to the point of being shot twice, once in Danish for the home market and once in English for world markets, as per the old silent-movie practice of shooting simultaneously different versions of the same story for different countries.) It's just a good story, told competently rather than ravishingly, and in that way perhaps closer to the idea of an old-fashioned Boy's Own adventure than we'd like to think.

Cast: Pål Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Tobias Santelmann, Gustaf Skarsgård, Jakob Oftebro, Odd-Magnus Williamson, Agnes Kittelsen
Directors: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Screenplay: Petter Skavlan
Cinematography: Geir Hartly Andreassen (colour, widescreen)
Music: Johan Söderqvist
Designer: Karl Júlíasson
Costumes: Stine Gudmundsen-Holmorgen, Louize Nissen
Editors: Per-Erik Eriksen, Martin Stoltz
Visual effects: Arne Kaupang
Producers: Jeremy Thomas, Aage Aaberge (Nordisk Film and Recorded Picture Company in association with Aircontactgruppen, DCM Productions, Solbakken, Roenbergfilm, Motion Blur, Henrik Bergesen, Film 3, Film i Väst and Filmlance International)
Denmark/United Kingdom/Germany/Sweden, 2012, 113 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12, Lisbon, September 5th 2013


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