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Kon-Tiki | 4/5

SINGAPORE — This is a story of human triumph — over nature, big odds, and a legion of naysayers. In 1947, a young, charismatic Norwegian ethnographer named Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove his sensational theory that the Polynesian Islands were settled 1,500 years earlier by South Americans — as opposed to Asians — who travelled about 5,000 miles across the Pacific (the same distance between Moscow and Chicago). But that’s not the crazy part. He and a group of amateur sailors crafted the Kon-Tiki, a handmade balsawood raft, and left Peru to float 8,000 km west to Polynesia, just to prove he was right.

Big fish: The crew of the Kon Tiki tackling some fish issues.

Big fish: The crew of the Kon Tiki tackling some fish issues.

SINGAPORE — This is a story of human triumph — over nature, big odds, and a legion of naysayers. In 1947, a young, charismatic Norwegian ethnographer named Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove his sensational theory that the Polynesian Islands were settled 1,500 years earlier by South Americans — as opposed to Asians — who travelled about 5,000 miles across the Pacific (the same distance between Moscow and Chicago). But that’s not the crazy part. He and a group of amateur sailors crafted the Kon-Tiki, a handmade balsawood raft, and left Peru to float 8,000 km west to Polynesia, just to prove he was right.

It was a radical and practically insane method of proving an academic point — least of all, because Heyerdahl couldn’t swim and couldn’t tell apart his port from his starboard. As such, you can’t help wondering how much of the adventurer spirit comes from bravery and how much from plain idiocy. Throughout the film, he repeatedly demonstrates a naiveté bordering on obnoxiousness, when he tells his crew that even if they can’t trust Kon-Tiki, the mythological Polynesian leader and also the name of the raft, then they should at least trust him.

And his crew of four tanned, blond and mostly shirtless Alexander Skarsgard look-alikes (one actor is in fact Skarsgard’s brother, Gustaf) rather bizarrely place complete blind faith in him. Passing time is marked by growing beards, deepening tans and the occasional glance at a map. One question the film never adequately answers is why six men would leave behind their families and risk their lives on such an expedition. Regardless, the film is superbly-paced, and gets in at around 100 minutes, while managing to pack in gripping moments of intensity, emotional arcs, as well as some impressive visual effects.

Above all, there is no doubt that Kon-Tiki is beautifully filmed. One particular shot, where the camera pulls out from the raft at night where they are all laid down watching the stars, rises to space and pans across the earth, before returning to the tiny speck of a boat — is particularly breathtaking, and wordlessly depicts the enormity of the men’s challenge. Although we all know how Heyerdahl’s story ends, it is still a compelling one, and directors Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg do little to get in the way of the drama.

(PG13, 101 mins)

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