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‘Kon-Tiki’

by Kaori Shoji

It’s hard to resist the retro charms of this old-fashioned adventure/thriller. Step aside, Indiana Jones — you got some fierce competition going on in “Kon-Tiki,” the true-to-life tale of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his epic, 8,000-km sea voyage from the Peruvian Coast to Polynesia.

This is not to be confused with “Kon-Tiki” the documentary, winner of an Academy Award in 1951 (filmed by Heyerdahl himself, who left no stone unturned in promoting his undertaking). Directed by the Norwegian filmmaking team of Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg (“Max Manus”), this “Kon-Tiki” is a redux — starring the golden-haired, blue-eyed Viking prince Pal Sverre Hagen as Thor. Critics the world over are raving about the fact that Hagen is the spitting image of Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia,” and adding extra cache and romance to the whole proceeding. In Tokyo, the film pundits are in secret awe of Thor’s hair, that goes wild on the South Pacific. Who’s the stylist and is he available?

Kon-Tiki
Rating
Director Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg
Run Time 118 minutes
Language English and Norwegian

Anyway, Lawrence had the Arabian desert at his command and Thor has the big blue ocean to frolic in. The pair do share certain complexities of character; despite the enormity of their respective missions, these men weren’t straightforward heroes — Lawrence (based on the real life British Army officer T. E. Lawrence) was accused of being a charlatan and a media monger. Heyerdahl for his part, made no secret of his love for the limelight, (an aspect that “Kon-Tiki” delves into more than once) and his determination to traverse the Pacific to prove a pet point seems, at first, plain weird.

On the other hand, this weirdness is what fueled Heyerdahl’s mighty passion for a project no one else in the world seemed to give a hoot about. An anthropologist and marine biologist by profession, Heyerdahl was convinced that the Incas had built a raft and discovered Polynesia before the Asians settled there. That theory was laughed out of every office Heyerdahl visited, in hopes of sparking interest and raising funds. Every publisher in New York including National Geographic, turned down his proposal but Heyerdahl decided to go ahead and do it anyway. He was bitten by the adventure bug and a few minor issues, such as having no money or that he had left his wife and small sons back home in Norway, weren’t about to deter him. Oh, that and he couldn’t swim. Not a problem.

Amazingly, five other guys opted to go on the voyage with Heyerdahl, one of whom was a refrigerator salesman bored with life. They went along with Thor’s insistence on crafting a raft from balsa wood just like the Incas, and to take off before it had been properly tested. They also went along with the idea of binding the wood together with ropes instead of wire, because the Incas didn’t have access to steel. Named after the Inca god “Tiki,” the raft set sail from Peru one April morning, equipped with nothing but a faulty radio for communication purposes — which in 1947, didn’t amount to much. It would be 101 days before the crew spotted land again.

If nothing else, “Kon-Tiki” will bring on a massive case of wanderlust. Or an urgent need to be shipwrecked and build a treehouse on top of a palm tree. Just don’t worry about having the right hair.