The Norwegian movie Kon-Tiki is based on the true story of explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. Unable to publish his research on Polynesia in 1947, Heyerdahl decided to sail a raft 5,000 miles from Peru to Polynesia to prove that Polynesia was initially settled from South America and not Africa. He insisted that the raft be built with primitive materials, just the way it would have been 1,500 years earlier. It’s a heck of a story, and Heyerdahl actually documented it himself, on film. His 1950 documentary Kon-Tiki was nominated for an Oscar.
Now, here is an official biopic, also nominated for an Oscar—for Best Foreign Language Film, even though the version being released in the U.S. is in English. Kon-Tiki is very structured and upright, almost to the point of immobility. It’s traditional biopic filmmaking, with shortcuts taken at the expense of character, big events heavily foreshadowed and everything shoehorned into a formula package. Fortunately, the story is powerful enough that it emerges victorious much of the time, with exciting ocean adventures quickening the pulse (including a man single-handedly landing and killing a shark). It lacks the budget and spectacle of Life of Pi, with which it shares some similar imagery, but it’s a modestly enjoyable voyage.